Councils’ rules about who social housing should go to are set out in their allocation schemes.

Allocation schemes are publically available documents which are available on their websites. Since June 2012 councils have had a great deal of freedom to decide who is eligible for social housing and how much priority they should have. They are now allowed to stop a great deal of people from being on the housing register at all.

The Local Government Ombudsman have produced a report this week, showing that they have received an increased number of complaints about the allocation of social housing since councils have been free to write their own schemes. Although councils can legitimately keep a lot of people off the housing register, they have made a lot of decisions which are not lawful.

Complaints to The Local Government Ombudsman are often about situations in which a council has failed to act according to its own rules. For example:

  • Failing to update an application after circumstances chang
  • Wrongly removing an applicant from the register
  • Not giving an applicant the priority that the scheme says they are supposed to have

The Local Government Ombudsman cannot decide whether an entire allocation scheme is unlawful. However, there have been several recent cases in which an entire scheme was found to be unlawful, and the council were forced to change it. Many existing schemes are likely to be unlawful and open to legal challenge.

If a scheme excludes a group, or most of a group of the following people it is open to legal challenge:

  • Homeless people and people in temporary accommodation
  • People currently living in overcrowded or unsanitary accommodation
  • People who need to move on medical or welfare grounds
  • People who need to move to a particular area within the district, where they will be caused hardship by not moving
  • Members of the armed forces.

This does not mean that the council cannot exclude an individual from their allocation scheme at all if they fall within one of the categories above. For example, if you are homeless and living in temporary accommodation the council is still allowed to bar you on the basis that you have rent arrears. However, they must not say that everyone who is in suitable temporary accommodation should be barred from the scheme.

If a scheme discriminates against someone on the basis of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy, gender, religion, race or sexual orientation it could also be open to challenge.

Making complaints to the council or following their internal review procedure, and then making a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman is one good way to challenge an unfair decision by the council. The Local Government Ombudsman have the power to recommend that councils make changes, and give small awards of compensation. However, the Local Government Ombudsman cannot force councils to do anything, and they cannot decide that an entire allocation policy is unlawful.