By Kelvin Rutledge QC and Andy Lane
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, in collaboration with Public Health England, has published non-statutory guidance to support social landlords "on essential moves" during the emergency "to ensure public safety and protection of the vulnerable".
Every local housing authority is required by law to maintain a scheme by which it allocates social housing and to frame it in such as a way as to give reasonable preference to certain groups of applicants.
The new guidance is intended to give effect to Government policy that, as far as possible, people should delay moving to a new home while emergency measures are in place to fight the coronavirus. It accordingly advises all social landlords "to pause non-essential allocation and transfer activity". It defines those allocations that should continue as follows:
- Supporting victims of domestic abuse and people fleeing other forms of violence.
- Preventing severe overcrowding.
- Facilitating move-on from temporary accommodation.
- Facilitating discharge from hospital to free-up bed space for others requiring care.
- Supporting those living in unsafe accommodation, or without settled accommodation, which poses a risk to their health.
The guidance urges local authorities to consider how to carry out their allocation functions for the most essential moves in line with the Government's advice on "staying at home and away from others", and advises that choice-based lettings should give way to direct offers "where resources allow". It further exhorts all social landlords to discourage tenants from exercising their right of mutual exchange for all but the most essential moves and to publicise this on their websites and via e-mail.
The guidance reminds local authorities of provisions in the statutory guidance by which qualifying criteria, such as local connection, may be disapplied in exceptional circumstances and urges them to make exceptions to help safeguard those most at risk. It further advises that all non-essential maintenance work to properties should be paused if the effect would be to require the occupier to move into temporary accommodation.
Local authorities should therefore review their allocation schemes to ensure that they are sufficiently flexible to enable them to modify their approach to transfers and new lettings for the duration of the emergency.
Cornerstone's top-ranked Housing Team is available to advise and guide social landlords on this and other housing issues.