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As the pressure increases for social housing across England, a new scheme has been introduced in Somerset, where applicants can bid for properties online. But has it made a difference?
Homefinder Somerset was launched in December 2008 and was jointly funded by the four district councils in the county as well as Taunton Deane Borough Council.
The website works by listing available properties which registered applicants can bid for.
Homes are allocated depending on the level of need and the length of time an applicant has been waiting for, so this can be emergency, gold, silver or the lowest priority, bronze.
Under the old system, where housing registers were held by five councils in Somerset, 19,949 were signed up.
Three months on, and so far only 12,396 of these applicants have re-applied to the new system despite being contacted by their local councils about the change.
Ric Pallister, deputy leader for South Somerset District Council said: "All the people didn't disappear, but of course some people who were originally on the register had died, moved, didn't want to move anymore so we were carrying a lot of dead information."
Although the register is now up to date, frustration still remains because there is no increase in the number of properties available.
Mark (not his real name) lives in a shared house in Yeovil with four other tenants.
"I split up from my wife about four months ago, I'm on the housing register and I've only been awarded silver band. I have my kids for weekends and holidays and they've got to stay with me in a one-bedroom place.
"I've been applying to get a better place but I can't get it 'cos I'm not on a higher banding."
When the system was launched, everyone on the housing register was asked to sign up, while those in the emergency and highest priority need were contacted individually or automatically re-registered.
"Under the old system the allocations were done more on need and less on time that you'd been on the list. When a property came up, the team would go through and see if they could find somebody who matched with what we had. It was time-consuming, wasn't very efficient and with our register of people who needed housing, it was very difficult to keep it up to date," said Ric.
All five councils now believe the system will make allocations more efficient because people can see what's available and actively bid for them each week, without being restricted to one particular district council area.
"What we've done is put the onus back on the individual. It's up to them if they want to bid or not, however it comes with the caveat that those who are vulnerable or those in a high level of need, those who would have difficulty bidding - we do it for them."
South Somerset District Council has the highest number of people who need social housing in the county and is closely followed by Taunton Deane Borough Council.
It has secured £18m from the government's Homes and Communities Agency which will secure 338 affordable homes over the next three years across the district.
Plans are also on the way for 92 new homes for rent and 15 shared ownership homes at New Barns Farm and Deansley Way in Wincanton but it is acknowledged even this won't be enough.
"There is a high level of need everywhere, but we're all struggling with the issue, it's not a local problem and compared with other places, our situation here is not that bad," said Ric.
last updated: 21/03/2009 at 12:32