Nearly half of Epping Forest housing applicants sharing accommodation

An annual review of Epping Forest District Council’s housing allocation scheme has revealed that nearly half of those on the register are sharing accommodation with another household.

At a meeting on Tuesday September 26, district councillors were presented with the first annual report of their housing allocation scheme, which was first implemented in September 2022.

Chris Walsh, manager of the council’s neighbourhoods team, said: “The demand for social and affordable rented housing in Epping Forest continues to outweigh the supply of suitable accommodation.

“Therefore it’s important that only those with a demonstrated need can access our council housing stock, and that their applications are prioritised correctly.”

Split into three qualifying bands (A, B or C), applicants on the register are prioritised based on their immediate need, and are able to ‘bid’ for available properties as they are advertised on a weekly basis. However, Mr Walsh said that the average age of applicants on the register reflected a “much younger demographic” of those seeking housing than in previous years, with the majority group falling between the ages of 20 and 29.

Around 42 per cent of the total registered cohort were recorded as sharing accommodation with another household, with 555 of these applicants classified as Band C. 78 per cent of applications made between 2022 and 2023 can be attributed to single people requiring one-bedroom properties. Currently, there are 299 Band C applicants who lack one bedroom.

Despite this lengthy waiting list, Mr Walsh advised the council that efforts made to democratise the process of accommodating homeless households had seen those with the most urgent needs rightfully prioritised.

He said: “Homelessness is one of our most pressing issues… the number of applicants approaching us on an almost daily basis is growing. Lots of local authorities are struggling with the cost attached to that.”

Under the previous allocation scheme, homeless households placed in temporary accommodation were not allowed to bid for properties via the choice-based letting system and were instead made direct offers by the council in order for the authority to fulfil its duty.

This ‘two-tier’ system was deemed discriminatory, and so after the new allocation scheme was introduced in 2022, homeless households looking to bid on properties were able to do so and classified as Band B.

In the 11 months since the implementation of the new scheme, 92 properties have been let to households via the choice-based system compared to 61 the previous year.

Mr Walsh said that this revised system “is working, and we recommend that this aspect of the current scheme remains unchanged”. Another reform which Mr Walsh claimed has had a “positive impact” on the district’s housing allocation is the introduction of three rather than two medical gradings. These are divided into Band A (emergency medical need), Band B (urgent medical need) and Band C (moderate medical need).

This, he said, has allowed the council to take a “more nuanced approach to applications” when allocating the limited council stock to those with the most crucial requirements.

The report states: “Having three medical bands better reflects the varied nature of the conditions that our applicants present to us with, and allows us to prioritise their applications accordingly.”

Councillor Holly Whitbread (Con, Epping Lindsey and Thornwood Common) said: “Housing allocation is always a difficult balancing act.” However, she praised the council’s ability to house the vast majority of applicants on the waiting list within the district rather than arrange out-of-area placements. 89.7 per cent of properties let were to Band B individuals and households already residing in Epping Forest.

She said: “It’s vital to keep a local connection to ensure that local people are given preference.”

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Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter