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Shared accommodation: a new tenancy model?

Blog by Zhan McIntyre, SFHA Policy Lead.

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A few years ago, the drastic changes to welfare policies forced people to start thinking creatively about meeting housing need.

Proposals to introduce the Local Housing Allowance cap in social housing were going to have a significant impact on single people under-35 in the social rented sector in Scotland.

Research published by CIH Scotland estimated that around 12,000 single tenants under the age of 35 living in mainstream social housing would be affected. The likely shortfall for this group of tenants would be between £5.3 and £8.6 million per year.

Even although the proposal to use LHA in the social rented sector no longer applies, however, for some people, the idea of a shared tenancy in the social rented sector might be quite attractive.

SFHA was asked to be part of a group exploring what these type of arrangements might look like and what the barriers might be.

Granted, sharing a home might not be for everyone, but many people already do it in the private sector. In my early 20s, I lived quite happily in a flat share, and two of my sisters have happily answered ‘flatmate wanted’ ads and been reasonably happy with the set up. Is this something housing associations need to explore further?

Path Finders

A few projects are already exploring the potential for this.

Simon Scotland and DWP are working on a project which offers shared tenancies. This is for people who may become homeless and the offer is an opportunity to share a two-bedroom property. 

The first two individuals were from a care setting, and this opportunity offered them a bridge between the care setting and independent living. Although they already knew each other, there were lots of meetings both individually and separately in setting up the tenancy.

Using a shared tenancy agreement under the Short Scottish Secure Tenancy (SSST), this arrangement has been in place since September 2017.

The individuals receive three to five hours support per week from Simon Scotland and can also access 24-hour support through Simon Scotland. The project is now rolling out, with one more shared tenancy in place and one more being planned.

Support from the DWP, in particular, the local HB teams, was really important in making this a success. They were happy to agree the equal split for HB support. How this might work in UC? The answer: is we don’t know. DWP does not envisage a barrier but this has not been tested yet. 

Both individuals in this project have moved from being unemployed to being employed by the housing association. Crucially, it has worked really well for them and was seen as a better alternative to a temporary furnished flat.

An alternative approach has been tried in South Lanarkshire, where some two and three-bedroom houses were modified to separate dwellings (own room, shared areas e.g. kitchen). The idea behind this was as each person was liable for their own council tax and rent, individuals could move on more easily. Occupancy agreements rather than tenancy agreements were used.

Within this project, this type of housing is very much seen as a step, rather than as a permanent home. But it does provide a good option for some people.

Barriers

Of course, there are issues to be nervous about here. Who would be liable for the rent if one person leaves is clearly a major one, as no-one would want to see a tenant struggle to pay the rent. But that could be true of any relationship.

Council tax, and the variation of interpretation in different areas, could also be a challenge. In South Lanarkshire, for example, the rent assessor agreed that they were separate dwellings and the HB team agreed each property would be charged. The council also ensured that each dwelling was registered separately so that each individual was liable for council tax – although this did increase the overall council tax liability.   

SFHA is part of a group looking to explore this type of model further, and I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you see as the barriers? What do you think you would need to make it work?

Do you think there would be demand for this in your area?

Please feel free to give me a call or drop me an email with your views and experiences zmcintyre@sfha.co.uk 0141 5676232.