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17/01/2009

On the naughty step – on tour

Nearly Legal’s naughty step has recently taken the complicated, slow and interrupted trip from Norwich to North Wales. It is is with reluctance, several changes of train, and a painful recovery of repressed traumatic memory that we now find ourselves in the East Midlands.

Yes, Nottingham, home of Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor. Or, alternatively, home of the (now ex) director of operations, Tyron Brown who gave a larger council home to the (subsequently suspended) vice chair of the ALMO holding all former council properties, Chris Burnell.

In fact redistribution of wealth was going on on a dramatic scale in Nottingham between 2003 and 2005, as Council properties were ‘allocated to people linked to housing officers’ outside of the allocation scheme ‘ahead of a significant number of needy applicants’.

Some properties were allocated outside the usual system, then given extensive repairs before being sold under the right to buy. In other cases, priority under an allocation scheme was bypassed.

Sure, there are always a few problems, but how extensive was the corruption here? The Audit Commission found that between 2003 and 2005:

Around 700 council housing offers – 10 per cent of all offers – were made outside the normal waiting list system during the period concerned. It appeared the points system had not been applied correctly for another 2,000 offers.

So that is 2,700 offers out of 7,000, or roughly 39%, between 2003 and 2005.

To be extremely fair, it should be noted that these problems pre-dated the establishment of the ALMO in April 2005, and have so far only been found to continue until early 2006, including the time when the vice chair of the ALMO got an extra bedroom or two.

So, it appears that some 39% of allocations between 2003 and 2005 in Nottingham were potentially outside a lawful allocation scheme. Some of these involved council officers, their friends and relations getting properties, priority repairs or unjustified transfers.

The Audit Commission’s report, published on 14 January 2009 said that:

three officers had been responsible for more than half the restricted offers of housing. One of those three has since been dismissed.

Eh? Two are still there? Still, experienced housing officers are hard to find, so keep the ones you have – bit of retraining… There might be more of a shortage of housing officers now the police have apparently been called in. Happily, we are assured that this can’t happen in Nottingham any more…

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

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