Why Government failure has left us with no option but to change our housing waiting list

At Cabinet on Monday we will be considering changes to the policies that underpin our social housing register and how we allocate social rented and council homes in Hackney. 

It hasn’t been an easy process to get right, but it will help the Council put those in greatest need of a Council home first and better support them and those struggling due to the wider housing crisis.

I believe in Council housing, the Mayor believes in Council housing and the Council believes in Council housing, but never has it been under greater threat than from the Government’s hostility to social housing and their inability to fix our broken housing system. We’re doing everything we can to build new Council homes, improve our existing homes and find housing for those that need it.

However, we are doing all this after 11 years of austerity and against a backdrop of a decade-long housing crisis. A lack of Government investment means there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in Hackney, which is having a profound impact on our borough and its residents, and more widely across London.

This crisis, and specifically the failure to regulate the private rented sector or match Local Housing Allowance to local rents, has seen the demand for social housing rapidly increase. Many families are in need of a genuinely affordable place to call home, and the housing crisis has left more and more households turning to the Council for assistance. 

The number of households seeking social housing from the council now exceeds 13,400, and more than 3,400 more live in temporary accommodation, desperate for a permanent home. However, only around 600 council and social rented properties become available each year. We want to do everything we can to support these residents to find the homes they need.

The Council sees more than 100 bids for every council home that becomes available, which means thousands of people put time, effort and emotional energy into their search for a council home, often without any chance of getting one. The estimated waiting time for a resident in our ‘general’ band – meaning they don’t have an identified urgent need – for a two-bedroom home is now a shocking 24 years.

This system has also created a huge challenge for the Council, with an ever-growing register requiring significant staff time to manage despite fewer homes being allocated, causing delays, generating complaints and leading to considerable frustration for residents.

We anticipate that around 5,500 households will be directly impacted by our proposals to reduce the housing waiting list, based on the number of households currently within the General and Reserve Bands, who will be almost universally affected to some extent. Of the 5,500, approximately 2,900 have no recorded housing need. Affected households will be contacted directly in advance of the implementation date and will receive tailored advice and support according to their circumstances.

Our proposals will prioritise those in greatest need and making sure our staff are able to provide more personalised support and alternative housing options to those who will no longer qualify to remain on the list. 

And let’s be clear about what we mean by ‘greatest need’ – those in an emergency, who are homeless, have a significant medical need or a threat to their life. That doesn’t mean we will be ignoring everyone else, and work has gone into ensuring that those that are statutorily or seriously overcrowded will continue to be able to access the waiting list. 

Government policy over the last decade means that if you’re not in these types of situations, shamefully, you’re very unlikely to qualify for a Council home, because demand far outstrips supply. We all wish it was different. 

There will be those that say that it is a fundamental right for anyone to apply for a Council home, and that we should continue those without an urgent need to join the waiting list. And yes – it would be easier to continue to pretend to residents that a Council home is available for anyone who wants one. But I believe it would be wrong to leave them languishing for years on a waiting list, being dishonest about their chances of getting a home, and putting an ideological principle ahead of practical help.

Instead, we’ll invest in a new team to provide more personalised support for those no longer eligible to be on the waiting list, including better links with housing associations and other providers to explore other more realistic options. While we implement the new policies there will also be extra investment in transitional support and the process of ensuring we truly understand every household's needs, especially if they have changed during the pandemic, or the Council’s records haven’t been updated due to the serious cyberattack last year that our services are still recovering from. 

If you’re on the housing waiting list, we’ll be writing to you, subject to the decision of Cabinet, to explain what it means for you and whether you’ll be automatically transferred to the new housing register. 

Even with these changes, households in urgent need will still wait around seven years to be housed, and homeless families will continue to wait an average of four years. 

This is the stark reality of the Government’s failure to tackle our city’s housing crisis, and I will continue to do everything I can to make the case to ministers to invest properly in the new generation of Council housing Hackney and London so desperately needs.
Cllr Sade Etti, Mayoral Advisor for Homelessness, Housing Needs and Rough Sleeping