Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to secure suitable accommodation for the occupation of eligible homeless (housing) applicants with priority.  However many local authorities in England and Wales have transferred their housing stock to social landlords, hence the need for assistance from Registered Providers in the discharge of their functions in this area.  Even in cases where a local authority still retains/owns its housing stock, demand for social housing often far outweighs supply such that local authorities have to rely on housing associations to provide accommodation to housing applicants in the discharge of their duty.

Here, we outline the legal and regulatory framework setting out Registered Providers’ role in social housing allocation and some practical tips in the discharge of such role.

In the context of this write up, housing allocation is the process by which a local housing authority selects and refers homeless applicants to Registered Providers for accommodation.  These entail local housing authorities working in partnership with social landlords to secure accommodation for homeless applicants.

Legal framework

Section 170 of the Housing Act 1996 provides that:

“Where a local housing authority so requests, [a private registered provider of social housing of] a registered social landlord shall co-operate to such extent as is reasonable in the circumstances in offering accommodation to [people with priority under the local authority’s allocation scheme]"

Section 213 of the same Act also provides that:

(1)  Where a local housing authority:

(a)  Request another relevant housing authority or body, in England, Wales and Scotland, to assist them in the discharge of their functions under this Part.

The Court’s decision in R (Weaver) v London & Quadrant Housing Trust [2008] EWHC 1377 means that registered providers of social housing are public bodies for the purposes of housing management functions;  this includes the allocation of housing.

General Rules and Regulations

The Housing Corporation Regulatory Code of January 2002 (adopted by TSA in their allocation standards) provides:

“When requested to do so by the local authority and to such an extent as it is reasonable in the circumstances, housing associations shall provide a proportion of their stock to local authority nominations and temporary accommodation to the homeless”

The Housing Corporation Regulatory Circular, 02/03 Regulation, February 2003 states:

“in areas where evidence of local housing need is reflected in local planning criteria for affordable housing provision, nomination agreements should provide for 50% or more of true void for nominations (agreed percentages may be considerably higher in areas of housing stress).

The Tenant Services Authority consultation paper in November 2009 provided for:

“Registered providers to co-operate with local authorities’ strategic function and their duties to meet identified housing needs, including meeting obligations in nomination agreements”.

Registered Providers of social housing therefore have a mandatory statutory and regulatory obligation to assist local authorities in the discharge of their duties under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996.  This obligation is recognised and adopted by the TSA and the Government.  It forms a major part of the Government’s “building a sustainable community” programme throughout the country.  A Registered Provider risks a possible judicial review where its refusal to assist a local authority in the discharge of its homelessness duty is “unreasonable”.  In other words, a housing applicant can challenge an unreasonable refusal of nomination to RP’s property.

Summary and practical tips

  1. Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide accommodation for eligible housing (homeless) applicants with priority.
  2. Housing associations have a statutory and regulatory responsibility to cooperate with a local authority in the discharge of its homelessness duty.
  3. A housing association’s responsibilities will only arise in cases of homelessness under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 (homelessness).
  4. A local authority must first request assistance from the housing association.  Assistance should be in the form of nomination of a housing applicant to a housing association’s property.
  5. A housing association’s duty to cooperate is mandatory “to the extent as it is reasonable in the circumstance” of any individual nomination.  RPs are entitled to refuse unreasonable nominations, however reasons must be given for the refusal.
  6. Local authority and housing association are to work in partnership.  They should have “a nomination agreement” for purposes of allocation of housing (nomination, acceptance and refusal of nomination).
  7. The nomination agreement should address such issues as:
    1. What the parties to the agreement expect from each other
    2. The percentage of true voids over which local authority will nominate housing applicants to fill.
    3. Information sharing protocol (for instance personal information about individual nominee history, medical needs, behaviour etc)
    4. Criteria for refusing nomination 
    5. Profile of stock offered
    6. Policy issues 
    7. Respective roles of both parties in selecting and prioritising applicants 
    8. Dispute resolution mechanism 
    9. Operational matters such as the procedure for the acceptance and refusal of nominees
    10. Time scales for each stage of the process
  8. Nomination agreement should strike a balance between the needs of existing housing association tenants, homeless households, other people on the housing register and other housing needs.  The relevant housing association’s objectives and policy should be taken into account in preparing the nomination agreement.
  9. Both parties to nomination agreement should have checklists to follow in the housing nomination process.
  10. A local authority should involve housing associations (in their areas) at an early stage in developing allocation strategy, priorities and scheme.
  11. The nomination agreement should be reviewed regularly to reflect current housing markets.
  12.  A local authority cannot delegate its duty under Part VII of the Housing Act to registered provider of social housing.

A housing association should only accept nomination where it is reasonable to do so.  Reasonableness is considered from the association’s point and not that of the local authority, see R v Northavon DC ex p Smith (1994) 26 HLR 659.

Our housing team have experience of working for council and Registered Providers of social housing in various areas of housing management, including homelessness and allocation.  We work mainly with housing associations who gained their stock through LSVT as such have both statutory and contractual obligations to assist council in homelessness and allocation matters. 

If you would like to know more about this area or require assistance with advising on and or reviewing your nomination agreements and or policies, please give us a ring.

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