Concern over planned changes to Havering housing allocation

Richer households will be able to apply to be housed by Havering Council while newer residents will be excluded under proposed policy changes.

Councillors raised concerns that suggested changes to the Housing Allocation Scheme would disadvantage minimum wage workers or “positively discriminate” towards some groups.

If changes are approved, the maximum household income allowed for those on the waiting list for homes would rise from £36,000 to £50,000, which one councillor noted was well above the average London wage.

Residents will also have to have lived in the borough for 10 years – rather than the six required previously – unless they are a refugee or a member of the Traveller community.

The council will consult on the suggested changes and present the results to the cabinet for final approval in April this year.

Cllr Gerry O’Sullivan (Residents’ Group) questioned the decision to increase the maximum income allowed, arguing it would mean poorer residents are less likely to be housed.

He asked: “Why are we increasing it when we are trying to look after those who are most vulnerable? It does not make sense to me.

“Raising it to that extent makes it more difficult for people who are on minimum wage to get considered.

“If people are earning £50,000 a year, I’m sure they can actually afford to go into private accommodation.”

The council’s director of housing services, Patrick Odling-Smee, said the council needed to ensure there were people on the list who could afford more expensive, but still technically “affordable”, homes in Havering.

He said: “One of the issues we have at the minute is that some of the properties that we are letting are properties that have “affordable rent”, which can be up to 80 per cent of market rent.

“We do have to have people on the list who can afford to rent from these but still be in housing need. We do not want to exclude too many people.”

Residents currently wait an average of seven years to be housed, although the council hopes this will “drop dramatically” in the next five years thanks to an influx of new builds.

Mr Odling-Smee noted that another benefit of adding more people to the housing list was that it would give the council “more information about them”.

He said: “One of the things we do lack is information about the community. By having that database of housing needs in the borough, it will help us plan better.”

If the changes are approved in April, residents will need to be able to demonstrate that they have lived in the borough for ten years, or for five years if they are a refugee or Traveller.

The committee heard the council expected the change would only add one or two extra people to the list but had to be done for legal reasons due to precedent set by a 2019 court case.

Committee chairman Cllr Ray Best (Con, Havering Park) argued having the lower requirement for Travellers was “positive discrimination” towards the community.

He said: “It seems a bit strange that you are pandering to a group of people that essentially are Travellers and do not want to live in bricks and mortar houses.”

In 2019, Hillingdon Council lost a case which argued their housing allocation discriminated against Travellers because of a similar requirement for long-term continuous residency.

The court found Travellers were less likely to be able to demonstrate long-term, continuous residence in one borough due to their more transient lifestyle.

Cllr Keith Darvill (Lab, Heaton) said the council “does not appear to have any alternative” to offering a lower requirement “from a legal point of view” due to the precedent set by this case.

He also corrected Cllr Best on his assumption about Travellers’ preferences, explaining: “We do have some static traveller families, particularly in Harold Hill, who have been there for years.

“Their children go to local schools, they are members of the community like anyone else, and they should not be discriminated against.”

A report prepared for the committee notes that, in the previous financial year, only two in every 10 households on the housing register had “a realistic prospect of securing social housing”.

Residents who want to make their views heard on the proposed changes can fill in the council’s consultation here until April 4. https://consultation.havering.gov.uk/housing/housing-allocations-scheme-2021/

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter