Prioritising those most in need of housing in Bristol

Councillor Tom Renhard, smiling with trees on College Green in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard,
Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery & Homes
and Labour Councillor for the Horfield Ward.

There are currently over 19,000 households on the council’s housing register. Sadly, the number of residents that require support with council housing massively outweighs the number of properties available – even as we continue to build record numbers of new homes to tackle the housing crisis. With such high demand, many residents who have a low priority housing need are unlikely to find a new home.

Our view is simple: everyone in Bristol should have access to a secure, safe, and warm home. Unaffordable rent prices in the private sector, soaring property values, stagnant wages, and an insufficient number of affordable homes are many reasons why we believe that what this city needs is more council housing, and also a better way of allocating that stock.

We’re ploughing ahead with the first bit – building the first new council homes seen in Bristol in a generation. Since 2016 we have delivered nearly 240 new council homes to add to the housing register. As we move further into our plans for delivering new homes, we expect to see a further 1,715 new council homes over the next five years.

As we press ahead with increasing the number of properties available, we have also been looking at how me manage the housing register to resolve some issues with how council housing is allocated. This review is now complete, and I am pleased to have been able to approve its recommendations at our most recent Cabinet meeting.

The main aim of the review was to ensure that the allocations system focused on housing those households in greatest need, improve the online HomeChoice Bristol system, and be clearer about the expectations households should have on receiving a council house.

Many months of research and speaking to people from across the housing sector, including running resident working groups and speaking to people currently on the waiting list, helped shape this new policy. This included speaking and listening to many groups who represent people who have experienced domestic violence and harassment, older people, young people, people leaving care facilities, people living with disabilities and others.

With that wealth of feedback and opinion, we’ve been able to make some changes to three areas of the policy – how we allocate housing, how we prioritise the circumstances of households, and balancing the problems we have with supply and demand.

The main change to the policy is that we will move to being more proactive in helping households find a home and ensure that at least half of all offers are made direct. This will ensure that those in most need are prioritised. We also propose to extend the use of local letting policies which will ensure that, where possible, people are supported into accommodation within a locality that they have a connection to ensure as little disruption as possible – be it to school, work, or other local commitments.

We’re also recognising the challenging circumstances children in care often find when leaving care and ensuring they are treated as a priority when allocating council homes. Likewise, we are also looking to up the support available to those who currently live in homes too big for their needs to move into more suitable accommodation.

This is just the first phase of our plans to improve the system for those on the housing register. Over the next 12 to 18 months we will begin introducing a new set of IT systems that will offer new possibilities for how people access the register and manage their housing applications. More on that to come soon.