There is an urgent need for more flexibility in lettings cycles, says Simon Hollingsworth, managing director at Housing Partners
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Across the UK, the increase in demand for homes, alongside a reduction in available stock, has created an allocations crisis, making us question if the current choice-based lettings (CBL) system is still fit for purpose.
With welfare reform, such as the Local Housing Allowance cap, the affordability of rented homes is an increasing concern for providers. Many housing organisations have measures in place to ensure that applicants can afford the properties they are applying for, but a surprising amount do not.
It is important that social landlords have access to a user base who are in housing need and can afford to sustain their tenancies.
To reach more home seekers, we need to make it easier for applicants. Those looking for homes need a quick and easy-to-use solution, with searches increasingly being done online via a laptop, tablet or mobile device. Home seekers want to perform a simple search, and view and create alerts for properties without having to complete extensive forms. Users want to see an overview of the property and what is near it, and know if it’s affordable.
If searches are not transparent and clear, applicants will inevitably apply for homes they simply will not get. This may lead to user frustration, increasing the threat of the private rented sector’s competition to social landlords, as users turn to other solutions.
In a recent survey conducted with Inside Housing, 64% said their current lettings system did not secure enough demand. This figure suggests why housing providers may be moving away from the traditional CBL systems, to advertise stock to a wider audience.
With cuts to waiting lists and competition from the private rented sector for advertising space, providers are seeking new methods of filling homes, ones which are designed specifically for social housing. While the set-up of these sites might help those looking for homes, they are tailored to the private rented sector, not affordable housing.
Housing providers must recognise a shift in home seeker behaviour if they are to find ways to reduce application and relet times. Online services reduce admin costs and remove slow processes driven by printed desktop forms, but the social housing sector needs an online service designed with the purpose in mind, for the tenant’s and landlord’s sake.
Associations are reporting they “cannot re-advertise quickly enough because we currently have a fortnightly system”.
A few weeks ago, Su David, lettings team leader at Worthing Homes, told Inside Housing that “in my worst-case scenario, my deadline for advertising is at 11am on a Tuesday. If I get a termination that comes in at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon, I despair because I’d have to wait 13 days before I can advertise the property again”.
There is an urgent need for more flexibility for lettings cycles - so that advertising of properties can be more frequent and tailored to requirements. Longer cycles may impact on operational performance, increasing void turnaround times and therefore reducing rental income at a time when securing income is more important than ever.