Stricter rules target council house waiting lists in Norfolk

Holidaymakers are clogging up the waiting list for council homes by applying for houses in the hope they may retire to Norfolk, according to a council leader.

South Norfolk Council launched a plan in April to slash the length of its register for social housing, after research showed around 70 percent of applicants had little or no need for council homes.

Council leader John Fuller said: 'It's crazy. A proportion of people come on holiday and think they would like to retire to Norfolk.'

The research by consultants KPMG and South Norfolk Council showed just over half of the 4,000 applicants on the register, including one applicant who registered in 1968, had never bid for a council home.

On April 1 the council brought in stricter rules for people applying for council homes, including replacing an online application form, which 80 percent of applicants would fill out incorrectly, with an interview by council staff.

Applications now have to be done over the phone or by visiting the council's offices, while households who find a home are barred from the register for a year and successful applicants are removed from the register if they fail to bid for a home for within a year.

Mr Fuller said the changes were being made to give priority to those in the greatest need.

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He said the council wanted to end the misconception that if you put your name on the register you would eventually get to the top of the list.

'We need to be honest with people,' he said. 'We will house people on the basis of need. Not on the basis of how long they have been listed.'

Mr Fuller said they had come across one case of a woman from south Norfolk who had moved to live with her boyfriend in Great Yarmouth.

Their relationship soon ended, but she couldn't move back to south Norfolk as she had lost her place on the council's housing register.

Under the new rules priority will also be given to servicemen and women in south Norfolk.

But Mr Fuller added the research did not mean fewer homes should be built in Norfolk.

He said with the council finding homes for 350 households each year and 4,000 on the list, there was still a need for new houses.

Chairman of campaign group Stop Norwich Urbanisation (Snub), Stephen Heard, welcomed the move to make it harder to get on the register.

He said: 'There is a big gap between housing need and housing want. Members of our campaign have put their name on the list. There is no filtering at the application stage.'

Mr Fuller said he expected other councils to follow the example of South Norfolk.

Waveney Council said around half of its applicants had no housing need and they were consulting on how homes were being allocated.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk Council is also set to review its housing register, with people who do not bid for homes within six months being removed from the list.

North Norfolk Council said it was likely to introduce measures to reduce the numbers on the housing register later this summer, while Breckland Council is also reviewing its policy.

Norwich City Council said it came across people on the list who lived elsewhere in the country such as Glasgow, had visited and decided they would rather live in Norwich.

From April 2 rules were tightened meaning people on the register, need a Norwich connection and must apply on the phone or in person.

Council leader Brenda Arthur said: 'This is not about cutting our waiting list but making sure people understand the options available at the outset and that we are focusing our resources on those in need.'

Broadland council said they were not looking to cut the size of their housing register but had revamped their service after finding some applicants also needed debt advice or help against domestic violence.

Kay Boycott, director of policy at housing charity Shelter, said: 'What we really need is to build more truly affordable homes for families to avoid this difficult position of having to judge who is most worthy of this scarce resource.'

Sean Kent, a director of a Norfolk housing association, said it was sensible to give priority to the armed forces and people from the area, but he said some families may bid for unsuitable homes just to stay on the housing register.

He said: 'What worries me is if people don't bid they are off the list. But you can't always guarantee you are going to have the property that meets people's needs.'