Blog: Sharing solutions?

In a guest blog for Shelter Scotland, Beth Reid, policy manager (Scotland) for Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, tells of how a shared private tenancy may not be the most obvious option for a single person facing homelessness, but it can offer a workable solution.

While shared accommodation is not appropriate for everyone, it can be a positive option for many young people in housing need.

Last year, over half of all homelessness applications in Scotland were made by young people aged 18-34, and housing options for this group are limited.

The private rented sector (PRS) is increasingly seen as a viable option for this group. While it is has its challenges, particularly around the range of quality and affordability of the sector, it has the benefits of companionship, shared living costs, flexibility and choice of location. Also its share of the Scottish housing market is growing rapidly. Yet just 5 per cent of homeless households were offered a private tenancy in Scotland in 2013/14.

Since 2012 people on Housing Benefit have been restricted to the cheapest end of the housing market, and people under the age of 35 have only been able to get enough Housing Benefit to cover the cost of a room in a shared house (the Shared Accommodation Rate or SAR), rather than a one bed property.

In some parts of Scotland there is no culture of sharing, and many people have never considered it as an option. Yet there is often a shortage of one bedroom properties and a good supply of larger properties suitable for sharing.

Currently there is a shortage of support for young people subject to the SAR who want to share. But through funding from the Scottish Government, Crisis works with local authorities and third sector organisations to develop services for homeless or vulnerably housed people in Scotland who need to move into shared tenancies, through sharing information, disseminating good practice and providing training.

We have also trialled a range of different models of sharing to identify what works and what support is needed to help schemes work effectively. Many of those subject to the SAR lack the experience or skills to maintain a shared tenancy. Schemes who are supporting sharers effectively have found that appropriate support, including pre-tenancy training, is important in securing and sustaining tenancies, along with close working with landlords.

Local authorities and third sector stakeholders identify a number of common issues when considering developing sharing options for younger people. They include the cultural expectations of both young people and local authority staff that young people would get tenancies in the social sector; concerns about the riskiness of potentially vulnerable young people sharing together and the challenges of matching people appropriately; and how best to work with landlords.

We are developing a Sharing Toolkit to provide guidance on how to implement different models, which will be available in May 2015.

We carried out research to look at the financial impact of moving under 35s currently in temporary accommodation into shared accommodation in the PRS. By rehousing 20 per cent in the PRS, we calculated that the savings to each local authority would on average amount to over £12,000 every week.

This move would also enable a shift from support based in hostels and other accommodation to floating support, resulting in a further saving of nearly £2,000 a week to each local authority.

These savings easily outweigh the costs of a PRS access scheme and would provide the means to invest in the infrastructure and staffing needed to provide effective support for developing sharing schemes locally. Moreover, it could avert the negative effects of long stays in temporary accommodation on individuals’ health and wellbeing.

To enable sharing to work well as an option for young single homeless people, frontline housing staff need to be equipped with the necessary training and knowledge. Assistance for people subject to the SAR who want to share should be included within Housing Options assistance. Investment in support for sharing options can be offset through savings in temporary accommodation and support costs, as well as improving the health, wellbeing and life skills of young people in housing need.

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