1. The Chairman welcomed Vicky Hodson to the meeting.
2. Vicky is the Kent Homechoice Partnership Manager and has responsibility for overseeing the partnership of 14 Kent and Medway Local Authorities, including KCC and 25 Housing Association Partners. This involves activities such as dealing with partnership agreements, contractual arrangements with system providers, production of statistics and relevant data, customer reviews, training and management of the Kent Homechoice website, as well as ensuring that all systems and processes comply with new legislative requirements, for example GDPR.
3. Vicky explained that Kent Homechoice is the largest choice-based lettings partnership in the UK, and is well respected for its success in partnership working, leading on innovation, and continuous improvement in systems and customer services.
4. Vicky gave an overview of the process:-
5. SLIDE 1 explained that the Kent Homechoice website was a central access point online that where anyone wanting to apply for social housing could complete a pre-assessment, the system looks at eligibility and assesses the individual needs of an applicant and provides them with an action plan. She explained that you needed an e. mail address and password and you were then able to upload details and log in to enable you to see what you were able to bid on.
6. SLIDE 2 explained that the system was as transparent as possible, and applicants were able to work out for themselves how long they would possibly have to wait.
7. Every property advertised /listed shows the outcome of who was offered the property by Band and length of time. Applicants can then work out their options. If for example it shows a wait of 4/5 years, they may want to change their preference to another area within their district.
8. QUESTION - Kent Homechoice are advising clients to move to other areas?
9. Only within their Borough/District
10. QUESTION -Eligibility? Residents find this difficult to understand. You need to be articulate. Does local connection relate to jobs? How do we ensure people working locally get accommodation in their area?
11. There are certain residency and immigration status, Government Policy, Local Connection Criteria is set locally. (Armed Forces is different). Every Local Authority has a different criteria. On the whole they only apply to the Borough that they live in, could look to another Borough if had a family connection or employment.
12. QUESTION -Does Kent Homechoice have a constitution? Is it a Charity?
13. It has a written partnership Agreement with all 14 Kent and Medway Local Authority’s including KCC and 25 Housing Association Partners.
14. QUESTION - How does the applicant deal with Kent Homechoice? If I need housing – why Kent Homechoice and not a District Council?
15. We are a partnership with the District Council’s – it is one central point of contact.
16. SLIDE 3 depicted the Housing Register Figures for each area.
17. QUESTION - In Maidstone and Tonbridge and Malling it is only those in need that are placed on the register. In Dartford for example there are 7,820 on the register but only 799 in need? Do some Districts advise that you can’t register?
18. No, everyone is assessed individually.
19. QUESTION - If the figures don’t measure need is it just each District’s Policy?
20. That is correct.
21. QUESTION - Has anyone measured need across the Country based on the same criteria?
22. Policies are very similar but take account of local needs so it wouldn’t be possible to provide a figure on the exactly the same need across the County
23. QUESTION - How does the Government assess? There are hidden statistics? Whose figures does the Government use?
24. All policies are broadly similar and meet the government guidance.
25. SLIDE 4 showedthe Housing Register Demographics.
26. SLIDE 5 explained the housing need and Vicky advised there were always challenges around size and type of properties.
27. SLIDE 6 explained that between 5,000 and 6,000 social and affordable homes were advertised via Kent Homechoice each year, statistics show that in Band A you would wait an average 367 days before being housed. In 2019 there were 1,146 applicants housed across Kent and Medway in Band A and there were a further 1803 applicants that had been waiting in Band A for 4 to 5 years that had an urgent housing need.
28. QUESTION - If I had waited 367 days in Band A – where would I have been at this time?
29. With family members or in some form of inadequate housing.
30. SLIDE 7 explained the procedure for vulnerable applicants, Kent Homechoice has worked hard to ensure it is accessible. Digital assistance was offered by support agencies and Local Authority’s with an automated bidding option.
31. SLIDE 8 explained that Kent Homechoice was the largest CBL Partnership in the UK with a total stock of 88,000 in Kent and Medway and 13% of the overall housing stock in Kent.
32. QUESTION - Please elaborate on KCC’s role?
33. KCC has a supporting role and is a partner with a keen interest – it has limited access to the system (VH provides KCC with reports to assist them with assessing fraudulent activity).
34. QUESTION - In Band A, is there an opportunity to make adaptations to a property, building, lifts?
35. It is very difficult to adapt existing stock. We are not building the types of property that we require. There is a blockage, there are single people in family size accommodation because there is a lack of adapted properties. We are not building lifetime homes.
36. QUESTION - Does mutual exchange help?
37. To a degree.
38. QUESTION - Is it Country wide?
39. Home Swapper is a National Scheme.
40. QUESTION - It all points to a shortage of affordable property – from your unique vantage point - what do you attribute this to?
a. A shortage of adapted properties.
b. Insufficient numbers of properties being built – often those that are built are not large enough ie often a 2 bed on a new development will only be suitable for a family with 1 child. A previous old council stock 4 bed house would have been suitable for a family of 6/7 but new builds only suitable for a family of 5.
42. QUESTION - Housing Associations have the highest number of units?
43. It seems that on the whole Housing Association developments fulfil financial requirements rather than sustainability.
44. QUESTION - Is there a minimum space standard?
45. They are constructed a smaller size than housing built in the past.
46. QUESTION - Is it a Government Regulation issue or is it the Planning Authorities?
47. That is difficult for me to answer – most housing developments build to a minimum size.
48. QUESTION - What are the reasons why stock becomes available, is it when people die?
49. Internal management – a % move, tenants transfer, and this frees up stock, some move out of the area or choose to privately rent. A % is a final home returned.
50. QUESTION - Adaptations Policy – a limited amount of finance – could KCC support financially or encourage Districts?
51. There is a Disabled Facilities Grant – someone could be accommodated in a 3-bedroom house but only needs a 1 bedroom house- this is a challenge. If there was a County wide design standard that Housing Associations could adhere for lifetime properties, KCC could help by applying pressure.
52. QUESTION - Wider value of KCC land?
53. Exciting prospect, looking at actual need across Kent, rather than for financial gain.
54. QUESTION - Right to Buy?
55. West Kent have more Housing Association stock. East Kent tend to lose Right to Buy.
56. Most of the good stock has been bought /sold. Agree if could halt it would be a good opportunity to sell Right to Buy back to Council’s. Currently spending a lot of money on re-purchasing, not good value for money.
57. QUESTION - Data Collection? Deliverability? Movement of people within an existing system. Missing Link?
58. We should look at household sizes, historically there were larger properties.
59. QUESTION - How much affordable rental stock is there available to people who are looking at housing? For example, on a development, I have been advised that 50% properties were sublet and rented at the market rate. If Housing Associations do not realise this is happening this is not helpful? Problem?
60. The problem is that most Housing Associations are now centralised and there are no local offices, so they are therefore less aware of what is happening. Could see it as a growing issue. There are potential cuckooing and County Lines issues too.
61. QUESTION - Policy on Bedroom Tax?
62. Believe on the whole people are tending to stay where they are and pay the tax.
63. QUESTION - Of the 5,000 to 6,000 properties what is the balance social/affordable?
64. INFORMATION TO BE PROVIDED TO THE COMMITTEE
65. QUESTION - Total stock of 88,000 - Kent Homechoice has a contract with all Local Authority’s – they have all transferred responsibility of 88,000 properties?
66. No, they are advertised and come through Kent Homechoice, most LAs have nominations agreements with housing associations and 25% of vacancies can be held back for them to manage their own stock.
67. QUESTION - Relationship to Kent Homechoice?
68. Support each other – Kent Homechoice are a subgroup of Kent Housing Group. Excellent partnership.
69. QUESTION - Do you share best practice?
70. Yes and work with them on important projects, it brings strength.
71. QUESTION - It is very difficult to quantify waiting times? It is important we quantify it as a measure. What else could KCC do? Although we respect the fact there is a variance in Districts, there needs to be standardisation in waiting times.
72. It is difficult to quantify – it varies so much from area to area. Measuring the time that someone has been housed against the time that someone remains on the register is challenging and may require an expert in the area of statistics to calculate? Waiting times depend on properties being returned, it depends on people moving out, sometimes there may not be movement in a particular village for years and then occasionally there may be 2 in 1 month, it is very unpredictable This is why we provide the feedback so they are able to work it out for themselves.
73. QUESTION - On average? - ie a 3-bedroom house?
74. You may never get one.
75. QUESTION - Is the waiting time different across different bands?
76. There are different variables in Bands C and D – can make a choice to look in a different area within the same District.
77. QUESTION - Why aren’t people moving -is it a cost factor?
78. No there are other challenges, the cost of furnishings for example is an issue.
79. Vicky advised that there were two issues that she would like to bring to the attention of the Committee.
80. Firstly, the issues of asylum seekers in Kent care turning 21 years old – there are currently 60 who have all approached the Registers for housing – more work needs to be done on client expectation, they are all under the impression they will be housed in a separate dwelling, they need to consider private renting in shared housing.
81. Secondly, Gypsy Traveller Accommodation – Kent Homechoice is currently on a Policy Review, as the travellers currently assess the Register via KCC. The review is looking at the Gypsy and Traveller community potentially having to apply to all 13 areas as they have the option of choice. Teams in each Local Authority would accept them onto the housing register, the challenge is that they need to apply to 13 Local Authority’s - with lower literacy levels within the community this would make the application process more difficult for them than it is currently. It would be beneficial if could apply to KCC first.
82. The Chairman thanked Vicky, he had found the session very informative and extremely valuable and thanked her for covering so many important issues.