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Tackling under occupancy in social housing

Exemplar Award Winner- Runner-up National Gazetteers Integration Award 2011: Huntingdonshire District Council

When the Housing Strategy Team at Huntingdonshire District Council embarked upon a scheme to address under occupancy in social housing, it knew that the LLPG would be able to help them provide a clear picture of the size of the problem.

With increasing pressures on public funding and a reduction in social housing grant from the Homes and Communities Agency, Huntingdonshire and its Registered Provider partners undertook a project to make best use of their existing housing stock. In addition, proposed housing benefit restrictions on bedroom size, coming into force from April 2013 for working age households, will add further pressure on landlords to ensure that properties are not under occupied.

The first task was to accurately assess the size of the problem. This was achieved by using social housing stock data held on the LLPG. The UPRN and the corresponding council tax property reference are maintained in the LLPG. Further links are maintained between council tax and the housing benefit system through the common use of the council tax property reference, enabling both systems to be synchronised with the LLPG. Single occupancy data from council tax were matched with the number of bedrooms held in the social housing data, enabling the LLPG to effectively identify 544 properties, 6% of the total housing stock, which were under occupied by two or more bedrooms.

A mapping exercise was undertaken to visualise the overall picture, using the data cross referenced with the LLPG’s address coordinates. This has provided the opportunity to compare under-occupying properties against potential new build schemes and enabled targeting of people living near new developments who may be suitable.

Outcomes

Following this initial exercise, Huntingdonshire and seven housing associations, Age UK Cambridgeshire and the local Volunteer Bureau signed up to the ‘Under Occupation Partnership Agreement’. This joint working agreement will achieve a number of positive outcomes, both financial and social.

The mapping exercise will ensure that any new properties built will be of the right type and size and in the correct location. Fewer larger houses will need to be built with smaller homes for those downsizing being built instead. The public sector grant required to build one of these larger houses is estimated at £50,000, whilst the cost of an incentive encouraging a person to move to a smaller home can be less than £2,000.

There are significant benefits for tenants who will pay less rent for smaller homes and less on other outgoings such as council tax and utilities bills. There will be a consequent reduction in the council’s housing benefit bill and the risk of rent arrears to housing associations will be reduced.

By releasing larger properties, those currently living in overcrowded homes or on the housing register will stand a greater chance of moving into suitable accommodation with a resultant improvement in health and well-being.

Key benefits

• LLPG integration enabled the identification of under occupied social housing

• challenging under occupancy will enable housing associations to make better use of existing housing stock • facilitated joined up working across council departments including housing, housing benefits and council tax

• closer working partnership between the council, housing associations and the voluntary sector

• significant savings in the new property building programme with a more intelligent response to meeting real housing need

• reduction in the council’s housing benefit bill for those on housing benefit who choose to downsize • vacation of larger homes for those who need them

• service now available to support vulnerable people who want to move to smaller accommodation • there has been great interest in this project which has been cited as best practice and drawn the attention of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Chartered Institute of Housing Making Best Use of Stock team.

View from the authority

“We firmly believe the LLPG to be a key element in driving forward effective and targeted service delivery. By placing the UPRN at the core of every service delivery system, not only can we continue to improve the services we offer, but also make savings through effective data sharing and joined up working. The immediate benefits internally range from fraud detection to enhanced routes for waste collection, as well as a much better understanding of each and every resident who consumes our services. As a result, the resident benefits from better services, as well as the convenience of being able to transact and gain access to a wealth of public information online. All of this has been facilitated by the LLPG.”

-Luke Studden LLPG Custodian, London Borough of Harrow

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