The vulnerable nature of under 35s living in shared accommodation in the Private Rented Sector (PRS)
Shared housing can be problematic for both working tenants and those claiming benefits. Putting a group of strangers together and hoping they will get along is risky. A new tenant moving into an established shared house can change the dynamics, mixing younger and older tenants, same sex or not, again can be problematic.
In the past the majority of benefits claimants living in shared accommodation were aged 24 or under because they were only eligible to claim the shared accommodation rate (SAR). But recent changes in the Welfare Reform Act have seen the age limit increase to 34. This means anyone who is 25 -34 who would have been able to claim for a one bedroom flat now have to live in shared accommodation unless they can pay the difference between the actual rent and the SAR. Ultimately this will see more people being housed in the PRS as this is where the majority of houses of multiple occupation (HMO’s)/shared housing can be found.
It is no great surprise then that in certain local authority areas the Your Money Your Home (YMYH) project team are seeing more tenants who live in HMOs. But often the tenants support needs aren’t being addressed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they haven’t been signposted or referred to services, but more so that when things start to go wrong there seems to be a lack of joined-up working between departments/organisations to step in and help sustain the tenancy.
Money is often a major contributing factor, whether it’s a lack of financial capability or just not enough to make ends meet. But it seems that in many cases this is over looked. Assessing a person’s budgeting skills and financial capability should form a key part when establishing a new tenancy, and even more so when that person has presented as homeless.
Our most recent example was a single male under 35 living in a HMO. During the visit our team realised that his room was unfit to live in and it was impacting on his physical and mental health. He had been told that his health condition (pneumonia) was probably due to him sleeping in his car while he was homeless and not the damp in his property. The landlord had been given 28 days to sort it out. That was over two months ago. Since being taken off Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), having been told he can undertake ‘light duties’, his income has reduced. This has led to difficulties in him falling behind with his rent top up (the difference between his actual rent and what he receives in benefits, such as local housing allowance (LHA). When he was housed he was involved with the Credit Union and local bond scheme, but due to his lack of budgeting skills he hasn’t kept up the payments. He had been struggling to buy food but through the Jobcentre he was able to access the local foodbank.
This is a young man who wants to turn his life around. Getting back into construction work would be a step in the right direction for him, but again he is struggling to get the support he needs. By securing more appropriate, affordable accommodation and getting back into work would also help him to gain access/custody of his child.
So far we are helping him with:
Key jobsites to search
Offered help with his CV
Applied for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to assist him with the rent top up and arrears
From a local authority perspective they had met their duty by finding accommodation for this person. What seems to have been missing is a joined-up support plan to see him through the first six months of his tenancy. Had this been in place, there would be more of a chance that the tenancy could be sustained beyond the initial period. It is likely that this person may well find himself homeless again in the next few weeks unless our interventions can help turn this situation around.
One of the key asks that ‘Your Money, Your Home’ (YMYH) has of local authorities across Wales is to provide individual support for new local housing allowance (LHA) applicants, and existing ones on the ‘safeguarding list’ to enable them to manage their household budget before, during and after the transition to Universal Credit.
This may seem like an unrealistic ask but if we don’t address this issue now we will only be storing up problems for future generations.
Just a final thought…is there an opportunity here for us to explore setting up a co-operative self- build housing project for under 35s – empowering people to make positive changes, whilst gaining skills and experience that could lead to future employment?