Barnet Council are consulting on changes to their 2012 Allocation policy. The main change proposed is that the current ‘residence requirement’ of two years be increased to five years. That is to say that no-one would be eligible for Barnet’s housing register without five years demonstrable residence in the borough. (And yes, this applies to the homeless equally). They are not the only London council to consider five years residence requirement – so are LB Southwark – but their stated reason for the increase is specifically because:
Increased costs in inner London combined with restrictions on housing benefit has resulted in more households moving to outer London boroughs like Barnet.
Yes, Barnet fears a tidal wave of central London refugees, pouring into Barnet, renting one of the affordable private sector properties (even though Barnet also say that the PRS rents are “now the 4th highest out of 16 outer London boroughs”), and then living there for two years to get onto the housing list.
Of course, even if you manage to live in Barnet for two years, you will then probably be refused because you don’t also have a reasonable preference under s.166 HA 1996 – see Annex 1 of the current allocation scheme available here, (apart from Barnet thinking it is s.167 HA 1996, which only applies to Wales. Dear Barnet, you are not in Wales.)
But still, two years is apparently not enough. In order for Barnet to make sure that people aren’t waiting on their waiting list, it is apparently necessary to dramatically increase the length of time people must wait to get to wait on the waiting list in the first place.
Amongst the other proposed changes is an increased penalty for not accepting a reasonable offer (to two years ban from one year) and sneakily:
Households at risk of violence will have to apply as homeless so that they can be placed in temporary accommodation and be removed from the risk more quickly.
Why has this replaced the previous ‘reasonable preference’ and Band 1 priority? The obvious answers are that i) Barnet largely discharges its homeless duty into the private sector, thus avoiding housing those at risk of violence, and ii) as it would apply to transfers, it would end an existing secure tenancy, making any fresh council tenancy, even if actually achieved via the homeless route, into a new flexible tenancy (and see here on Barnet’s flexible tenancy policy).
So yes, Barnet intend to penalise people who are at risk of violence by effectively removing their chances of obtaining or retianing social housing, not to mention keeping them in temporary accommodation in the interim.
And the glorious ‘community contribution’ requirements (for housing preference) for those not employed are to be increased from 10 hours per month to 16 hours per month working for:
a not-for profit organisation that is registered with the Volunteer Centre Barnet or recognised by the Council, or a charity that is registered with the Charity Commission or is funded by the Council or another local authority or a faith based community group or organisation. Tenants and Residents Associations which are constituted are classified as not-for-profit organisation [sic.] They must be registered with Barnet Council or a Registered Social Landlord to qualify.
I spent quite some time looking at the previous/current Barnet allocation policy for talks at HLPA and HLPA North West. I was not impressed – indeed, the policy seemed to have some significant legal flaws. My notes from July 2013 can be downloaded here, with the usual provisos on now being out of date. (E.g. one of the issues raised in that talk may, for now at least, have been rendered academic by R (Jakimaviciute) v LB Hammersmith and Fulham  EWHC 4372 (Admin), but others, I think, haven’t).
However, Barnet so far have avoided challenge, by luck perhaps.
The question is for Barnet (and other councils looking at a five year residence requirement), is whether these requirements are arguably unlawful. This is a question given added impetus by R(Winder) v Sandwell MBC, EHRC intervening  EWHC 2617 (Admin) [our note].
While a residence requirement for allocation is probably not ultra vires, by reason of the Localism Act, the free movement, discrimination and Public Sector Equality Duty grounds raised successfully in the Sandwell Council Tax Relief JR might also be considered in relation to the operation and extent of a residence requirement for allocation. I don’t have a developed argument (yet) but it bears thinking about.