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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

How can we keep allocating homes safely during the Coronavirus pandemic?

05/06/2020


As part of our response to Coronavirus, we have been speaking to members about their experiences and we also contribute to two housing resilience groups which have been formed to bring together representatives from the housing sector, local and national government to address issues arising from the pandemic. A frequent concern that keeps being raised by social landlords has been whether new lets should continue during the pandemic and if so, how can this be done safely?

In a recent CIH Scotland member survey, 39% of respondents said that they had concerns about being able to let homes safely. However, we know that many landlords are continuing to process voids successfully and that the availability of a secure home can be a lifeline for people who are homeless, at risk of homeless or who are fleeing domestic abuse. We need to make sure that we can provide homes for those that need them while ensuring staff and customers stay safe.

The Scottish Government and COSLA issued guidance on allocations for social landlords developed with CIH Scotland and others in April. Following calls for further clarity from the housing sector, the Housing Minister and the Community Wellbeing Spokesperson for COSLA issued a joint letter to social landlords on 29 May highlighting the importance of continuing to bring empty social lets back into use with a specific call for landlords who are not currently letting any homes to consider how they can do so safely. The letter also includes a link to a useful Q&A developed by ALACHO and Health Protection Scotland that addresses practical issues like cleaning properties and the use of PPE for staff.

CIH has also produced guidance on allocations including advice for contactless or reduced contact viewings and guidance for supporting victims of domestic abuse.

We also thought it would be useful to set out some of the other questions that have been raised through our discussions with members and our CIH Scotland board and how these are being dealt with by some landlords.

Question or concern: While landlords are understandably focussing resources and available lets on homeless households, people leaving prison and people fleeing domestic abuse, is there a potential equalities issue if other households are being overlooked?

• May include households with other needs e.g. overcrowding or health needs.

• If a household has concerns about moving, either because of a lack of support or because they have concerns about contracting COVID-19 (particularly older or shielded groups) will they be disadvantaged if they refuse an offer of housing?

Possible solutions

Landlords who are continuing to allocate homes have given the following views/advice:

• The vast majority of allocations are being made to homeless households and local authorities are working to move people out of temporary to permanent accommodation. This is completely justified given the current situation.

• Households should not be disadvantaged for refusing an offer and refusals can be minimised by offering additional support which may include help with moving, provision of furnishings and white goods. Need to bear in mind the additional costs and how these can be met including use of various funding streams and potential partnerships with local third sector organisations.

Question or concern: It has been difficult to get work done to bring void properties up to a lettable standard.

Possible solutions

Landlords who are continuing to allocate homes have given the following views/advice:

• Good relationships with tradesmen are essential and a clear understanding of what does and does not constitute essential work. A positive outcome for one landlord is that repairs staff now see themselves as providing an essential service to support their community. It is hoped that this sense of pride in the profession can be built upon beyond COVID-19.

• It may be justifiable to exercise a degree of flexibility with usual standards such as decoration if this will facilitate a move in the best interest of the tenant.

Question or concern: How can social landlords safely start/increase allocations as lockdown measures begin to ease?

Possible solutions

• Landlords are at varying stages where some only briefly paused new lets and some are working out how to adapt their processes to begin allocating again.

• ‘Contactless’ letting is being done by some landlords and seems to be working well with a variety of methods being used:

o One landlord’s officers are using photos and videos of the property for virtual viewings, communication by phone or online and contactless electronic sign up.

o Another uses key safes where an officer attends to open the property and the prospective tenant can view it while the officer waits outside.

• Some ‘face to face’ lets are still being carried out with social distancing in place.


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