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The legal framework

Local authorities are required, under Part 6 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended) to devise housing allocation schemes which give ‘reasonable preference’ to certain categories of applicant but otherwise they have a good deal of discretion over how they allocate their housing stock. This discretion was extended by measures included in the Localism Act 2011. Following a consultation exercise, the Coalition Government issued new statutory guidance on housing allocations in June 2012: Allocation of accommodation: Guidance for local housing authorities in England. Authorities are obliged to have regard to this guidance when devising and implementing their housing allocation schemes.

A focus on local connection

The Coalition Government also carried out a consultation exercise on proposals to issue new statutory guidance “to help local authorities make full use of their new allocation freedoms by tailoring their allocation priorities to meet the needs of their local residents and their local communities.” One of the proposals involved an amendment to existing guidance to “strongly encourage all local authorities to adopt a two-year residency test as part of their qualification criteria.” The consultation period closed on 22 November 2013 and new supplementary statutory guidance was published in December 2013: Providing social housing for local people.

Although authorities are encouraged to adopt local residence tests, the Government has moved to ensure that certain applicants, such as ex-armed forces personnel and those seeking to move for work, are not disadvantaged by these requirements. Despite these moves, there have been some successful legal challenges against authorities’ allocation schemes where the residence test and other requirements have been found to impact on the requirement that authorities give certain applicants (those accepted as homeless or living in overcrowded or insanitary accommodation) ‘reasonable preference’ for housing allocations.

Falling numbers on housing waiting lists

The changes introduced by the Localism Act 2011 have prompted a fall in the number of households on local authority housing waiting lists (also referred to as housing registers).

Around 335,000 new lettings were made in 2016/17, of which 69% were made by housing associations. A large minority (36%) of tenants taking up general needs lettings came from existing general needs social tenancies; 18% came from the private rented sector.

The most common reason given for tenants moving out of their previous accommodation was overcrowding. Other common reasons were the need to move to independent accommodation and ill-health or disability making the previous accommodation unsuitable.

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