Scheme to encourage private landlords to take on homeless tenants

Homes First is looking to find private tenancies for the homeless in Eastbourne
Homes First is looking to find private tenancies for the homeless in Eastbourne

A council scheme encouraging private landlords to take on homeless tenants is set to launch later this month.

Homes First – the housing team for Eastbourne Borough Council and Lewes District Council –  is expected to launch a landlord reward scheme, which could see incentives offered to take on homeless applicants as tenants.

The scheme was discussed during a presentation by Katie Dawkins, of Homes First, at a meeting of Eastbourne Borough Council’s scrutiny committee on Monday (September 3).

She said: “The landlord reward scheme is an initiative to try and increase the stock of private rented accommodation in the marketplace in Eastbourne and Lewes.

“The reason for that is if somebody goes into private rented tenancy then we can end our prevention and relief duties and also discharge our full housing duty. That meets three of our key duties by placing somebody in a suitable and affordable private rented accommodation.

“The challenge is that landlords don’t want our clients, they don’t want clients who are claiming benefits, they don’t want homeless clients with any level of support needs and we are having to compete with private sector letting agents and management agencies who for a small fee will do it all for you.”

Ms Dawkins said the scheme intends to compete with these private sector agencies by charging no fees for its assistance and to guarantee landlord income – either through rent guarantees or alternative payments. Incentive payments could also be offered, Ms Dawkins said.

She added the council hoped to build up a portfolio of around 50 private rented homes and had taken on a specialists to oversee the project and manage negotiations with landlords.

The scheme could save the council up to £450,000 per year by reducing its temporary accommodation costs, Ms Dawkins explained.

Ms Dawkins said: “We’ve been doing this on an informal basis every time we’ve come across a private landlord and we have managed to secure a tenancy.

“It’s been a case-by-case negotiation on what we can offer them and this scheme makes it a little bit more formal and clearer cut for staff in terms of the negotiations.”

Following the presentation councillors asked for further details on the scheme, with Cllr Colin Belsey (Con. – Ratton) asking about what safeguards were in place to address potential landlords’ concerns.

He said: “I did something similar to this around 20 years ago when I rented my mother’s house to the housing service, thinking I was helping someone. The house got trashed within six months.

“What provisos are there – if you were to find landlords, owners or whatever willing to join the scheme – to check the properties at regular intervals to make sure the property is being respected.”

Ms Dawkins said a landlord would be able to inspect the property every six months as part of the rental contract but that there would be additional visits from case workers during the early stages of the tenancy.

She added that housing officers would not push back against landlords if they chose not to renew tenancy agreements, choosing instead to find alternative accommodation for the tenants and keep the landlord onside in the long-term.

“We are under no illusions”, Ms Dawkins said.

“We know not all landlords are going to be interested and we know it is not going to be suitable for all of our tenants. The best we can offer is a holistic assessment of [our client’s] needs and we are likely to put our lowest support-needs families into the properties.

“Homeless applicants represent a minority of the population but for us they are the majority of our clients.

“What we are seeing is more and more of your Joe Bloggs, 2.4 children families coming into a homeless situation simply because the affordability in the private rented sector is such that they can’t pull together £2,000 for alternative accommodation.

“They might be in work, they might have top-up benefits, they might be single parents. That goes to how we would decide which clients go into those properties and we’ll need to be careful and clever about it.”

Landlords interested in the scheme can contact the team for more information on 01323 415617 or visit lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk/landlords

The scheme is expected to launch on September 17.