Too many council websites overcomplicating social housing applications

Too many councils are making it unnecessarily difficult for people seeking social housing to find out if they are eligible and then apply.

There are shining exceptions however, with Dudley and Kirklees councils highlighted in the latest Better Connected survey report.

The survey assessed how well metropolitan district councils performed on the task ‘Find out how to apply for housing’ and is the first of 12 service-based surveys in the 2016-17 Better Connected cycle.

The huge excess of demand over supply for social housing means that councils need to consider carefully how they present this issue on their websites. Applicants’ expectations need to be set appropriately, so that those ineligible for social housing, or those with little chance of getting a property within a reasonable timeframe do not waste their time and council resources on enquiries and applications.

Information presented also needs to be easy to understand and instructions straightforward to follow for people who may be vulnerable or at least under considerable stress when trying to resolve their housing needs.

 

Comparisons

The last time Better Connected tested this task was in March 2016, when the 33 London boroughs were tested with a near identical question set. This showed just over half providing a good or very good service. Metropolitan districts do less well, with 39% performing at the same level.

London councils did much better in answering the survey question about the likelihood of applicants being successful in getting housing via the council, 63% of London councils scoring a ‘Yes’ answer, compared with fewer than 20% of metropolitan districts.

Bad as the housing crisis is everywhere, it is probably its severity in London that has prompted housing managers to push this information to the fore on their web pages. London councils do significantly better on a range of other questions related to demand management and the need to save housing advisors’ time by setting the expectations.

In general, our commentary for London councils following last year’s Better Connected applies across the board for metropolitan districts, only more so, with the best sites requiring those seeking to join the housing register to go through a pre-qualification assessment.

 

Distance

One standout finding was the number of councils that use their websites to distance themselves from housing responsibilities. These sites often referred interested parties to a third party organisation’s website without providing any information at all about what part the council plays in administering ongoing applications. While old hands may know that housing associations are providers of social housing and may manage former council houses, people new to seeking affordable housing may not know this.

Many sites were marked down for failing to put key information on their web pages and instead consigning this to pdfs. Better Connected makes no apology: high level information about process, eligibility and timing MUST be set out simply and on web pages. This should be the case for all council services, but is particularly important for services used by people in potentially difficult and stressful situations.

People seeking social housing may well be in temporary accommodation where a mobile device or a public access computer is their main means of accessing information, and in both cases, pdfs can be problematic.

Better Connected added that they do not expect all information to be on web pages, and acknowledge that with housing, there is a lot of information about details of eligibility and how to apply. But it did say that key information needs to be explicit on web pages.

Telling people what information they need before starting an important application form seems obvious. Even where forms can be saved and returned to, it is inconvenient to have to do something in two or more sittings. This is especially true of housing seekers who may need to use public or borrowed facilities rather than completing applications from their own devices.

Results of the housing survey for all 36 metropolitan districts are now available. Individual councils can find their results from the council index page at https://betterconnected.socitm.net/councils.

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