Council housing offers go online
People waiting for a Council house through the Choice Based Letting (CBL) scheme must select the house they want on line or they will lose out. That was the message which emerged as members of Louth County Council heard that Louth is to become one of a few local authorities rolling out an on-line only system of Choice Based Lettings.
Chairman Cllr Paul Bell voiced his grave reservations about the system which he said discriminates against those who have difficulty using computers or are illiterate.
Director of Service Mr Joe McGuinness said that the system was 'a significant change in how houses are allocated' and that it was hoped that it would reduce the number of people refusing houses that they are offered.
It was Government policy to encourage local authorities to implement choice based lettings and it had proven very successful where it has been rolled out in places like Cork and Dublin,
Louth had piloted the scheme in Ardee and hard to let houses in Dundalk and Drogheda and were now going to a web based system.
Advertisements will be placed in local papers advising people that the system will be going live from May onwards.
Councillors heard that the system was easy to use, with a list of available houses going live every Tuesday morning.
Housing applicants would have to log on to the website and could then view the houses and select the ones they were interested in, similar to any shopping site.
Customer service will be key to the success of the system, and applicants will be able to use computers in the public offices as well as libraries around the county. People can also acces the site on smart phones.
The scheme will apply for all social housing except for certain cases such as housing for older people and Travellers.
Applicants who refuse a house that they have applied for won't be able to apply for another year unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The news that the choice based lettings scheme, which had been piloted in Ardee and hard to let houses in Dundalk and Drogheda, was being extended to the whole county, was welcomed by a number of councillors.
'It's going to get people into houses they want to live in quicker' said Cllr Marianne Butler.
Cllr Pearse McGeough wanted to know if public representatives could make representations on behalf of constituents who are experiencing difficulty.
Mr McGuinness explained that it's only the person looking for the house which can make the application but that staff will be available to explain the system to them.
The allocation scheme hasn't changed as regards how applicants are prioritised but people will have to keep applying or they could lose out.
Cllr Peter Savage was concerned that people living in areas with poor network coverage would lose out and Cllr Liam Reilly noted that there were blackspots in the county where people don't have internet coverage.
They were told that people can use public computers in council offices and libraries throughout the county.
'I am absolutely opposed to this,' declared chairman, Cllr Paul Bell.'Housing is a human right.' He felt that the 'glaring problem' with the scheme was that literacy and computer literacy was issues which had not been addressed.
'There are people out there, they may be an minority, who are going to be disadvantaged.' He felt it was bad enough that someone could be on the housing list for nine or ten years, but to lose out to someone else because they couldn't use a computer.
Mr McGuinness said that this hadn't emerged as an issue at focus groups held to see whether people could use the system, where language barriers had emerged as an issue rather than I.T. skills.
Cllr Bell countered that no one was going to go to a public meeting and say they have a problem with literacy.
Cllr Kevin Meenan felt it was very important that they review how the system is working and see what problems emerge.
Louth will probably be the third county to introduce the system, said Mr McGuinness. It was up and running in Dublin and Cork and they were very happy with how it was working and no issues had arisen.