You may have been one of the many viewers who, like me, watched the recent TV programme about how to get a council house. Like many other people, I watched it because I have an interest in social housing matters. When it was on air, I received texts from colleagues saying how awful it made social housing look. I replied that it made dismal viewing on so many levels.
The scenes it portrayed, of desperate people seeking help, bidding again and again for properties, sometimes for many years and being treated like numbers in a lottery by an uncaring system were shocking to anyone with an ounce of compassion. Clearly the employees of the two local authorities involved were as much victims of a Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) driven scandal as the housing applicants. Although, it must be said, some of the senior leaders did themselves no favours in how they communicated their view of the current situation, particularly to applicants for a property.
For those of you who don’t know, CBL is a costly and ineffective means of bidding for a social house owned by either a housing association or a local authority housing service. It involves applicants having access to an IT system to allow them to bid for a house. It costs local authorities and housing associations an exorbitant amount of money to maintain, service and respond to these IT systems. Many applicants find them complicated to use and the electronic application screens unfathomable.
One housing organisation I know spends £1.8 million each year just to service the fallout from the CBL computer system. The fallout includes the time spent by housing officers answering phone calls about why applicants have not been successful and the time they spend taking groups of applicants out to viewings, many of whom turn the property down when they see the physical condition of the property.
During the last decade social housing landlords were bullied by the DCLG to adopt CBL schemes as ‘Best Practice’. It was an example of the ‘bastardisation’ of a successful Dutch idea that was put forward by the ‘bright young things’ in Whitehall trying to give their minister the word ‘choice’ to ‘sell’. Choice was, and still is, the Whitehall fad of the time.
As the programmes showed, the senior leadership of housing organisations had little idea of the negative financial and operational impact for their own organisations of acquiescing to DCLG’s bullying in adopting this scandalously wasteful CBL approach. Sadly some do now. Too late.
Senior leaders now facing the financial impacts of significant governments funding cuts have realised their organisations can no longer afford these extremely wasteful CBL schemes. Discussions are underway in many housing organisations to quietly drop CBL. DCLG know it is a failure.
The real tragedy is that decent people, social housing applicants, are treated like they are a serious inconvenience because there are too many applicants for too few properties. “They have no real choice; they choose what we give them” to quote one of the senior officers interviewed.
The delusion applicants are fed is that they have a chance of being placed in a property when, due to their circumstances many have no prospect of being housed in the social housing sector. It is not unusual to have 12,000+ people on a housing waiting list with only 500+ families housed each year. How unfair is that? The housing supply is simply not there.
Shame on you DCLG.
Senior leaders in social housing organisations need not absolve themselves in this either. The ‘Nuremburg Defence’ will not work. Stating they did not have the understanding of the impacts, or if they did, the moral courage ‘to tell the emperor he has no clothes’. As one senior housing manager put it to me “It would have been bad for one’s career to have done so”………..
Still; no senior person in DCLG or housing association will be looking to apply to live in a social housing property.
So; that’s OK then……..