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RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS SUCCESS OF CHOICE LETTINGS SCHEMES

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Five years on from the launch of the government's Choice Based Lettings programme, new research highlights the posi...
Five years on from the launch of the government's Choice Based Lettings programme, new research highlights the positive impact of the CBL schemes, which are a way of allocating social housing by giving tenants a greater say over where they live.

Monitoring the Longer Term Impacts of Choice-based Lettings, was carried out for the DCLG by Heriot Watt University and BMRB and has been published today at the 2006 Choice Based Lettings conference in London.

The research, which builds on an earlier evaluation of CBL pilot schemes, and assesses the longer-term impacts of the programme, explores local authority and RSL take-up, applicants views, outcomes for different types of households, and the costs and benefits of the new system.

The study shows that participation in CBL schemes is growing, with more than a quarter of local authority landlords by 2005 operating the schemes and comfortably meeting the take up target. DCLG statistics support this showing that as at April last year more than 80 per cent of councils had implemented, or had plans to implement, choice based lettings.

In most cases the introduction of CBL is followed by an improvement in tenancy sustainment - typically the proportion of tenancies terminated within 12 months is cut by 10-12 per cent under CBL.

This also reflected CBLs effectiveness in better matching people to properties and improving satisfaction with letting outcomes.

Also, whilst CBL set-up costs can be substantial, particularly in relation to developing an appropriate IT system, this can be off-set by increased housing management efficiencies particularly through increased tenancy sustainability and the reduction of re-lets.

Additionally set-up costs borne by individual landlords may be reduced where they are shared with others in a 'consortium scheme'.

In some areas CBL is encouraging applicants to think more flexibly about their housing options. Recently housed applicants are typically moving longer distances than previously.

Importantly in-depth work in 11 case study areas appear to disprove concerns that CBL might concentrate certain types of households in particular types of area. In particular, the outcomes for homeless households are largely positive, revealing that under CBL they are more likely to be housed in higher demand areas. Most of the case study areas have seen some diffusion of minority ethnic settlement away from existing areas of concentration and towards 'non-traditional' areas. Such trends have been quite strong in northern cities.

Case study landlords have also recognised the need for active measures to protect the interests of groups that could be potentially disadvantaged by the 'active' participation required under CBL, and this support was very much welcomed by applicants/tenants. Interviews with applicants revealed the ongoing need for personalised feedback to improve people's experience of the system and encourage those who have not been allocated a property to continue bidding.

Notes

1. The CBL schemes allow people to apply for advertised social housing vacancies - often in the local press or through an inter-active website. Applicants can see the full range of available properties and apply for any home to which they are matched. The successful applicant is the person with the highest priority for the property which they have bid for.

2. The department's CBL programme was introduced in 2001 when the then DETR provided funding to support and evaluate 27 local authority-led pilot schemes to develop and test out 'customer focused' approaches to lettings. The rationale behind CBL systems is to 'open up' the letting of social housing. CBL allows housing applicants to view details on, choose between, and apply for properties. This contrasts with traditional housing allocation systems where applicants are normally faced with only the stark choice of whether to accept or reject a property deemed 'suitable' by a social landlord. In this way, CBL aims to transform the letting of social housing from a producer-driven function to a consumer-led service.

3. In 2002, the department set targets for all LAs to adopt CBL by 2010; with an interim target of a quarter of LAs adopting CBL by 2005. The 2005 target has been met comfortably (27 per cent of LAs had adopted CBL by April 2005).

4. The CBL pilots were not operational long enough to provide conclusive evidence about the longer term impacts of choice. In 2004, the Department commissioned Heriot Watt University and the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to undertake a follow-up study to assess the longer-term impacts of CBL. The research focussed mainly on 11 case study CBL schemes in England and 2 in Scotland which had been in operation at least 18 months. The study explored CBLs longer-term impacts in terms of demand, lettings outcomes (including whether CBL leads to greater ethnic segregation), mobility, tenancy sustainment, housing management performance and cost effectiveness.

5. Case study areas were: Berwickshire, Bolton, Bradford, Edinburgh, Herefordshire, Leeds, Newham, Nottingham, Ocean Housing (Restormal), Poole, Sheffield, Sutton and West London Locata.

6. Copies of the research report and summary are available here. We are also committed to publishing statutory guidance on CBL in the future. The guidance will provide advice on issues which have been raised in the research report.

7. The DCLG is providing£4m over three years to support the development of regional and sub-regional CBL schemes. First round ended October 2005 with 15 new consortia of local authorities and housing associations being given£1.6m funding to help set up sub-regional choice based lettings schemes. This will ensure a further 59 councils adopt a choice based lettings approach. The second round closed 29 September 2006. As part of the sub/regional agenda, we are supporting the London Housing Board and the ALG in the development of a pan-London CBL scheme.

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