Posted by: Tom Lloyd16/04/2012
Basing housing allocations on merit is gaining support, but it should not be at the expense of need.
This claimed in some London boroughs more than half of lets went to non-UK nationals, despite also admitting that data on the subject is incomplete because social housing applicants aren’t required to declare their nationality.
Labour MP and government ‘poverty czar’ Frank Field fuelled the debate by using the Migration Watch report as a platform to promote his own calls for an allocation system that favours ‘good citizens’. His proposals are set out in a private members bill he has introduced to parliament.
It’s easy to dismiss these proposals out of hand, arguing that there is such limited social housing stock available that by the time you’ve allocated homes to people in the highest priority need categories there are so few homes available that any argument about merit becomes irrelevant.
In some cases, however, a merit based approach has been shown to work. Manchester is one of the first councils to have put this into practice, and has figures to show its prioritisation of applicants who are in work is effective. Other authorities are set to follow its lead.
Where the Manchester example differs from the ideas advocated by Mr Field, however is that the merit criteria sit alongside need. If two families are equally in need of housing, but one family is in work while the other is not, then the working family might get priority.
Under Mr Field’s proposals a family that is deemed to be deserving of housing might get a home, while a household that is in greater need – but has a less good record of behaviour – might be refused.
That seems to be recipe for disaster, with troublesome families pushed into temporary accommodation or onto the street, where they are likely to become a greater burden on society and continue to create problems in the communities where they are placed, rather than getting the support they need.
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