10 Nov 2022
As the cost of living crisis tightens its grip, rent arrears are rising and tenants are struggling, but there is one way that landlords can support tenants, which also offers great benefits for their organisation at the same time – furnished tenancies.
In early 2021, End Furniture Poverty presented a webinar for CIH explaining how landlords could set up a furnished tenancy scheme and we have supported many landlords across the UK as they explore furniture provision. We have now taken this support one stage further with the publication of our Blueprint for Furniture Provision in Social Housing, a detailed guide that explains how to set up the right scheme for you and your tenants.
There are millions of people living without essential furniture items - from beds to sofas, cookers to fridge freezers - and living without these items can have a devastating impact on people’s mental and physical health, as well as their financial and social wellbeing.
Sadly, there is a real stigma attached to living in furniture poverty
People can become socially isolated and miss out on important support because they are reluctant to invite people into their empty home. It can also have a significant impact on rental arrears as some tenants turn to high cost credit which can leave them unable to pay their rent, or to tenancies failing.
Other types of support for furniture and white goods are becoming much harder to access as local authority budgets continue to be squeezed and more local welfare schemes are closed across England, while grant giving charities are overwhelmed with applications for support. It can mean increased staff time, supporting tenants with applications, which may not be successful.
Furnished tenancies can be an ideal solution - both for tenants and landlords
This is particularly true for tenants in receipt of benefits, as the cost of the furniture can be recouped through the service charge element of Universal Credit. They can provide tenants with all the items they need, and the peace of mind of knowing that if an item needs replacing, it’s covered.
But there are huge benefits for landlords as well. Our Blueprint, produced thanks to funding from Fusion21 Foundation, highlights successful furniture schemes across the UK, including Thirteen Group who found that furniture provision meant reduced churn, lower voids works costs and average key-to-key time with a net annual saving of more than £1m, plus arrears data showing a reduction from £7m to £4.8m per year. They say this is because by providing furniture, ‘we’re setting people up in the right way’.
Another landlord, Citizen Housing, is offering flooring and reported that their churn reduced by 30 per cent to 50 per cent for similar properties ending within 12 months.
We know that social landlords are committed to supporting and helping their tenants, but furniture provision has fallen behind. Our report, No Place like Home, published in 2021, found that only two per cent of social housing properties are let as furnished compared to 29 per cent in the social housing sector, and this does reflect poorly on the sector.
Avoiding the 'poverty trap'
There have been concerns in the past about furnished tenancies creating a ‘poverty trap’, but our research has shown that building in flexibility to a furnished tenancy scheme, allowing tenants to return furniture to reduce the service charge if their circumstances change, this can be overcome. The Blueprint outlines how this can work, and also the different types of agreement that can be considered, from a furnished tenancy agreement, to a furniture rental addendum. It also provides information on operations, staffing, data strategy and performance measurement, lots of information on the service change and benefits, and a full financial modelling section.
Too many tenants are living without essential furniture items, without fridges or cookers to safely store and prepare food, without beds so end up sharing beds with children, sleeping on sofas – or even on the floor. Meanwhile the cost of furniture has risen by 50% since 2010 and acquiring items is the biggest cause of year one debt in a new tenancy.
We receive dozens of emails every week from social housing tenants, some who have fled domestic violence, often with children, who are moved into empty boxes. Or those coming from homelessness who wonder if they would be better off back in a hostel as at least they had a bed there. Together we can change this and End Furniture Poverty is here to help you to understand how a scheme could work for your tenants and your organisation.
Together we can End Furniture Poverty.
You can read the Blueprint for Furniture Provision and catch up on a recent webinar discussing steps outlined in the report on the End Furniture Poverty website. If you'd like to talk to the team, email info@EndFurniturePoverty.org.
At the 2023 Northern Housing Festival, Clare Donovan will join us on day two for a workshop session exploring practical solutions to help residents sustain their tenancies. If you're a CIH member, you can find out more about the event and secure your free, member-exclusive place at the Northern Housing Festival here.
If you’re not a CIH member and would like to access this event, simply switch your spend and sign up for membership today! Not only will you get access to this incredible event, but you'll also unlock your delegate place at most of our CIH events*, plus a whole host of member benefits.
*Unfortunately due to the specific way they are hosted Housing 2023 Manchester, live award ceremonies and dinners are not included in the offer.
Claire Donovan is head of policy, research and campaigns for End Furniture Poverty.