A stable home for the poorest families
In February 2016, The Centre for Social Justice published a significant piece of research ‘Home Improvements’ containing a series of recommendations to help the Government develop a coherent housing strategy for low-income households.
The Sun reported, ‘Nearly 70,000 of Britain’s poorest families are struggling to find a stable home because landlords do not trust them to pay the rent or think they will cause trouble. They are forced to bounce around temporary accommodation, making it hard for them to hold down a job and causing major disruption for kids who play up as a result..’.
Obviously, the poorest are missing out on other schemes like Right To Buy and affordable home schemes aimed at getting people on the housing ladder.
Research by housing charity Shelter found more than a quarter of renting families have moved home three or more times in the past five years - upheaval and costs for hundreds of thousands of poor families.
The strategy set out in the 'Home Improvements' report includes a plan to gradually redirect £1 billion of Government spending on temporary accommodation to a new generation of Social Lettings Agencies. This new breed of Social Lettings Agency would provide long-term security and support for vulnerable renters, while also increasing the number of landlords willing to rent to those on benefits.
It identifies five key objectives which would demonstrably improve life chances:
Tackling instability, so that households are able to build lives around a secure housing situation, and they do not have to make frequent, involuntary moves;
Improving the suitability of the housing stock to provide the housing conditions that families need to thrive;
Enabling flexibility, so that people are able to move when their life circumstances change;
Supporting work and progression where housing impinges upon the welfare system;
Eliminating architectural design which contributes to social breakdown, and building neighbourhoods that work for the poor.
A stable home provides a period of predictability and security so that households have a reliable base around which to organise working and family life. C
hildren thrive in a stable and loving environment where they have routine and know what to expect in their lives. One study found that, controlling for other factors, two or more moves in the first two years of life could be linked definitively with behavioural problems at the age of nine.
For older children, home moves can mean school moves. Only 27 per cent of pupils who move schools three times or more during their secondary school career achieve five A* to C grade GCSEs, compared to the national average of 60 per cent.
Involuntary moves disrupt work and training. A recent analysis for the Australian Government found that income support recipients who moved three times or more in a year were more than a third less likely to be in employment than non-movers.
Some of those worst affected by instability are the 68,560 homeless households housed by their Local Authority in Temporary Accommodation – up from 48,010 at the end of 2010. Families in this situation live in a state of impermanence and struggle to get their lives back together. 54 per cent of households in Temporary Accommodation have at least two different placements (in addition to the initial disruption of losing their home) and 17 per cent have at least three.
A quarter of households are also placed outside their local authority area, disrupting access to services.
Social Lettings Agencies
Social Lettings Agencies provide a solution to these problems. They manage properties on behalf of private landlords and provide sustainable tenancies for those on a low-income. Their support workers help vulnerable tenants sustain their tenancies (which can be undermined through arrears, damage to the property, and anti-social behaviour). They reduce the risk for landlords to enable them to let to LHA claimants. They often provide tenants with five-year tenancies.
Currently the spread of Social Lettings Agencies is sporadic throughout the country. They are usually small and heavily reliant on grant funding. But there are financially self-sufficient models, which require the agency to reach a certain scale and cross-subsidise high-risk with low-risk activities.
The report recommends existing monies be diverted to a Capital Fund to aid the expansion of Social Lettings Agencies with credible business plans, and to help new organisations enter the sector.
Could churches be interested in running Social Letting Agencies?
The report also makes recommendations on the Private Rented Sector; longer tenancies, improved code of conduct for letting agencies, improving the condition of the housing stock, mandatory membership of a landlord association, publication of complaint data by landlord by the Housing Ombudsman, additional powers for the Ombudsman for persistent offenders.
View the report here
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Geoff Knott, 08/03/2016