Review of housing allocation policy could see new approach to letting in Aberdeenshire

A possible move to a choice-based lettings approach for allocating housing in Aberdeenshire is to be investigated, councillors have agreed.

Aberdeenshire Council’s housing allocation policy is currently being reviewed, and an update on progress was brought before the authority’s Communities Committee at its latest meeting.

The review is being overseen by a working group of tenants and council officers, and a consultation about housing allocation was undertaken last August

The survey drew 120 responses from waiting list applicants, tenants and external partners, with one of the key areas of feedback relating to the way homes are currently allocated.

A choice-based letting system allows applicants to view properties and information about features and rent online and apply or ‘bid’ for a home, rather than being allocated a property by the council that may ultimately be declined.

A series of public events was held to look at a number of themes from the consultation, including choice-based letting and the ‘Transfer First’ approach – whereby existing tenants would be prioritised when a property becomes available.

Hearing an update on the review, the Communities Committee was asked to consider comments made by area committees on the feedback, and the possible change to a to letting properties.

A report before councillors said the choice-based letting approach was generally seen as more positive as applicants would know how many people they were competing against for a property and wouldn’t be penalised for refusing offers. 

Some respondents voiced concerns about the system being web-based, although support is provided to those without internet access or who are not computer literate. Other matters discussed at the sessions include waiting times, number of offers, choice of house types and priority groups.

Choice-based letting has been discussed and researched by the Chartered Institute of Housing, Shelter and the Scottish Government. A number of Scottish local authorities and registered social landlords already operate such a system.

A change in process is also supported by the council’s options and homelessness team, which says the move could see a reduction in the time taken to find a housing solution, as well as reducing the amount of time taken to process applications.

The committee agreed that further investigation be undertaken with the housing service to consider the introduction of the system, and that a report be brought back to the committee in October with formal recommendations.

Speaking after the meeting, Communities Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling said: “It’s important that we fully explore the different mechanisms for allocating housing and the principle of giving applicants more choice is a key factor in that.

“We must be sure that we consider all the implications of a possible change to the way housing is allocated and have asked that more information is provided before we make a final decision, including how we would resource the management of a new system.”

Committee vice-chair Cllr Mike Roy said: “The input of tenants and those on the waiting list is key to our considerations and we would encourage everybody to take the opportunity to share their views over the coming months.

“Having as broad a range of feedback as possible will help us in our decision-making so that we can ensure that whichever system we use in the future has the greatest benefit to those seeking accommodation.”

Further public consultation will be undertaken once the policy has been drafted, and Aberdeenshire Council’s six area committees will be asked for comment before Communities Committee is asked to formally consider proposals later this year.