Chelmsford City Council has been accused of splitting the city’s most disadvantaged into the “deserving and undeserving poor” through changes to its housing policy.

It is now set to change the rules governing which people can apply for a council house – including creating two bands for the 452 people in band 2 facing homelessness.

The council says the changes will stop people deliberately becoming homeless and help reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation.

In the current policy, applicants facing homelessness all receive the same level of priority on the housing register in band 2.

The council says there is no incentive for applicants to prevent their own homelessness before they need to find them temporary accommodation.

The council wants to change this by introducing band 2a. This band will recognise when applicants have made efforts to prevent their own homelessness, and give them a higher housing register priority.

To be placed in band 2a, applicants could find a private sector rented property, remain in their current accommodation for an agreed amount of time, stay in accommodation with family or friends, be in employment for 16 or more hours a week, including voluntary and unpaid work, or be in education or recognised training for 21 or more hours a week.

Band 2b will still have a high level of priority within the overall housing register bands, but applicants in this band will have less choice.

Homelessness campaigner Andy Abbott says the policy smacks of Victorian social policies.

He said: “I’m always appalled when I hear that sort of language of ‘there is no incentive to prevent your own homelessness’.

“The idea that sleeping rough – even the thought of it – is not some incentive to try to do something is ridiculous.

“There seems to be an old fashioned Victorian morality about it – in which there is a deserving poor and an undeserving poor.

“They say they need to show they are doing something to get their lives back on track – for people at the bottom it’s a very difficlut thing.”

The council says it will make sure that certain applicants are not disadvantaged. This includes applicants with special needs, vulnerable applicants and applicants that cannot avoid homelessness.

The council is also changing the rules of qualification for people to join the housing list.

Currently to join the housing register in Chelmsford, applicants need to have lived in the city for six out of the last 12 months, or three out of the past five.

The council is set to demand that applicants will need to have lived in the Chelmsford area for the last five years before they can join the housing register.

If applicants don’t live in the Chelmsford area, but have a local connection through their employment instead, they can join the housing register.

But applicants will no longer only have to have permanent employment, but need to have been in their current employment in the Chelmsford area for the last nine months.

Applicants will also have to have been in employment in the Chelmsford area for at least three out of the last five years.

Cabinet member of strategic housing, Councillor Paul Hutchinson, said: “As with all these things, our housing services team do work very sensitively and carefully with applicants and we are talking particularly to band 2 applicants.

“But particularly for those who find themselves in band 2b rather than 2a they will have the opportunity to discuss it with officers and show they are doing whatever is necessary in terms of employment or training into employment in order to put themselves into band 2a.

“Within the total there are a significant number of people who are particularly disadvantaged and they will be placed in band 2a.”