Sharing experiences on shared accommodation

Thursday, 9 October 2014 - 8:46am

For young people in most parts of the country, shared private rented sector accommodation has fast become the only viable housing option. Ella Wesolowicz of Crisis reviews work they are funding to ensure it is at the very least an accessible, sustainable and appropriate one.

Photograph: Frank M Rafik

For those in receipt of housing benefit, and therefore subject to the Shared Accommodation Rate, which limits how much housing benefit people under 35 can claim, access is proving very difficult. In some parts of the country it has become almost impossible for young people to find affordable accommodation.

Welfare reform has made the situation more difficult. Eligibility criteria for the Shared Accommodation Rate has changed to include anyone under the age of 35 (increased from 25), and the way in which the Shared Accommodation Rate is calculated and uprated has changed as well.

The impact on availability

The pressure on the housing market has increased, as more people try to access the same small pool of shared housing. As the gap between market rents and the Shared Accommodation Rate widens, people who are seeking rooms at housing benefit levels are finding themselves priced out of the rental market.

There are exemptions to the Shared Accommodation Rate, which allow some of the most vulnerable people to access self-contained accommodation. However, these exemptions are only available to a small number of tenants, and many vulnerable people are still forced to share accommodation.

Where shared accommodation can be found, it is such short supply that it is increasingly of a poor standard, and many people with support needs are having to move out of area, away from their support networks, families and friends.

For anyone with a history of homelessness, substance misuse, or mental or physical health issues, this can be an extremely daunting experience, likely to cause unnecessary additional stress.

Sharing Solutions

With funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Crisis has been running the Sharing Solutions Programme.

We fund and support eight private rented sector access schemes to trial different sharing arrangements for people who are homeless or vulnerably housed, promoting sustainable and replicable models of sharing.

The schemes are in a wide range of housing markets, and have to cater for a diverse range of people.

Improving property standards in shared accommodation

Schemes are working with partners to develop and promote non-financial incentives for landlords to encourage them to bring their properties up to standard. One scheme is working with local hostels to facilitate training for hostel guests, who can then carry out maintenance and decorating work on run down properties.

Better support for tenants in shared accommodation

Schemes are supporting people by providing more robust pre-tenancy training that focuses on the realities of living in shared accommodation.

Some schemes are engaging people through peer support, by training people already in shared accommodation to provide advice and guidance to new tenants.

Other schemes are working on models that support tenants in situ, empowering them to take ownership of their tenancy by becoming lead tenants in their shared houses.  Lead tenants are responsible for the day to day management of their shared tenancies, by taking responsibility for, for example, rent collection, cleaning rotas, or house meetings.  Incentives for lead tenants vary, but some schemes are offering a subsidised rent, or incentives in kind, such as purchasing furniture for the tenants to keep.

Reducing risk aversion

Many schemes are countering the risk aversion that can often be a barrier to access, working with people who are particularly vulnerable or have a negative housing history.

In some areas, this involves trialling a model of ‘training flats’ for people who are not yet ready to live independently and who need more intensive pre-tenancy training and support to keep their home once they are in. These flats in the private rented sector provide people with shared accommodation for a maximum of six months, with the scheme then supporting them to move on to more independent shared accommodation.

Increasing supply

The schemes are also working closely with local authorities and housing associations to access hard to let accommodation, or accommodation that was previously used to house families. They are also facilitating lodgings in social housing where existing tenants have been affected by the bedroom tax, as well as working with ex-student landlords to access void student accommodation.

Learning what works (and what doesn’t)

The Sharing Solutions Programme pilot is designed to find out what works in helping young people to access and sustain successful shared tenancies.

We are collecting and sharing good practice from the programme on our website.

Talk To Us

Ella Wesolowicz

Sharing Solutions Project Officer, Crisis

Ella Wesolowicz works in the Crisis Housing team and leads on the Sharing Solutions Programme, a good practice programme which supports practitioners working with young people and accessing shared private rented accommodation. Ella has workied in housing for several years, with experience in the voluntary, private, and social housing sectors.