How to Get a Council House TX: 15 Aug 2013, Week 33

With our social housing in crisis, brand new three-part series How To Get A Council House looks at two major councils dealing with lack of properties and too many people in need of homes at affordable rents.

Each week, the series follows the stories of contributors and council homes and reveals who is successful and who loses out in the bidding battle for these select few homes. Some people’s hopes are answered but most find themselves with hundreds, sometimes thousands, more suitable prospective tenants ahead of them, making the possibility of a council house seem out of reach.

By 2015, it has been reported that local council authorities will have lost a third of their budgets and this series also observes some of the issues faced by an already over pressurised system – through the eyes of those on the front line. Council officers are tasked with the difficulty of matching homes to some of the 1.8 million people living on England’s social housing list.

With access over six months to Tower Hamlets and Manchester councils’ homeless persons’ unit and lettings teams, How To Get A Council House follows the day to day lives of the workers tasked with implementing the system and the stories of the people they deal with. Through these personal stories the series addresses the housing headlines and challenge our preconceptions of the way housing is allocated and our view of the deserving and undeserving poor.

How To Get A Council House also follows the journeys of the families and individuals already on the housing list bidding for homes, the system by which the council decide who should get a property and the decision making process of those who are eventually offered a home.

Prod Co: Studio Lambert
Exec Prod: Ros Ponder
Series Prod/Dir: Barnaby Peel
Dirs: Toby Paton, Tom Pearson, Stuart Froude
Prod: Jessica Spencer
Comm Ed: Emma Cooper

Episode 3/3, Thursday 15th August, 9pm, Channel 4

The third episode focuses on Tower Hamlets’ Homeless service - the A & E of the council’s housing department. 3,300 people come here every year claiming to be in urgent need of a new home. The range of stories is unexpected and heart breaking – from a woman claiming she accidentally burnt her house down with a pound shop lighter, to a mother who claims her son is sleeping in a cupboard and a father who brings in his disabled son to announce he is evicting him.

Surprisingly, if you are homeless in Britain today you may not be entitled to any help at all. Local councils have a legal duty to find housing for some people – but only if they fall into a priority group. With a severe shortage of council housing, they are forced to place those who do qualify for housing into expensive temporary accommodation and private rented flats.

It is up to a team of over-stretched housing officers to work out who is and isn’t telling the truth about their situation; who should be given help and who should be turned away.

Episode 2/3, Thursday 8th August, 9pm, Channel 4

This second episode follows some of the winners and losers in the competition for social housing in Manchester, just as the introduction of the bedroom tax heaps more pressure on the system.

There are 19,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Manchester, but only around 80 properties become available each week.

Ash and Millie joined the housing list when they discovered that 17-year-old Millie was pregnant. They currently live in an overcrowded house with Ash’s family, sleeping on two sofas in the living room. Ash doesn’t want to look for a job before they have a permanent place to live and, with time running out, it looks like Millie may have to bring her baby home to sleep on the sofa.

Sarah, Damien and their young daughter, Lilly, live in a privately rented home. They have never been in arrears but, with Sarah studying full-time to become a social worker and Damien out of work, they are struggling to pay the bills and desperate to move before they end up in severe debt. A trip to the local housing office for advice brings depressing news. Manchester gives priority to people who are employed or engaged in voluntary work, but as a full-time student Sarah will remain further down in the queue.

The government is introducing the bedroom tax in an attempt to free up larger homes for families. Anyone on benefits living in a home that is bigger than they are entitled to will have to pay a penalty for each spare bedroom or move out. Local housing manager, Lisa Jenkinson, and her team have 3000 households with spare rooms on their patch, and it’s their unenviable job to deliver the news. As they work their way through their list, the reactions they are faced with vary from anger to apathy. One thing is clear - very few people are preparing to downsize.

One of the few people determined to escape the bedroom tax is Alan, a single man who has spent the last five years living in a two bedroom flat on the ninth floor of a block of flats. Due to a heart condition, Alan is classed as disabled and unable to work. He gets by on disability benefits, but the incoming bedroom tax will mean he has to pay an extra £9.20 in rent for the spare room and it’s money he says he simply can’t afford. If he can’t find a one bedroom flat he’ll be forced to move back into in his father’s house, 28 years after he last left home. But his father is a full-time carer for his uncle and aunt, both of whom have learning disabilities, and space in the house is limited. Alan has less than two months to find somewhere else to live or face moving in to a tiny box room.

With thousands of people potentially having to move to avoid the bedroom tax and others waiting in line to be given a property, there is a two bedroom flat that’s been standing empty for the last twelve months. The tenant should be David, but he is living down the road with his ex-wife. After a severe illness, David is unstable on his feet and the stairs in his flat are proving to be dangerous, so he has joined the queue for a new property. But a year down the line he’s still not been allocated anything. While his own property sits vacant, his ex-wife’s patience is being tested to the limit.

Yemisi and her two children have already been allocated a family home, but have been trying to move out ever since they moved in after they became the targets of anti-social behaviour. After years of searching it looks like the ideal three bedroom property has finally come up. But there’s a problem. Although the computer system says they’ve come first in the competition for it, the home has already been given to someone else

Episode 1/3, Thursday 1st August, 9pm, Channel 4

The first programme follows some of the council officers and families in Tower Hamlets, London. This council receives 3000 applications a year and each week there are 24,000 people hoping to get one of just 40 properties available. The housing team at Tower Hamlets have the challenge of working out which households are in most need within their priority band – Band 1 being the most urgent.

Mike Kemp, a former investment banker, is rebuilding his life after his business failed in the Philippines leaving him in financial ruin. Currently living with his wife and two children in a private one-bedroomed flat, Mike wants to stay in the area as his daughter is about to start her GCSEs. He has bid 500 times for social housing in the past two years and is in Band 2. But even though the family are being served an eviction order for overcrowding, they have little prospect of being housed and could face a total of six years on the waiting list before they are allocated a property.

Grant and Kimberly are expecting a baby in six weeks and live in one bedroom of a shared flat so are in Band 2. The conditions are far from ideal – with little space, no lock on their door and bed bugs. They have only been on the list for seven months so are further down the priority list than the 2000 other people in Band 2 who have queued much longer for the same kind of flat

Even when you get the magic letter from the Council that you have been allocated a viewing, there are more challenges ahead. Tower Hamlets invites up to six families per viewing and gives first refusal in order of priority. Liz Miller has been on the housing list for 10 years and lives in her elderly mother’s sitting room. She is has fourth refusal on a flat, meaning her first viewing is likely to end in disappointment.

Not every property is accepted easily, however. Shepu Begum and her family are looking for a big kitchen, a garden and a car parking space and have already rejected nine properties. This time however, Shepu may be forced to compromise for the sake of a new build property on the horizon.

Tom Jones is in Band 1 for emergency rehousing. With his building being demolished, he and his granddaughters have to leave the flat he has lived in for years. So far he has been offered nine properties that haven’t made the grade. Will a new offer of a three-bed house and garden be the home that he needs?

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25 Aug 2015, 00:05
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