Moira Bayne: Are social housing allocation processes accessible for people with learning disabilities?

Moira Bayne: Are social housing allocation processes accessible for people with learning disabilities?

Moira Bayne

In a guest blog for the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities, Moira Bayne discusses the accessibility of social housing allocation processes used by councils across Scotland, and the impact on people with learning disabilities.

Housing is an important issue for many people with a learning disability. It can be difficult to find the right kind of home, with the right amenities, adaptations and community, as well as ensuring that an individual has the right support at home, whether they are living independently, receiving support, or living in supported accommodation. For people with learning disabilities, social housing can be a great option to enable choice and control in their lives and in a home of their own.

Earlier this year, Housing Options Scotland published a report exploring the accessibility of housing allocation policies across Scottish Local Authorities. In five of Scotland’s thirty-two Local Authorities they found that a system called ‘choice-based lettings’ (CBL) was being used, whereby housing applicants go online and bid on available housing stock in their area. Housing allocation is then done on the basis of certain criteria, such as whether an applicant is homeless, has a disability or is under-occupying their current home.

The report talks about specific concerns for how CBL systems affect people with a learning disability who are in need of housing, stating that ‘choice-based lettings (CBL) systems that some housing associations and council providers use are a particular challenge for people with a learning disability.’ (An investigation and summary report into council allocations policy, Housing Options Scotland, 2022:3). This can be a result of factors such as digital exclusion and needing support to navigate complex systems such as CBL.

Following these developments, we asked the CEO of Housing Options Scotland and member of SCLD’s Housing Advisory Group, Moira Bayne, for a guest blog to help us understand more…

“Housing is a basic human right and a secure, good-quality home in the right place can transform lives, however;

The cake isn’t getting any bigger so how can we make sure everyone gets their fair share?

This has been a question I have been struggling without throughout my 40 plus year career in housing and I expect the answer will still be being sought long after I am gone from the housing scene.

So here is what we “know”:

Social housing has always been a scarce resource* I should caveat this by saying this is NOT the case uniformly throughout Scotland. There are always areas of relatively low demand and also house types which are less “popular” than others (again this is often down to geographical considerations) – an unpopular house type in a desirable area will still be far more sought after than the converse.

A good illustration of this phenomenon would be the brand new wheelchair accessible accommodation being offered by an RSL in a regeneration area. They have no one on their waiting list who is eligible and they asked us to try to find applicants. We have wheelchair users who are homeless but would not consider a move to the right house but in the wrong place.

So having identified that not much has changed in the world of social housing supply and demand, bear with me while I share my thoughts on what has changed.

Most obviously we have “all” gone online/ gone digital whether we like it or not. During the pandemic all social housing providers had to transition rapidly and navigate through the stormy waters of lockdowns, working from home, and more recently labour and materials shortages and the ongoing energy crisis. Looking back it seems almost miraculous that so many of them were able to keep going and keep delivering a high quality housing service.

During this time, the experience of our clients has been that the needs of waiting list applicants have not been well catered for and this trend was apparent long before COVID 19 became an issue.

Indeed, our recently published research indicates it has become harder for people to find the personal support and easy access to information they need to apply for social housing. And the choice-based lettings (CBL) systems that some housing associations and council providers use can be a particular challenge for people with a learning disability.

Our report outlines makes several recommendations of changes we would like to see to improve the process of applying for and allocating social housing:

  • People with learning disabilities are more involved in policy development and review;
  • Consistent use of a well-resourced mechanism for digitally excluded people to apply for housing;
  • Councils reviewing the support available to housing applicants more generally, with well-resourced, one-to-one support in place when needed;
  • All council landlords publishing a plain English summary of their allocations policy;
  • Easy Read versions available for people with learning disabilities and other people who need them; and,
  • More consistent monitoring of allocations to people with learning disabilities and other equalities groups, with positive action taken where a need for it is identified.

So while supply and demand of social housing is on-going challenge, there are a number of concrete steps that we believe can promote equitable access to existing social housing in Scotland.”

Read Housing Options Scotland’s full research report.

  • Moira Bayne is CEO of Housing Options Scotland
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