Choosing a home

What are the prospects for introducing Choice-Based Lettings (CBL) across Ireland?


Image: Istock

Ninesh Mutiah

Founder and CEO, Home Connections

Kathleen McKillion

Senior Associate Consultant,

Campbell Tickell

The current situation is set out in the Oireachtas report of December 2018, Examination of Local Authority Housing Lists, which raised a series of issues in relation to housing applications, transparency and choice. It noted that local single-authority CBL schemes exist in several authorities, currently 16 of Ireland’s 31 local authorities (LAs).

The Programme for Government (PfG) 2020 set out a commitment to introduce a social housing passport, allowing households to move from one local authority list to another and to create a website to allow for CBL nationwide.

To understand how best to address the current challenges and opportunities on CBL, it is useful to explore its journey to date.

CBL origins

Following the neo-liberal ascendancy in economic and social affairs post-Thatcher and Reagan, investment in social housing experienced a decline across Western Europe, as compared to the post-Second World War period. In Britain and Ireland, this was evidenced by a combination of privatisation (Right to Buy) or a switch in investment from public to private housing schemes.

As a consequence, social housing waiting lists grew significantly from the 1990s onwards. A culture of dependency developed, where applicants on the waiting list often expected the local authority to ‘sort out’ their housing needs and there was no incentive or pressure for self-service.

Then in the 1990s, a group of housing organisations in the Netherlands, starting in Delft, began to experiment with applying an estate agency approach to social housing allocations. Why not advertise the properties publicly and prioritise according to the eligibility ranking – which could be a composite of ‘housing need’ or the time spent waiting, or a combination of these factors – as expressed by a number of points or a banding?

Choice-Based Lettings was born and over time became established in the Netherlands. It was subsequently trialled and rolled out in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Central London pilot

Ninesh Muthiah was responsible for designing the largest CBL pilot in the UK in 2001, covering all the central London boroughs. The first properties were advertised in Kings Cross, London, in July 2002, applying the broadest and purest principles of choice:

  • unlimited expressions of interest for properties;
  • complete transparency of ranking on the list;
  • feedback as to who came top of the ranking and hence gained the property tenancy.

Home Connections has 20 years’ experience providing a service of choice-based lettings and cross-local authority housing mobility in the UK, including Northern Ireland. It is a well-established not-for-profit organisation, owned by its member councils.

“It has given greater choice and control to the highest priority applicants and has led to greater customer satisfaction. It has also sped up lettings processes for housing bodies.”

Next steps for CBL in Ireland

CBL has undoubtedly been a success in the UK, judging by the way it has spread across most municipalities and housing organisations. It is clearly preferable to the closed direct allocations approach. It has given greater choice and control to the highest priority applicants and has led to greater customer satisfaction. It has also sped up lettings processes for housing bodies.

CBL has the potential to improve the speed of allocations and reduce the rate of refusals. As indicated above, roll-out across all local authorities is being promoted by the Irish Government. There is a real opportunity now to move the process forward, delivering better prospects for social housing applicants and meeting government objectives at the same time.


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Service reviews in Ireland: Empty homes, allocations and lettings