Beverly Munden, Senior Practitioner at BCHA, writes about how rising rents and frozen LHA rates mean supported housing services are struggling to help people move on to independent accommodation.
Across the UK, people on low incomes and, in particular, those in supported housing, have been disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis, with one of the main impacts being the lack of move-on options. This has resulted in very slow movement of people moving out of temporary accommodation, forcing those who have been faced with homelessness by the current climate, to be placed out of area, or worse, on to the streets.
I manage BCHA’s George House, which provides 46 en-suite units of temporary supported accommodation for individuals and couples over the age of 18 who are experiencing homelessness, including 2 specially adapted rooms for people living with disabilities. We also offer 2 additional emergency beds specifically for women who are at risk and have no other offer of accommodation. Our vision is to improve the lives of people who have experienced homelessness and trauma by supporting them to access services and address the causes of homelessness, with the aim to move them back into the community by securing their own tenancies through either private rental or social housing schemes.
While moving people on has always been challenging, the rising cost of living has made it far more difficult. Nationally, private rental prices have increased by 4.2% in the 12 months to December 2022, with local housing allowance remaining the same. In Plymouth, we have seen the impact of this as the people we support are unable to meet the top-up on the monthly rental costs and are subsequently being over-looked by landlords.
I have been supported by my keyworker to view 3 flats in the last 12 months. Each time, we informed the landlord that I had the deposit and first month’s rent in advance and could move in immediately. However, on all 3 occasions I was refused following an affordability assessment because the estimated cost of utilities and rent top-up were deemed unaffordable. I have been a resident at George House since the first Covid lockdown in 2020, following my release from custody, and never anticipated that I would still be here now. I am desperate to get my own place so that my grandchildren can come and stay with me and I can move on with my life. (Jane, George House resident)
In addition to the rent increases, because of rising interest rates and property purchases becoming more difficult to achieve, there is an increase in demand for private rental properties allowing landlords to accept the highest bidder from interested parties, again leaving those on lower incomes out of the race. The only affordable accommodation available to our residents in this current climate are houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) which, for many, is unsuitable because of the risk to or from others in the household.
Equally, accessing social housing has had its challenges due to long waiting lists, increase in demand, and limited housing stock. We are finding more and more of the available properties are in sensitive let areas. This is where previous management issues allow landlords to restrict who can move into the properties. Now they are refusing our customers who have an offending history or have experienced substance misuse, despite being model tenants who pay their service charge on time and stick to their license agreement.
The cost of living crisis has also affected temporary accommodation providers who have needed to increase their service charges to meet the increasing costs of running the service. This has resulted in an increase of service charge arrears and the risk of people losing their accommodation and becoming street homeless. At BCHA we have tackled this by introducing a homelessness prevention panel of senior managers and finance officers, who meet weekly with the heads of services, to work creatively to find a solution. This has resulted in fewer evictions and an increased awareness amongst our customers of the importance of budgeting on a low income and prioritising essential outgoings.
At George House, we have welcomed support from local businesses in the community who have responded to requests for food donations for our residents to enjoy during planned activities. These have included pizzas for a movie night, burgers and chips during the World Cup and a feast of hot and cold food over the festive period.
Residents have also benefited from successful bids to the BCHA Community Fund, which has supported the creation of a Pop-up-Café and social space run by volunteers who offer free toasted sandwiches and light refreshments in the communal lounge.
Despite there being little end in sight to the current cost of living crisis, the support team at George House continue to work creatively, along with our partners from the Plymouth Alliance, to ensure the residents are able to maintain their accommodation with BCHA and ultimately, be prepared for the day that they are offered a home of their own in the community.