Long term illnesses given higher council house priority in Epping Forest

People with serious or long-term illnesses in Epping Forest district will find it easier to get a council house under new rules, the council has said.

Epping Forest District Council agreed to update it’s housing allocation scheme, and to classify those whose current housing conditions are seriously affecting their health as having an “urgent” medical need.

According to a council report, the scheme previously only had two categories, for “emergency” and “moderate” need, which meant people with serious illnesses or disabilities were being placed in the lowest priority band for housing or rehousing.

The cabinet agreed five “major” changes to the scheme at a meeting on March 7, of which this is one.

Housing Services Portfolio Holder Councillor Holly Whitbread (Con, Epping Lindsey and Thornwood Common) told the cabinet tenants still had to have lived in Epping Forest for at least seven years to be eligible for a property in the district.

She said: “The basic principle stays the same, we are putting local people first in terms of our allocations.”

The three priority bands for awarding council housing in Epping Forest are Band A, or “emergency need” where an imminent move is needed to mitigate a serious risk or life-changing circumstances, Band B, or “urgent need” where an applicant is living in unsuitable accommodation likely to have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing, and Band C, or “moderate need” where an applicant is living in “undesirable” accommodation but they do not have an urgent need to move.

The medical categories will now align with the priority bands, according to the report.

Homeless households will also be given Band B priority for housing under the scheme, in another of the five major changes made by the council.

Incentive payments of £1,000 made to people downsizing their council houses or flats can now be made to those with at least six months remaining on their tenancy, rather than the previous policy of five years.

Local lettings plans, which allocate accommodation to certain people such as emergency services staff or those vulnerable to being targeted by drug dealers, and can differ from the local plan, can be introduced by the council in exceptional circumstances.

The seven-year rule for unacceptable behaviour, which denies access to the housing register to those guilty of such behaviour or rent arrears during the past seven years, will be scrapped and replaced with a more risk-based approach.

According to the report, the seven-year rule was “counterproductive” and “does not take account of the cause of the arrears or behaviour.”

The cabinet also approved 11 minor changes to the scheme, including ensuring that the scheme explicitly references the council’s compliance with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter