SeAscape: Homelessness and affordable housing in South Ayrshire

South Ayrshire has a shortage of bedsits, studios and one-bedroom units, and landlords are uncomfortable with joint tenancies, according to a homelessness charity operating in the area.

SeAscape, which was launched in 1999 to provide a rent deposit guarantee scheme, was awarded a contract to provide homeless and housing support services in South Ayrshire by the local authority in 2012. Since then, they have been at the forefront of efforts to eliminate homelessness in a relatively sparsely populated, predominantly rural area covering more than 1,000 kilometres.

SeAscape’s office at 8 Barns Street, Ayr

Homelessness is “a particularly difficult problem” in South Ayrshire for single under-35s, according to SeAscape’s CEO, Margaret McDowall, who spoke to Scottish Housing News.

“Many of your readers will be aware that for many years, those under 25 have only been entitled to Housing Benefit – becoming Local Housing Allowance – at the shared accommodation rate,” McDowall told us.

“A few years ago, this age limit was raised to 35.

“In practical terms, it is almost impossible to find private-rented, self-contained one-bedroom accommodation within that budget and this group would then need to rent a room from a private landlord, rent a bedsit or share a two-bedroom tenancy with another single person.”

South Ayrshire’s smaller youth and student population means flatsharing is far less common as in Glasgow or Edinburgh, and landlords are not so quick to accept flatsharing arrangements.

McDowall notes: “In public sector housing, many areas have very few one-bedroom properties and accepting an offer of a two-bedroom property may be the only option – so bedroom tax could well become an issue.”

Fortunately, SeAscape operate a scheme called 2Share, which works within the private sector to help people move into shared accommodation. Though the lengthy process means it is “not an instant answer to homelessness”, the scheme provides additional options to vulnerable people.

McDowall explains: “ runs alongside our existing rent deposit guarantee scheme – most service users who need 2Share do not have their own deposit. We carefully interview and try to match applicants and also work through a ‘preparing to share’ training programme with both.”

The charity then provides “a lot of information and support” to landlords to help convince them to take on the would-be flatmates.

The most critical problem in South Ayrshire, however, is the availability of both suitable and affordable housing. McDowall hits out at “a tendency from the public to think that if people are homeless then any home will do”, pointing out: “Sustainability rates are poor when people move into properties that they did not really want from the outset.”

In a final plea to UK politicians, she told us: “We recognise that there is a huge range of deeply concerning issues which all deserve to be high on the political agenda. However, we also believe that many of these cannot be tackled unless those affected are appropriately housed and that is why homelessness must be a priority.”

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