It should not be so hard for young people to live safely in privately rented accommodation

Why we welcome the Young Women’s Trust’s call for the removal of the Shared Rate of Accommodation for 25-34 year olds.

Marc Francis, 29 May 2019

At Z2K, we have long run a private rented access scheme for single people on benefits to access decent accommodation in the private rented sector.  Yet from 2012 onwards it has become harder and harder for our advisors to help find affordable tenancy for those aged under-35.  This is because of the Shared Rate of Accommodation (SAR) puts housing benefit restrictions on 25 to 34 year olds, making it near impossible for them to access anything but the shared rate of accommodation for housing benefit.  While we recognise that today’s house prices mean many more young people are having to share into their late-twenties, experience shows that it is very difficult for those young people who are on Housing Benefit to find a room in shared accommodation.  Landlords in this market don’t want them, and sometimes prospective flatmates don’t want them either.

Z2K was delighted this week to attend the launch of new research by the University of Southampton into the impact of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) on young women.  The research was commissioned by The Young Women’s Trust.  It provides powerful testimony from young women who are struggling to find a place to live in the private rented sector because of the SAR, and includes the experiences of some who have faced serious problems when renting shared accommodation previously.

The launch event for this new research was hosted by Siobhain McDonagh MP (Lab – Merton), who has been campaigning on homelessness issues over the last couple of years, particularly in exposing the poor quality former office accommodation in her constituency now being used as temporary accommodation for homeless families.  It was heartening to hear Ms McDonagh back The Young Women’s Trust’s recommendations, and also good to hear that Centrepoint and Crisis will be campaigning on this issue too in the coming months.  Z2K has no hesitation in backing them as we know how much young people who access our services have suffered because of this policy.

We know how difficult it is to persuade ministers to make changes to the benefits, and how important it is that we all come together to work on this issue. Only this week the DWP response to the Work & Pensions select committee’s important  recent report on the Benefit Cap demonstrates , there is little enough appetite in DWP to increasing Housing Benefit for families with children or disabled people, let alone for twenty and thirty-somethings who are out of work.  DWP is also able to wheel out the fact that its Targeted Affordability Funding uplifted half the SAR rates in 2019/20 as justification.

That might sound persuasive, but on the ground, it is virtually meaningless.  Crisis’ latest Homelessness Monitor reports the average SAR shortfall in London is £20 a week.  And in Westminster, where many of our clients come from, the SAR for the Inner North London Broad Rental Area is just £106 a week leaving a shortfall of £30 a week to the 30th percentile of local market rents for rooms in shared accommodation.  That £30 a week shortfall needs to be paid for out of Job Seekers Allowance of just £73 a week.

In the Central London broad rental market areas (BRMA), the SAR is a more generous £144 a week and the 30th percentile of market rents is £153.  However, the smaller £9 shortfall is off-set by the fact there is much less shared accommodation in south Westminster in any case.  No wonder the total number of SAR claimants in Westminster as a whole is now just 380 – barely half the 680 25-34 year-olds originally hit by it back in 2012 and fewer even than the 470 who were getting it prior to the extension to all single people up to the age of 34.  Even accepting that the economy has improved and some might be on Universal Credit and so aren’t included in this figure, it is very worrying.

In short we are pleased that a focus on this issue of SAR has been kick started by the Young Women’s Trust, and we look forward to working with others and continuing to draw attention to this issue over the coming months.