No room available (2012)
On 14 and 15 November 2012 we conducted a snap-shot survey of the number of private rented lettings available, affordable and accessible to people claiming the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) in three areas: Birmingham, Leeds and the London Borough of Lewisham. The aim of the exercise was to test the ability of a typical 18-35 year old reliant on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to find accommodation in a shared property.
- Across the three locations 4360 shared properties were advertised as available, yet only 13% (560) of them were affordable within the Shared Accommodation Rate. Perhaps more worryingly, upon inquiry only 12% (66) of the 560 affordable private lettings that, in principle, should be open to SAR recipients were in fact accessible to them because the vast majority of landlords/agents were unwilling to let to Housing Benefit claimants. This means that only a shocking 1.5% (66) of the 4360 shared properties advertised in the three locations were in fact accessible to SAR recipients.
- In Birmingham we found 1813 shared properties available on the day of the search, yet only 188 (10%) of them were affordable within the SAR. Moreover, upon inquiry only 29 (15%) of the 188 affordable properties advertised were accessible to SAR recipients. So just 1.6% of the 1813 private lettings we found were in fact accessible to people who are subject to SAR.
- A similar picture emerged in Leeds, where on the day of the search we initially found 1877 shared properties available only to establish that a mere 15% (290) were affordable within the shared accommodation rate. What’s more, only 31 (11%) of the 290 ‘technically’ affordable private lettings were open to Housing Benefit recipients. This means that only 1.7% of the 1877 shared properties advertised were accessible to SAR recipients.
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, findings in Lewisham in South East London were consistent with those in the two other locations: we found 670 shared properties available, yet only 12% (82) of them were affordable within the SAR. More worryingly, upon enquiry just 6 (or 7%) of those 82 shared properties in reality were available to SAR recipients because the vast majority of landlords/agents would not let to Housing Benefit claimants. This means that only a shocking 0.9% (6) of the 670 shared properties in Lewisham advertised were in fact accessible to SAR recipients.
- On the day of the search we found that Birmingham had 3937 properties of all types available to rent at the time of the search, Leeds had 2727 and Lewisham had 1859 rented properties listed. Of this rented stock, Leeds had the largest proportion of its private rented sector (PRS) as shared accommodation (69%) out of the three areas; almost half of Birmingham’s PRS was shared (46%) and in Lewisham just over a third (36%) of available PRS accommodation was shared.
- This study raises serious questions about the ability of SAR claimants (and LHA claimants more generally) to find private rented accommodation. Contrary to what the Government says, a third of properties are simply not available, affordable and accessible to rent.
- It is shocking that only 1-2% of properties were available, affordable and accessible to a Housing Benefit claimant. This is a serious concern, particularly when further LHA cuts are to be introduced (including the move to annual uprating of rates by Consumer Price Index and then pegged to 1%), against a backdrop of the number of people being housed in the PRS set to continue to rise.
- The study also highlights concerns about how the SAR has been calculated, given the very low levels of shared accommodation which are affordable and fall within the SAR.
- The PRS is increasingly being looked to by central and local government to meet housing need so it is very worrying that so few properties are available, affordable and accessible to those on benefits. There are questions to be answered not only about the affordability of accommodation but about why there appears to be such reluctance amongst landlords to let to those in receipt of Housing Benefit.
Sanders, B. & Teixeira, L. (2012) No room available: study of the availability of shared accommodation. London: Crisis.
Study of the availability of shared accommodation. 2012