Lettings Policy

Purpose

This policy describes how we let our general needs rented homes. It aims to provide information and advice for customers and staff on how we select applicants and allocate our general needs rented homes.

 

Aim

To provide high quality and well managed rented homes which are allocated in a way that makes the best use of our homes, creates mixed and sustainable communities.

To provide homes for people in greatest need of housing who are otherwise unable to obtain good quality and affordable housing through the private market.

 

Scope

This policy is a statement of principle, it does not override our statutory or contractual or other legal obligations. Estuary Housing Association has the final decision to grant or refuse a tenancy, and whether to allow an applicant or transfer applicant onto our housing waiting list.

 

Equality & Diversity

At Estuary Housing Association we are committed to embedding equality and diversity at the heart of our work. We aim to be an inclusive organisation, where individual differences are respected, where staff, people who use services, as well as their families and carers, are treated with dignity and based on their merits, abilities and needs, and where everyone has a fair opportunity to fulfill their potential without suffering discrimination or disadvantage.

Privacy Statement

Estuary Housing Association is committed to handling your personal information fairly, lawfully and securely in line with current data protection laws. We are required to collect and process personal data to manage the letting of our empty homes.

We take your privacy seriously and our Privacy Notice, explains your privacy rights and how we collect, use, share and secure your personal identifiable information. It explains the types of personal identifiable data we will collect and hold about you. This information may be provided by you or a third party. 

Our Privacy Notice is subject to regular review and will be updated as necessary. If you would like to receive a printed copy of this notice, please contact our Corporate Services Team on 0300 304 5000, Alternatively, you can request a copy by emailing info@estuary.co.uk

If you have questions relating to data protection and how we use your personal information you can contact our Data Protection Officer by email at dpo@estuary.co.uk or by writing to the Data Protection Officer, Estuary Housing Association Ltd, 8th and 9th floors, Maitland House, Warrior Square, Southend on Sea, Essex SS1 2JY.

1.0 Introduction

1.1

When Estuary Housing Association (EHA) allocate our homes, we will have regard to all relevant legislation and regulation, including the regulatory requirements of the Regulator of Social Housing which are set out in:

  • The Economic Standards – this policy complies with the standard by ensuring the process will identify applicants quickly and appropriately, and that we make the best use of our resources in doing this, including the management of our housing stock.
  • The Consumer Standards – this policy complies with achieving the Tenancy Standard (one of the consumer standards) which requires us to let our homes in a fair, transparent and efficient way. The Tenancy Standard requires that we consider the housing needs and aspirations of customers and potential customers, and demonstrate how our lettings make the best use of available housing, and are compatible with the purpose of contributing to the local authority’s strategic housing function and achieve sustainable communities. Applicants who are EHA customers will have opportunities to exchange their tenancy by way of online mutual exchange services.

 

1.2 - Definitions

 

Letting

Refers to the process whereby we rent a property both for new homes and subsequent relets.

 

Choice based lettings

A system operated by some local authorities and registered providers enabling applicants to bid for properties advertised.

 

Housing Need

Any household applying to EHA housing waiting list will be assessed via our points-based system. Where no points are awarded the applicant will be deemed as not having a social housing need.  

 

Nomination

A household selected by a local authority as having a housing need for an EHA home.

 

Nomination Agreement

Refers to an arrangement whereby a certain proportion of homes provided by us are allocated to applicants from the housing waiting list of a local authority.

 

General Needs

Refers to our rented homes provided for customers to live independently and where we do not provide direct support or care services.

 

Applicant/s

Refers to any person/s applying for an EHA general needs property

 

Transfer/s

Refers to an applicant who is also a current EHA general needs tenant and has a Right to Transfer.

 

Affordable Rent

Refers to properties we let with a rent of up to 80% of the local private market rent.

 

Re-let

A property that has been vacated and is ready to be offered to a new resident. 

 

Social Sector Size Criteria

Known more widely as the ‘bedroom tax.’ Refers to Government rules on the level of welfare benefit available for the size of accommodation for a household.

 

Local Letting Policy

Allocation schemes that fall outside of the standard nomination agreement or allocations policy to support building a balanced and sustainable community, rather than concentrating on meeting housing needs alone. This also includes housing for older people as some homes have a lower age criterion.

2.0 Eligibility

2.1

To be considered for an Estuary Housing Association (EHA) social housing home or to be registered on our housing waiting list, there must be a proven housing need.

 

2.2    

We let our homes via:

  • Local Authority housing registers and choice based lettings schemes
  • EHA housing waiting lists to both EHA tenants and non EHA customers
  • Referrals by partner agencies as part of a reciprocal agreement
  • Through other special arrangements e.g. Homeless Action Resource Project.

 

2.3

We will investigate and verify all applications for housing. Each application will be carefully considered before an offer of housing is made in order to ensure that the property is suitable and affordable for the proposed occupier. In order to do this, we may need to request additional information i.e. medical evidence, risk assessments, credit references, occupational therapist reports, tenancy record from previous landlord and rent balances. 

 

2.4

We will let our properties according to our eligibility and size criteria, see Appendices 1 to 3; except where:

  • We have adopted a common housing policy or a local letting policy with our Local Authority partners
  • An urgent rehousing application has been agreed
  • A move is part of a mutual exchange.

 

2.5

We do not operate residency criteria, with the exception where we have a nomination agreement that requires the applicant to have a local or parish connection.

 

2.6

All housing is allocated based on the needs of the permanent members of a household. Non-family members will not be included unless this is to provide proven care and support to a member of the household (lodgers are not deemed permanent however long they have resided in the property).  Please refer to our Tenure Policy.

 

2.7 

We will consider applications from people under 18 years old but there must be a responsible adult or Social Services support. In these cases, it will be necessary for the local authority or responsible adult to guarantee the rent and act as the applicant or tenants’ representative, until the young person passes their eighteenth birthday. They will only be granted an occupancy agreement whilst they are aged less than 18 years followed by a probationary fixed term tenancy once they have reached their 18 birthday.

 

2.8 

Upon an offer of accommodation the applicant must prove they can afford the rent, see 7.0 below. They will need to provide evidence of their income and expenditure upon request.

 

2.9

Any offer of accommodation is made on the understanding that a minimum of one week’s rent including any service charge, is paid when an applicant accepts the tenancy. Future rent needs to be paid in advance. Our preference is this paid by direct debit or standing order.

 

2.10 

We will follow all current legal and regulatory requirements in assessing applications from people subject to immigration control. We are unable to offer any tenancy where the applicant does not meet the ‘Right to Rent’ criteria which is part of the Immigration Act 2014. Any other person over 18 who will be part of the household also needs to meet this criterion. Where they do not, we cannot take them into account, and this may affect the size of accommodation offered (see Appendix 1 for more information).

3.0 Nomination Agreements And Choice-Based Letting

3.1

The majority of homes are let through Local Authorities’ choice-based lettings (CBL) schemes. We are committed to the principles of choice-based lettings as a fair and transparent way of sourcing applicants for our empty homes. We will work with Local Authorities in order to assist them with their statutory duties in relation to the homeless and those in priority need; however, any nomination must meet the criteria of this Policy. Each Local Authority has its own system for advertising and short-listing applicants; therefore any potential applicant should contact the Local Authority or check the specific Local Authority website for more information.

 

3.2

We will work with Local Authority partners and statutory agencies to reach agreement on the proportion of empty homes to be offered to Local Authority nominations. This will generally be 100% first lets for newly built homes and 75% of relets. This proportion may vary according to local arrangements.  

 

3.3

Where a nomination agreement allows us to allocate an empty home to an applicant from our own waiting list, we will generally offer to the applicant that has the highest points. Where the home is adapted or ground floor, we will then allocate to the household most suited to this home or the adaptions, which will not always be the applicants with the highest points.  

 

3.4

We will adhere to the provisions of any nomination or service level agreement we hold with our Local Authority partners. However, we reserve the right to refuse nominations in accordance with our Lettings Policy.

4.0 Applications For Housing Via EHA Waiting List

4.1

We aim to give appropriate and tailored advice to anyone who approaches us for housing, which will include other housing options including mutual exchange, shared ownership and market rent opportunities. Where we are unable to assist, we will signpost to enquirer to the local authority housing solutions team.

 

4.2

We have a combined housing waiting list for both our own transferring residents and non EHA residents. Generally, we only open waiting lists where we have less than 5 applicants and where there is the likelihood of being housed within 5 years. We may choose not to hold a waiting list where we only have a few homes or vacant homes rarely become available.

 

4.3

Where we have an open waiting list, we will consider all applicants who wish to move from their current home where there is a housing need. This includes those seeking larger accommodation.

 

4.4

Where our waiting lists are closed, we will only consider applications from current EHA general needs residents where they qualify under the Urgent Rehousing Policy; or where they need to be closer to family to give or receive support; or for guaranteed employment.

 

4.5

Where an application is received and there is no housing need, the applicant will not be accepted on to our waiting list.

 

4.6

We will not allow a transfer during any probationary period of a fixed term tenancy unless there is a risk to life or serious medical condition. These cases will be considered via our Urgent Rehousing Policy.

 

4.7

Applicants must not have rent arrears with their current landlord to be accepted onto our waiting list. The only exception to this is for current EHA residents who have proved they will be financially better off, i.e. downsizing or where a transfer has been agreed under our Urgent Rehousing Policy.

 

4.8

Applicants are required to keep EHA updated with any change in their circumstances. Failure to do so may result in an offer of accommodation being withdrawn or removal from our housing waiting list.  

 

4.9

Applicants will have the opportunity to specify a local authority area of their choice as part of the application process. We will allocate homes within any area of that Local Authority. Where an applicant has specified a location they wish to live, or not wish to live, this will only be accepted if this is due to a medical need, or supported by the Police, Social Services or other similar agencies. We will also try to consider applicants needs to be near school catchment areas or family support networks but our ability to do this may be restricted by the limited number of properties in certain local authority areas.

 

4.10

Applicants will receive one offer of a suitable homes in the local authority area of choice. Due to the urgent nature of rehousing we will generally telephone or email to advise there is an offer of accommodation. Where time allows, we will post an offer of accommodation letter. However, if an applicant fails to respond within 48 hours of contact, we will move onto the next applicant.   

 

4.11

We will arrange an accompanied viewing with a member of our staff, so applicants are able make an informed decision whether to accept or refuse the offer.

 

4.12

Where an applicant refuses with or without viewing this will be counted as a suitable offer. Refusing the offer will result in the applicant being removed from the waiting list. They will not be able to reapply unless there is a material change in their circumstances.

 

4.13

Where an applicant or a member of the household is pregnant, we will not count this child as part of the household until after they are born. It will be the responsibility of the applicant to provide a copy of the birth certificate.  The birth of a child does not automatically entitle an applicant to larger accommodation. We can only consider this where we have open waiting lists.

 

4.14

We will not normally accept applicants who have been evicted or are subject to a court order for any breach of tenancy.

 

4.15

For non EHA applicants we will request a reference from your current landlord, and we reserve the right to contact previous landlords, to ensure any tenancy has been conducted satisfactorily. 

 

4.16

For EHA residents we will inspect their current home prior to accepting them onto the waiting list. Where this has not been kept to our required standard, they will not be allowed onto the waiting list until the property has meets our requirements.     

 

4.17

For the purposes of this policy Estuary’s market rent and mortgage rescue tenants are not entitled to transfer but are able to apply to join our housing waiting list, where these are open.

 

4.18

Estuary Board members, employees, or their close relatives can apply for housing:  however, the link must be disclosed on the application form. Their application will need to be agreed in accordance with Section 7 of our Probity policy.  

 

4.19

Where applicants or tenants have pets, permission will be needed from Estuary to keep the pet/s in any of our homes. Please refer to our Pet Keeping Policy. Where permission is not granted, or the property has a restriction on the number of pets, if an applicant does decide to refuse an offer due to this reason the offer will count as a suitable offer. The exception to this is where it can be evidenced the pet is required for day to day living (i.e. guide dog for the blind, hard of hearing etc), by a suitable agency, or qualified professional.  

 

4.20

We will work with local authorities and statutory agencies in cases where an applicant or member of the household has a history of serious offences, for example: arson, drug use or sexual assault. We will assess the risk posed to local residents, staff and contractors on a case by case basis in consultation with the Police, Social Services, Probation and any other key partners. This seeks to ensure that everyone has fair and equal access to housing but also to enable us to manage the risk. Due to the location of our homes is it unlikely that we will be able to assist where applicants are placed on the sex offenders register.

 

4.21

We will require an applicant to demonstrate their ability to independently manage their tenancy. We may refuse to let a property where an applicant is unable to demonstrate this unless they have support in place at the time of the offer of accommodation. 

 

4.22

It may be necessary to reject a nomination from a local authority. Grounds for rejection will vary and are subject to the nomination agreement and our eligibility criteria. Rejection may include submission of inaccurate information, suitability of property for the applicant’s needs (i.e. requires ground floor and the property is 1st floor, age restriction), immigration status, property unaffordable. 

 

4.23

Where we refuse or reject an applicant or offer of accommodation, we will give clear reasons why.

5.0 Bedroom Standard (Refer To Appendix 3)

5.1

The size of accommodation applicants can bid for via CBL schemes may differ from our Lettings Policy. However, unless stated we will follow our Lettings Policy when allocating homes via nominations.

 

5.2

Our bedroom standard is largely based on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Sector Size Criteria (SSSC). However due to the demand for our homes, we expect that same sex children can share indefinitely unless there is more than a 3-year gap following the eldest 16th birthday.

 

5.3

We will allow an extra bedroom where a disabled child or disabled adult requires overnight care from a person who is not part of the household and it is a permanent requirement that can be evidenced by an appropriate professional. 

 

5.4

Where a couple are unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities, they will be entitled to their own bedrooms where this is a permanent requirement and can be evidenced by an appropriate professional.

 

5.5

Where an applicant bids for a property that is deemed larger than their household’s need, according to the bedroom standard, we will refuse to let the property to that applicant, unless there is a proven medical or disability which requires this.

 

5.6

Where applicants are lacking bedrooms, they will be awarded points in accordance with our lettings procedure referring to our bedroom standard.

6.0 Medical Assessment

6.1

We will only consider medical priority for current EHA general needs residents.

 

6.2

Where an applicant wants a medical condition to be considered as part of their application, it will be the applicant’s responsibility to provide evidence to support this. 

 

6.3

For non-Estuary applicants we will not assess their application for medical priority. However, we will consider their needs regarding the suitability of properties i.e. need ground floor where this is supported by an appropriate professional.

 

6.4

Medical priority will be assessed by an independent medical advisor based on our Lettings Policy and Guidance.

 

6.5

Where an applicant does not agree with their decision, they can appeal.  However, they will need to provide further evidence that has not already been supplied before EHA will resubmit as an appeal.

 

6.6

The independent medical advisor’s decision is final. Where an appeal is refused there is no further right of appeal.

 

6.7

Applicants can reapply for medical priority where their condition has worsened or there are changes in their circumstances that were not previously considered.

7.0 Affordability Assessment

7.1

Before any offer of accommodation we will carry out an affordability assessment to ensure that the home is affordable. Generally, we aim to meet the objective that no household should pay in excess of 50% of their net household income on rent inclusive of any service charge. This assessment includes entitlement to welfare benefits. Where a household will be paying in excess of 50% of their net household income, it will be considered unaffordable and we will not continue with the offer of accommodation. However, where the result just over the 50% we will take into consideration the employment history of the applicant over the last 3 years. The aim of this is to provide an indication as to whether the applicant is likely to recommence employment, obtain higher earnings or increased hours based on their historical record and therefore increase the likelihood of improving their income.  

 

7.2

We will carry out credit reference checks for all applicants new to Estuary including nominations from a Local Authority. We will inform an applicant of the results of the credit reference, where this has highlighted any concerns.  We will generally not refuse an applicant just based on a poor credit report.  However, where the credit reference and the affordability assessment indicate a high risk, we will not continue with the offer of accommodation.  The applicant will be informed of our decision however there will be no appeal to this. If they believe the information held is wrong, they will need to ensure their credit reference is disputed accordingly. This will not preclude them from applying in future.

 

7.3

Where we or an applicant refuses an offer on the grounds of a home being unaffordable and this is supported by the affordability assessment, this will be considered a reasonable refusal by us and the offer will not be counted.  Where the applicant is a Local Authority nomination they will need to check with the Local Authority if this has a negative impact on their housing application. 

8.0 Urgent Rehousing Transfers

8.1

Some categories of transfer requests are dealt with as a priority over others, which include under-occupied properties, to alleviate serious housing management issues, domestic abuse, harassment or severe financial hardship. Refer to our Urgent Rehousing Policy.

 

8.2

In these exceptional circumstances we may consider requests to transfer where a resident does not fulfil criteria i.e. rent arrears. We will follow our Urgent Rehousing Policy and assess each case on its own merit and be satisfied that the reason for the priority transfer request will be alleviated by a move to a new home. 

 

8.3

We will also consider urgent moves from other registered providers where we are part of a service level agreement that will allow reciprocal moves i.e. Safer London.

 

8.4

Moves required from a property undergoing major works are covered in our Decant Policy.

9.0 Fixed Term Tenancy – Refer Also To Tenure Policy

9.1 

EHA and other social housing tenants or who currently hold an assured or secure tenancy and are offered an EHA home advertised as a fixed term tenancy, will generally be granted a new assured tenancy.

 

9.2 

Where an applicant currently holds a fixed term tenancy with EHA or another social landlord, they will be granted a new 5-year fixed term tenancy. 

 

9.3

For any other type of tenancy or where an applicant is not a tenant of a social landlord they will be given a 1 year probationary tenancy, followed by a 5 year fixed term tenancy on successful completion of the probationary period.

10.0 Accepting An Affordable Rent Property

10.1

Where a property has been built or previously let as an affordable rent home, we are unable to change this under any circumstances and the successful applicant will be offered the property at an affordable rent.

11.0 Under-Occupation

11.1

We recognise that living in a home too large for your family size can affect some residents and may lead to financial hardship. Any applicants with a current assured or secure social housing tenancy will be considered for downsizing priority.

 

11.2

For EHA residents only, we will offer an incentive to move to accommodation appropriate to their needs. The incentive may be offered to downsize subject to funding and the criteria within our Under-Occupation Incentive policy.

12.0 Local And Special Lettings

12.1

We will ensure that any local lettings plan reasonably balances the competing demands of local housing need and desire to address the specific issues on an estate or neighbourhood locality in discussion with the Local Authority. Local lettings policies will be regularly reviewed to ensure that they continue to meet the initial aims.

 

12.2

We may decide to treat a letting as a sensitive let in order to minimise a risk to an applicant or the community where there is a housing management issue. Where we have indicated an empty home as a sensitive let, we will allocate the property to the most appropriate applicant, which will not always be the one with the highest priority.  

 

12.3

Any properties which have been adapted for use by those with disabilities will be allocated to a resident with a disability or a support need. We will work with Occupational Therapists within the Local Authority area to ensure the home is let to the most suitable applicant.

 

12.4

EHA have some homes that have a minimum age criterion and these will be allocated to older people. Where vacancies are advertised via the Local Authority the minimum age will be stated.

 

12.5

Ground floor homes will only be offered to those that require this type of accommodation due to proven medical need, unless there are no suitable applicants at the time of letting. This includes nominations.

13.0 Tenancy Support

13.1

Where resettlement support is required, this should be in place prior to accepting the offer of a property. We will be able to signpost applicants and tenants to appropriate support, but EHA cannot provide this directly. Applicants should therefore consider this prior to accepting a tenancy with us.

 

13.2

Support to vulnerable residents in general needs housing will be provided by referral to partner support agencies. Such support is available to both new and existing tenants subject to certain eligibility criteria being met.

14.0 Deliberately Making Housing Circumstances Worse

14.1

Where there is evidence that an applicant has in our opinion deliberately worsened their circumstances in order to qualify for higher priority, no additional points will be allocated, and the applicant may be removed from the waiting list.

15.0 Appeals And Complaints Process

15.1

Where an applicant raises dissatisfaction with service they have received as part of their application, selection, offer or allocation process; complaints will be considered in line with our Customer Feedback policy.

 

15.2

Appeals for the reasons in 15.2 ,1,2 and 3 will be reviewed by at least two members of the Federation of Estuary Residents and a Housing Manager.  Any appeal information sent to FER members will be anonymised.

  1. An applicant feels the points given as part of their application process have not been awarded appropriately
  2. An applicant has been removed from the waiting list and they do not agree with this decision
  3. An applicant deems an offer considered suitable by Estuary as unsuitable.

These appeals will be responded to within 28 working days. In the case of 3, EHA cannot hold the property for the applicant whilst the appeal is being reviewed. If the appeal is upheld, it will result in the applicant being able to remain on the waiting list.

16.0 Information Sharing

16.1

Responsible information sharing can play a key role in the letting of our homes. We will follow information sharing protocols with Local Authorities and partners where they are in place.

17.0 Monitoring

17.1

At regular intervals, we will review our policy and procedure to ensure that it continues to meet our objectives. The review of the policy is carried out in consultation with key stakeholders, the Board of Estuary and the Federation of Estuary Residents.

 

17.2

We will work closely with our local authority partners to monitor our nomination arrangements and provide regular lettings data (LA ‘returns’). The monitoring and provision of data may vary between Local Authorities.

 

17.3

We will provide standardised data to regulators as necessary, including Continuous Recording of Lettings (CORE) data collection.

19.0 Related Documents

Please contact us if you would like details on our

  • Tenure Policy
  • Lettings Guidance and Procedure
  • Under Occupation Incentive
  • Decant Policy
  • Probity Policy

Appendices

Appendices

Appendix 1 - Eligibility Criteria For Letting To New General Needs Residents, Including Nominations From Local Authorities

Applicants must:

  • have a housing need
  • be over 18 years of age. However, we will consider housing 16- or 17-year olds where they are nominated by the local authority due to statutory homeless duty or are subject to assistance under section 27 of the Children’s Act 1989
  • be a British, EEA, Swiss national or those with an indefinite right to be in the UK or have the right to rent (see below Immigration Act 2014)
  • not own their home or their own residential accommodation elsewhere
  • not hold another tenancy elsewhere unless this is to be terminated upon the taking the tenancy with Estuary
  • not currently be subject to a custodial sentence
  • not have been previously evicted for a breach of tenancy from any property, including anti-social behaviour, non-payment of rent or charges, tenancy fraud or misrepresentation
  • not known to have, or members of their family not known to have caused serious antisocial behaviour
  • not have any outstanding debts with Estuary as a result of failure to pay rent, court costs and rechargeable repairs unless a transfer has been agreed as part of our urgent rehousing policy.
  • be able to demonstrate that they can sustain a tenancy which will include passing our affordability and credit reference
  • be eligible for the size of accommodation using our bedroom standard.

We reserve the right to refuse a nomination where we believe the letting will present a risk to the applicant, other residents, our staff or contractors.

 

Immigration Act 2014 And Right To Rent Checks

  • Under the Immigration Act 2014 we are not allowed to grant a residential tenancy to anyone unless the prospective tenant is a British citizen, or EEA or Swiss National, or has a right to rent in the UK. Tenants have a right to rent if they are present in the UK lawfully, in accordance with immigration laws.
  • We are not required to take any retrospective action in relation to residential tenancies entered into prior to 1 February 2016, or which are renewed after that date if there has been no break in the tenant’s right to occupy and the new agreement is between the same parties.
  • For applicant(s) who apply to Estuary directly, we will need to carry out right to rent checks. These checks will include all adults (over 18) who will be part of that household. These nominated by the Local Authority would have had these checks carried out as part of that application process.
  • Applicant(s) with an unlimited right to rent will be allowed entry onto our waiting list and, where offered a home, will be granted an assured or fixed term tenancy.
  • Applicant(s) with a time limited right to rent will be allowed entry onto our waiting list. Prior to the offer of accommodation will be required to carry out a further right to rent check. Where an applicant(s) meets the limited right to rent checks they will be granted an assured shorthold tenancy for 1 year, which will be reviewed annually.
  • Applicant(s) with no right to rent will not be allowed entry onto our waiting list and will not be offered accommodation under any circumstances. 

The Home Office website contains the step by step checklist which enables a landlord to check whether a prospective tenant has the right to rent residential property.  We will use this to carry out our checks.