Frequently asked questions about Housing in West Lothian Council
Application and Stock Information
There are many thousands of applicants seeking to be housed with us with many different kinds of households and needs. We have created monthly reports for each ward area to help applicants understand the demand and capacity of our housing. We aim to publish the new reports within the first working week of each month.
Frequently Asked Questions
Due to the complexity of a needs-based points system for housing applications we cannot provide a list position.
Many thousands of customers have applied to us for a home at an affordable social rent. With so much demand, waiting times can be lengthy.
Decades ago housing waiting lists were simple lists with customers queued by the age of their application. From a customer perspective it was simple, if you had waited the longest you were offered a property next.
Since then Housing legislation has changed and applications are no longer queued in that way. In fact, they aren't queued at all. Housing applications are prioritised based on need which is expressed through points under different categories. This is designed to prioritise those in more serious situations and means that someone who may have waited longer but has no priority reason to move would be housed after someone with an immediate need.
Applications hold points and choices for areas, property types and heating amongst other metrics, they are also grouped into categories of application type. Customers circumstances can change and their application is re-evaluated when we are notified of those changes. Their points can increase or decrease with these changes.
As an example, a family consisting of two parents and three children may have outgrown their current accommodation and be awarded overcrowding points at the time they make their application. Our service knowing the demand and waiting time may give advice to seek alternate private accommodation. If that family moves into a home that is the correct size then those overcrowding points giving them a priority would no longer apply as their circumstances have changed. In the same way that benefits adjust as circumstances change so do applications.
This is a complicated topic for customers who may be unfamiliar with the details of the legislation and Housing continued to receive requests for 'list positions' even though they didn't apply. For a time, we trialled checking applications for a specific type of property in a single area. This illustrated the timeline in a very specific scenario and we have found in review that the negatives for customers and the service far outweighed the positives of answering the question.
Some customers took the position to be 'fixed' and did not understand that while they might be 12th today for a specific scenario, with the sheer number of applications you could sample daily and get different results. As well as this doing this requires a staff members time to use the system for a 'dummy offer' which means they aren't working on real offers for customers in need and this was a waste of limited staff resource.
Due to the complexity of a needs-based points system for housing applications we cannot provide a waiting time.
Our homes are sought after by applicants because West Lothian is a desirable area and demand for social housing is high. The length of time for a person to be housed can depend on many different elements and it is not possible to predict waiting time.
To help customers understand the reason we cannot do this we wanted to provide some explanation here.
Housing applications receive scores based on the estimated need of the applicants housing circumstances. Customers receive points for different criteria and the higher the points, the higher the 'need' of the applicant.
But all of our applicants' circumstances can and will change over time, and as such their points might fluctuate. We do not hold a long-term history of all changes and the data for applications is stored from a perspective of current circumstances or need.
This means that if your points are higher you could expect a shorter waiting time. But that time could become shorter or longer as yours, and other applicants', circumstances change.
Application waiting time is only a part of the story. All of our houses are already occupied by thousands of families. Our properties, unless they need significant work are re-let in very short timeframe. We will never know when a property will be returned to us because tenants will only tell us when they no longer need a tenancy and wish to terminate. Termination only requires a month's notice.
Finally, the properties that come back to us might not be the right property for you. Sometimes applicants have special needs like larger homes for larger families, or adapted properties designed to improve circumstances for disabled customers. Or is the property in the right area? If the properties coming back are in Bathgate but you need Westfield you would not be considered.
In other words, you may have an application with the highest need but there are a number of complicated factors across a large number of customers that can affect these times.
We have also found through experience that giving estimates is a key cause of frustration for our customers. If we estimated six months some customers will assume that is a 'firm' date and there is no way for us to know.
Our housing offer process would not consider any notes of interest in a property so we have discontinued recording these notes.
Historically notes of interest were common from customers. Customers would ask the council to record specific properties they were interested in and social landlords would consider those notes when offered.
Following internal review, we found that we still commonly get those requests, but in a needs-based system, our housing management software would not consider those notes. Properties, when offered by us, are matched to groups of customers based on the details of their application that are measured under our policy.
Unlike some social landlords, West Lothian Council does not operate a bidding system. Our system is passive. Once your application is registered with us, you don't need to do anything except tell us when your circumstances change. When we match you to a property we will tell you as soon as we have completed our checks.
On top of this we find a great many notes of interest are for properties we don't own. After many years of the now ended Right to Buy there are a great many private homes in council housing estates across the UK. This created unnecessary work beyond the noting of interest as we had to communicate the status of properties back to customers.
Housing applications take time because first and foremost applicants are waiting for our existing tenants to leave their homes. Just like you, many of them chose our tenancies to make a home. The average tenancy length is over a decade, so once housed our customers keep their homes for a very long time.
Housing applications are an evaluation of your current housing circumstances against a set of criteria with points attached. Your 'need' is represented by those points. If you think your circumstances have changed then you can access your housing application online and check that what we hold is still accurate and update us on any changes.
Although there have been instances of applicants getting a house with little or no points it is highly unlikely that you would be housed.
Modern housing applications are a statement of a customer's housing need, through points awarded for different criteria. If your housing application has zero points then you have little or no need for a new home.
This means that applicants with any points would be deemed to have a higher need and would be offered a property before you. The only exception to this is when our existing tenants apply for a new build property as these applications can be re-homed at little or no points.
We know from talking to customers that this can be frustrating as there can be situations that are difficult for customers but do not gain any points on a housing application.
While there are many different and individual circumstances we would like to illustrate some examples.
Customers in privately rented properties or who hold mortgages may be under financial pressure but are housed in a home that meets their families need would likely have zero points.
There are even serious medical circumstances that might not receive points. A customer living in a home that is adequately sized may be in severe pain or discomfort or seriously disabled but if the property is not the cause of the issue there would be no housing need.
As well as this, medical points cannot be awarded for conditions that the customer will recover from. A customer following a serious accident or illness may struggle using some facilities in their home during recovery but as there will be a point of recovery points would not be awarded.
If medical points are awarded then any suitable property type is selected to maximise your chances of being matched to a home. This may include ground floor flats, maisonettes or a four-in-a-block property.
Only a small percentage of our properties are medically suitable. There are only a few hundred suitable for customers who use wheelchairs for example. You may be matched to a property with stairs if those stairs are adaptable for a stairlift.
If you want to exclude property types you are listed against when a medical award has been made then you may choose to have those points removed so you will be able to make your preferred choices.
We know from talking to thousands of homeless applicants over many years that this is very frustrating for customers. The threat of homelessness is a large burden for households and we will do our best to help and support you.
Customers might notify us that they are becoming homeless for a variety of reasons. They may be losing their mortgage because of the many years of financial challenges and the economic pressures of the pandemic. They could be fleeing violence. Their current landlord might be selling the property and does not have another available in their portfolio.
We follow a prevention led approach for homelessness. Homeless legislation has strong provisions and protections once you become homeless. Until that point though if we can help prevent homelessness we will be focused on that.
We have had numerous customers find alternate accommodation in the private rented sector, or work out agreements with lenders. Serious problems can be overcome without customers becoming homeless and joining over a thousand homeless applicants in our area alone.
It lets us re-house more households.
Our policy of offering new build properties to existing tenants first, was agreed by Housing Management, Council Executive and Elected Members. This agreement was given as this was the best use of our resources and maximised the number of people we could rehome.
Tenants who have applied for homes with us may have their needs change. Their family may have grown and they need a larger property, or their family may have grown up leaving them in a property that is too large for their current needs.
If we offer a new build to a new applicant who is not currently our tenant then we will successfully rehome one household in need.
If we offer the new build to a tenant in need then we solve their need and we also get their previous property back which we can then offer to new applicants. This means that we then rehome two households in need.
New applicants may get a new build if our tenants decline the property.
With all the pressures on the housing market, despite us having built thousands of homes to help, we as an organisation would like to help as many applicants as we can and this policy helps us to do so.
The Mortgage to Rent scheme is operated by the Scottish Government. The scheme allows for homeowners in financial difficulty to sell their home to a landlord to avoid losing their home. The landlord purchases the property and the rent is started at a rate that repays that purchase cost over 19.775 years.
All parties with an interest in any given Mortgage to Rent agreement must accept the sale terms. The sellers will have had legal representation to ensure that all agreements are proper.
When participants in the scheme have their home purchased by us, they also sign a tenancy agreement agreeing to the rent and any subsequent rent increase. If Mortgage to Rent properties were exempt from rent increases then over time they would contribute nothing towards increased costs of operating and maintaining council housing stock. Increasing rents is the only way that the service can continue to afford to maintain tenants' homes - as the cost of goods and services increase each year.
If you are experiencing financial hardship as a tenant please speak to your housing officer who can discuss options with you. We know that customers circumstances can change over time and we will do our very best to help you. We have money advice services available and there may be benefits or grants you are entitled to that we can help you apply for, which may cover some or all of your housing costs.
There are many different rents in our stock portfolio. When you sign your tenancy agreement you agree to the rent offered.
The individual specifics on how this may happen will vary from property to property depending on its history.
We initially inherited stock through transfers from the Livingston Development Corporation (LDC) and West Lothian District Council. Both organisations used different rent systems. Some rents were set decades ago when properties were priced according to facilities within the home.
We have engaged in the Open Market Acquisition Scheme (OMAS) as well as funding significant construction programmes leading to the creation of new rents.
We participate in the Mortgage to Rent scheme which sets specific rents based on purchase costs. We also have special housing, like sheltered housing with different costs.
In addition, there have been historic initiatives that allowed tenants to gain upgrades through qualified service personnel. These made further variations in rent, as customers that opted in to those schemes were allowed to pay for them through a rent increase.
Once customers have agreed to a rent then we cannot change that rent. This means that for the moment we are limited to passively moving rents back into line when properties come back to us. Because of our status as a social landlord our rents are below the private sector.
It can be difficult to hear that there are limits to the help we can give. We have to manage issues between customers from both sides, we have to follow laws and our duty of care and we have to do that for thousands of people.
Some of the difficult circumstances our customers experience can only be resolved through legal processes. We sometimes need to gather evidence in a specific way or for a long period of time or we will be rejected by the courts.
We also need to consider vulnerable tenants rights where there are mental health issues or disabilities, even where these have negative effects on communities. As a social landlord we are tasked with supporting customers in favour of punitive measures and this is reflected in a wide range of legislation that we are bound by.