26 May 2023

Flooring and furniture: the difference between a house and a home

When we published our Extent of Furniture Poverty report, we thought that the headline figure of nine per cent of all UK residents were living in furniture poverty would be the main headline figure.

However, working with the BBC on exclusive coverage, they felt that the figure of people without flooring, particularly those living in social housing, was the most significant and, after closer reflection, we agreed.

The social housing sector has faced intense scrutiny and criticism in the media in recent months. Some of that criticism has led to necessary policy changes, but we know some of the criticism has failed to acknowledge the huge pressures social housing tenants are facing during the cost of living crisis, and the huge attempts by the sector to support their tenants.

When it comes to the provision of furniture and flooring however, attitudes still need to change. Our research found that 26 per cent of all social housing tenants are living in furniture poverty, and while 1.2 million people across the UK are living without flooring, 61 per cent of those are social housing tenants.

Social housing tenants are usually those on the lowest incomes, so inevitably more of those will be struggling, particularly in these challenging times, and much of the responsibility for this lies with the inadequacy of the welfare state.

But there are changes that the sector can make which could have a significantly positive impact on many tenant’s lives. The key policy that grabbed the headlines, was that of removing flooring between tenants, leaving incoming tenants without flooring when they move in. People who have little contact with social housing are usually astonished that this happens and I believe it is time that we should be too.

Living without flooring can mean health and safety issues for elderly tenants, those with disabilities or young children, it makes a property uncomfortable, and colder. It can also mean increased ASB issues with noise in flats.

In Wales this is going to change. The new Welsh Decent Homes Standard, due to be introduced in the autumn will instruct landlords to provide flooring in all habitable rooms and following a debate in Parliament on furniture poverty on May 24, the Government say they will now be looking at the new English Decent Home Standard and the inclusion of flooring.

As an immediate starting point, we believe all landlords should inspect flooring when a tenant moves out and if it is of good quality, clean and leave in place for the incoming tenants. If it needs to removed, it should be replaced. And as Thirteen Group has found, this can be a cost neutral exercise.

Thirteen Group put new flooring in all new lets, as well as decoration and the provision of preloved furniture. They say the cost has been offset by reduced rental arrears, reduced void costs, and reduced churn, so they aren’t spending any more money, they are just spending it differently. And their improved tenant satisfaction scores show the positive impact on tenants.

The sector should not stop at flooring though. Our Blueprint for Furniture Provision in Social Housing contains case studies showing the benefits furniture provision can offer landlords, as well as the obvious benefits for tenants.

So much crisis support now focuses on food and fuel, there is little left for furniture provision. Now is the time for the social housing sector to step up and support their tenants, to stop those 26 per cent of social housing tenants living in furniture poverty, and End Furniture Poverty is here to help. Together we can End Furniture Poverty.

Written by Claire Donovan

Claire is head of policy, research and campaigns at End Furniture Poverty.