Housing Issues: some of the common barriers we see in our work in Southwark

At Kineara we talk about ‘breaking barriers’ to housing issues as we holistically support those on the verge of homelessness, but what do these barriers look like?

Below we summarise some of the key challenges our clients are faced with, as well as the obstacles our Housing Practitioners often encounter in the process of trying to obtain suitable, long-term housing solutions for our clients. Evidently, most of these barriers are interconnected and demonstrate the complexity of the housing crisis not only in Southwark, but across London and the UK.

1. Supply vs demand for social housing

With less and less social housing available for those who really need it, Councils are relying heavily on the private sector to take on households who should be entitled to social housing which has more affordable rates and increased security of tenure.

We meet many renters who are eligible for social housing, including those with complex health needs or mental health diagnoses, and always support them to register and bid, if possible, to protect the possibility of securing social housing for the long term. In some instances, moving further afield where rental costs are lower may be considered; this however can be highly disruptive, for example to families with children in school, and results in the renter losing their bid for social housing in the borough; understandably, this is a far from ideal scenario.

Considering the lack of social housing stock, as things stand, the private rental sector is the only option for the majority of our clients. This said, the lack of social housing is having a knock-on effect with the private rental market as we discuss below.

2. A flawed private rental market

Essentially there are far too few affordable, good-sized homes to privately rent in London and increasing competition in the market is further driving up costs, putting them out of reach for many of our low-income clients. (In Southwark, rental costs have risen 12% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic).

For some, this pressure can be alleviated somewhat by the Landlord’s Incentive Scheme (LIS) offered by the council, which is paid direct to landlords and often covers the security deposit. We’ve seen however that the incentive scheme can in some instances have negative consequences for renters down the line.

A typical example may be where the council has overbid on a property for which there is a lot of competition in order to secure a place for a renter. In some instances, paying over the odds in this way means additional support that would normally go direct to the renter such as a rent deposit loan, is redirected to finance the overbid to the landlord. This means the renter does not get this money back as intended, leaving them with no deposit for their next move.

The LIS can also put the renter in an even more precarious situation as some landlords may be motivated to offer the shortest tenures allowed with the intention of securing further incentive payments for new tenancies. There are also other costs of moving for renters such as removal vans, packing materials, furnishing and storage facilities, which can run into hundreds of pounds, sometimes more.

3. Misconceptions about low income and vulnerable renters

The need for the incentive scheme for private landlords was fueled by the generalisation that those on low incomes or deemed vulnerable are not attractive prospects as renters, because they are assumed to be less secure and less likely to keep up with rent payments. The reality is that many people in these situations are indeed good, reliable tenants as their housing is much more valuable to them and the potential loss of accommodation could have a much more significant impact on their lives; in our experience, motivations to honour contracts, look after the properties in which they reside and maintain good relationships with landlords is high.

At Kineara we find ways of making private renting more secure and suitable for renters by advocating for their needs with landlords, negotiating longer tenancies, helping clients set up a new tenancy and settle into their new home.

To further help (and reassure landlords), we work with clients on their budgets to ensure their income will cover the rent and allow them to live sustainably. We also ensure they are well informed of their rights and responsibilities as a tenant and ensure they are fully benefitting from the support they are eligible for, such as Universal Credit, which can help towards rental costs.

4. Stigma associated with landlords

Landlords have had bad press in the media for many years now and we think it’s fair to say that this portrayal of private landlords as a whole is unfair. It cannot be denied that there are many genuine cases of landlords solely motivated by money and paying little regard to the condition of the properties they rent out or the welfare of their tenants; indeed we’ve already described an example of this above in relation to taking advantage of the Landlord’s Incentive Scheme.

This is not to say, however, that all landlords should be tarnished with the same brush. In fact, we believe that there are many ethical private landlords out there who care about doing social good, who can genuinely be an effective part of the solution to providing safe and secure homes whilst protecting their own investments. It is exactly these types of landlords that we are keen to connect with to find solutions to housing issues where all stakeholders have a good, long-term, sustainable relationship.

5. Pitfalls with Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

Despite rising rents and the cost of living crisis, LHA has been frozen by the government, making the gap between income and rent payments even greater for many of our clients.

In particular, renters under the age of 35 are especially struggling since this age group only qualifies for a shared accommodation allowance which can be substantially less. This presents problems for the many clients we see in this category who are experiencing physical or mental problems that make shared occupation unfeasible. Unless in receipt of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which provide additional support with extra living costs for those with disabilities, clients are unable to afford the cost of a much needed, self-contained property.

6. Language

Non-English speakers are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to understanding the UK housing process, their rights as tenants and rules around evictions.  With a housing system that is difficult to navigate even for some native English speakers, language presents a significant barrier to many of our clients.

Whilst friends, family, and of course online tools like Google Translate play an important part in the communication process, some areas of our work such as arranging viewings and facilitating conversations with landlords, can be tricky.

Currently in Southwark we are seeing many South American immigrants, many of whom speak no English at all. To counter such barriers and make the housing process easier to understand, we have created some communications in other languages and also work with free translation services where they are available in the community.

Breaking barriers to make long-term sustainable tenancies the norm

In reflecting on these barriers, it is clear that ultimately, the UK government must prioritise providing tens of thousands more long term, secure, safe and genuinely affordable homes. Until then, front line services like ours strive to make a difference to everyday lives in the community, fostering a sense of wellbeing, advocating for the rights and needs of renters, building healthy relationships between landlords and renters, and supporting education around money matters to empower society’s most vulnerable. This, we hope will help break ongoing cycles of poor health, wealth, and education, to tackle such housing issues and make tenancy sustainment more achievable and these barriers less prevalent.

For more information on how we support residents in Southwark with tenancy sustainment, click here