This report is an exploration into the factors influencing vacancy chains in London’s social housing, covering general needs stock held by councils, ALMOs and housing associations, with interplays from supported and specialist housing.
The vacancy chain for the purpose of this study refers to the overall sequences of homes made available for social housing as one household vacates an existing social home and subsequently re-lets then rehouses another household (and so on until no new social housing vacancy is formed).
The analysis is focused on how different types of letting do and don’t release new social housing bedspaces, and how different stresses in allocations policies and lettings quotas influence the length of chains in social housing lettings and categories of housing need being met.
The study has been carried out with a wide-ranging literature review; analysis of statistical datasets from ONS and CORE1; a desk review of all London boroughs’ allocations policies and wider approaches to efficient use of stock; collecting and analysing data on over twenty real-world vacancy chains from inner and outer London boroughs realised from recent social housing schemes; conducting a series of interviews and workshops with over 30 housing options managers and housing officers as well as drawing on expertise from academia and social housing allocations lawyers.
The report is in five sections, including a set of recommendations.
The first sets out the backdrop to the problem with social housing need rising and overall lettings having fallen then plateaued, and examines the previous attention given to vacancy chains and some of limited work on housing mobility.
The second explores the current state of chain-maximising and ‘right-sizing’ practice across London.
The third considers how different simulated ‘ideal type’ chains, drawn from a real-world housing needs scenario, can be realised under different allocations procedures, and discusses the protocols and outcomes that apply in each case, as well as the real chain effect.
The fourth examines – in a situation of scarcity – the ways different categories of housing need can come into conflict depending on the relative priority given in different boroughs’ allocation schemes. It also explores the different barriers to chain-maximising, looking at the financial pressures that apply to allocation decisions, the administrative infrastructures used in current lettings practice, the intervals between moves within a chain in turning around void properties, as well as the mismatches in demand and ‘moveable supply’ formed from new homes coming into circulation.
The fifth section includes a series of recommendations for introducing new efficiencies in the lettings system, with new data collection requirements and grant-giving criteria for funding social housing, new frames of reference for public spending on downsizing incentives and new build, and most importantly, describes how a coordinated chain approach set around non-discriminatory and adaptable chain-maximising protocols can provide a significant ‘non-construction’ boost to social housing supply.
Taken together the sections are intended to stimulate debate across nominating authorities, planners and social housing funders in influencing bedroom mix and housing types given in development programmes and planning policies, grant-giving criteria for new social and affordable housing. Most importantly it seeks to shape new policies and practices for letting more good quality, secure and affordable homes to more households in priority housing need.