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How to Get a Council House

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With our social housing in crisis, brand new three-part series How To Get A Council House looks at two major councils dealing with lack of properties and too many people in need of homes at affordable rents.

Each week, the series follows the stories of contributors and council homes and reveals who is successful and who loses out in the bidding battle for these select few homes. Some people’s hopes are answered but most find themselves with hundreds, sometimes thousands, more suitable prospective tenants ahead of them, making the possibility of a council house seem out of reach.

By 2015, it has been reported that local council authorities will have lost a third of their budgets and this series also observes some of the issues faced by an already over pressurised system – through the eyes of those on the front line. Council officers are tasked with the difficulty of matching homes to some of the 1.8 million people living on England’s social housing list.

With access over six months to Tower Hamlets and Manchester councils’ homeless persons’ unit and lettings teams, How To Get A Council House follows the day to day lives of the workers tasked with implementing the system and the stories of the people they deal with. Through these personal stories the series addresses the housing headlines and challenge our preconceptions of the way housing is allocated and our view of the deserving and undeserving poor.

How To Get A Council House also follows the journeys of the families and individuals already on the housing list bidding for homes, the system by which the council decide who should get a property and the decision making process of those who are eventually offered a home.

The first programme follows some of the council officers and families in Tower Hamlets, London. This council receives 3000 applications a year and each week there are 24,000 people hoping to get one of just 40 properties available. The housing team at Tower Hamlets have the challenge of working out which households are in most need within their priority band – Band 1 being the most urgent.

Head of Housing Options, Colin Cormack, explains that with a lack of funds and space in the borough it is difficult to build new developments other than to replace existing poor quality social housing. According to him, the only people with true choice are unfortunately those with money, as social housing is not a choice-based system.

Mike Kemp, a former investment banker, is rebuilding his life after his business failed in the Philippines leaving him in financial ruin. Currently living with his wife and two daughters in a private one-bedroomed flat, Mike wants to stay in the area as his daughter is about to start her GCSEs. He has bid 400 times for social housing in the past two years and is in Band 2. But even though the family are being served an eviction order for overcrowding, they have little prospect of being housed and could face a total of six years on the waiting list before they are allocated a property.

Grant and Kimberly are expecting a baby in six weeks and live in one bedroom of a shared flat so are in Band 2. The conditions are far from ideal – with little space, no lock on their door and bed bugs. They have only been on the list for seven months so are further down the priority list than the 4000 other people in Band 2 who have queued much longer.

Even when you get the magic letter from the Council that you have been allocated a viewing, there are more challenges ahead. Tower Hamlets invites up to six families per viewing and gives first refusal in order of priority. Liz Miller has been on the housing list for 10 years and lives in her elderly mother’s sitting room. She is has fourth refusal on a flat, meaning her first viewing is likely to end in disappointment.

Not every property is accepted easily, however. Shepu Begum and her family are looking for a big kitchen, a garden and a car parking space and have already rejected 12 properties. This time however, Shepu may be forced to compromise for the sake of a new build property on the horizon.

Thomas Jones is in Band 1 for emergency rehousing. With his building being demolished, he and his granddaughters have to leave the flat he has lived in for years. So far he has viewed five properties that haven’t made the grade. Will a new offer of a three-bed house and garden be the jackpot?

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