‘Second Liverpool’ found hiding in the spare room

We desperately need another Liverpool.

There’s nothing wrong with the one we’ve got, we just need another. Right now. We also need another every year for the next 25 years. That’s a lot of Liverpools.

But let’s start with why we need one.

There’s a housing crisis. It’s a fact. We need to build 250,000 houses every year, enough for 460,000 people. That’s basically the population of…you guessed it… Liverpool.

We don’t build anywhere near that and we’re not about to. Last time we did was 1979-80.

Even if we could build a new Liverpool every year, where would we put it? Wouldn’t it just be easier if we had a spare Liverpool lying around?

As it happens, we do.

England’s homeowners have 19 million empty rooms between them. If we can persuade just 2.5% to rent them out they’d house 475,000 people. That’s basically the population of…you guessed it… Liverpool.

We could do that right now, with a decent incentive.

And we’ve finally got one.

As of April 6th people can earn £7,500 a year tax-free by renting out a room. It doesn’t just apply to homeowners – tenants can do it too with their landlord’s permission. It took us six and a half years to convince Government but they finally did it. Sounds like a decent incentive doesn’t it?

It’s a proper win-win. Tenants benefit from increased supply of affordable rooms and homeowners get a tax break to encourage them to open their doors.

Now, has anyone got a spare Manchester knocking about?

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You can find out more about the Rent a Room Scheme and how it works here.

Growing up Renting

A shocking report from Shelter yesterday has revealed the extent to which the private rental market is having a damaging effect on children’s lives.

Renting is no longer the preserve of young, childless professionals. Now that one in five families rents rather than owns their homes, it’s becoming evident that families with children are badly affected by the uncertainty and some of the worst sharp practices of the rental market.

While a few may appreciate the flexibility that renting gives them, the rental market serves families less well in its current form, preventing them from putting down roots. Renting families are nine times as likely to have moved house in the last year than homeowners, and one in ten renting families have had to move their children to a different school because they moved from one rented home to another. Moving is a major disruption to children’s lives and represents an extra expense that pushes families into debt. Shelter’s report revealed that nearly three quarters of families are struggling or falling behind with their rent, many cutting back on food and heating to stay in their homes.

Of concern to all of us is the evidence that the rental market is not only failing to serve families but in some cases, actively ripping them off. Shelter reports that 28% of families say their landlords haven’t dealt with repairs or poor conditions, and shockingly, 5% report having been threatened by their landlord. Over a half a million renters have admitted to feeling pressurized to secure a property during a viewing, with 85 000 families handing over cash at that point.

What’s clear from this research is that the rental market needs improvement, with too many getting a very poor deal. Whilst people have no choice but to rent, we must do all we can to make renting a safe and comfortable way of live for everyone. Not everyone wants to rent for the long term, but a more stable outcome for those who do can only be a positive outcome.

Read more about Shelter’s campaign for a stable rental contract

How to solve the Housing Crisis in London

SpareRoom attended the Future of London Housing debate hosted by the Evening Standard on Wednesday 20th March, in a packed room of over 1000 attendees. Housing is clearly a subject that is close to the hearts of many Londoners and the debate and following Q&A session became quite heated – showing the passion and emotion involved.

All of the panellists, including thinkers and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, agreed that more housing supply was needed to relieve the housing crisis enveloping London. Deputy Mayor for Housing, Richard Blakeway called for London’s share of stamp duty to be ploughed back into a massive house-building programme. Whilst the MD of Berkeley Housing proposed a simplified planning process, the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone’s call was to provide council housing for mixed communities, so there is less segregation between rich and poor in London. Alain de Botton, philosopher and writer, suggested a blueprint for attractive, affordable design that could be repeated easily and efficiently across London, removing some of the hurdles in the planning process, whilst the broadcaster and architectural graduate Janet Street Porter called for high density building, across railway lines and over car parks, like in New York. Possibly the biggest applause of the evening went to Evening Standard columnist Rosamund Urwin’s suggestions of disbanding Foxtons, banning Kirsty Alsopp and deporting the Candy Brothers. Standing up for ‘renty-somethings’ she focused on her own case of being shut out of home ownership, and renting with family members.

Whilst many of their suggestions were valid and probably will help to resolve the housing crisis in a few years to come, if more intensive building programmes do get underway (we’ve only built half the number of homes we need for the last 20 years and have a lot of catching up to do), there was a distinct lack of focus on the here and now. With so many thousands of people on housing lists in London, and the capital attracting workers and students like never before, there is an imperative need to offer practical solutions to today’s housing crisis, before London becomes a place that no real people can afford to live and work in.

Sharing existing resources seems to be the elephant in the room that nobody would mention. Amongst the talk of pressing empty properties and even offices into homes for the needy, there is no mention of the thousands of under-occupied properties that can help to ease the crisis. This is already happening – as teenage children grow up and move away, ’empty nesters’ are starting to rent out their spare rooms in their thousands – but we need to see more of this, to make an impact. What could the policy makers do to help encourage this trend?

We would suggest a raise in the tax free limit homeowners can earn through the Rent a Room scheme for starters – it’s been at the same rate since its introduction in 1997, whilst rents have been rising dramatically. Why not make it more attractive for people with spare rooms to take in a lodger, and help to remove the pressure on the limited supply in the private rented sector, and the social rented sector too? We’ve been pushing for this with our Raise the Roof campaign for some time, and hope that the Chancellor may see fit to increase the tax benefit in his next budget, even if it wasn’t included in last week’s.

Other ways to increase supply include removing some of the hurdles involved in turning a property into an HMO. This will promote more efficient use of existing property, and help young people to find somewhere affordable to live in the here and now, rather than being told to wait for houses yet to be built.

Do you agree? What do you think could be done to help solve the housing crisis sooner, rather than later?

Do you need an EPC?

Advertising a property to let has got more complicated over the years with the burden of regulation growing ever bigger.
From 9th January 2013 regulations concerning EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) have changed, meaning that a landlord will have to have commissioned an EPC before marketing their property and obtained within 7 days of it going on the market. If you don’t get one within that time, you have a further 21 days to get one, provided you’re able to demonstrate you’re making every reasonable effort to get hold of one. Even if you’ve got an agent working for you, it’s still the landlord’s responsibility that an EPC is procured in a timely fashion, and made available to prospective tenants free of charge. The asset rating (energy efficient rating) on the EPC must be stated on any advertisement of the property in commercial media, including newspapers, magazines, the internet and any other written material describing the property.

What about shared housing? Do I still need an EPC?

This is where there is a crucial difference between renting out a whole property and renting by the room. If the space you are advertising is not self-contained, then you do not need to provide an EPC. Where individual rooms in a building are rented out, and there are shared facilities eg a kitchen or bathroom, an EPC is not required. This is because an EPC is only required on the rental of a building or part of a building that’s rented out separately. Renting a room does not fit the requirements.

A crucial difference

We feature both houses let on a room by room basis as well as whole properties suitable for sharing on SpareRoom. The latter, which will be distinguished as not available by the room, and let on a joint and several contract to a group of sharers, will need an EPC.

If in doubt, consult the Government regulations.

Don’t have a deposit? There is help available.

For young people it can be hard to rent privately, even in shared accommodation. Rents are rising in areas of high demand and limited supply, and you need to come up with a deposit as well as rent in advance. If you haven’t got a job or received your first pay check yet, it’s going to be tough to put a roof over your head as well.

We’ve discovered that there are some sources of help available, primarily for young people who are vulnerable, disabled or at risk of becoming homeless. Crisis, the homelessness charity, has a handy search facility where you can find schemes in your local area willing to offer support. This is often in the form of deposit loans, rent advances or deposit guarantees – this latter where a charity will guarantee they’ll pay the landlord, rather than you having to find the cash.

Search the Crisis access scheme database

Please note that Crisis does not provide deposits or rent in advance to access private sector rented accommodation.

The Crisis Private Rented Sector Access Development programme, which provides housing help for single people at risk of homelessness, has been boosted by a cash injection of £1.2m, announced by the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk, today. This welcome additional funding will help more young vulnerable people find the accommodation they desperately need, and often struggle to afford even if they’re in paid work.

Rising costs force couples to put their lives on hold

A new survey carried out by SpareRoom has shown that couples are struggling to be able to afford to rent on their own and are having to put their lives on hold as a result. Because of the rising cost of living, and the difficulty faced in getting onto the housing ladder due to stringent deposit requirements, more and more couples are struggling to rent on their own and save for their future.

SpareRoom’s latest survey has revealed the impact that sharing with flatmates has on couples. Almost half reported that they are putting their life on hold – getting married and having children is not on the agenda. Where you live is perhaps the most important factor in feeling settled enough to take such steps, and the horizon doesn’t look too bright right now.

Because people can’t get mortgages without a huge deposit, they’re forced to rent, increasing demand on the rental sector, which pushes up rents, which in turn makes it more difficult to afford to save, or even to pay the rent. The Money Advice Trust reports today that a record 12,000 tenants who are struggling with rent arrears have contacted them for advice this year.

So it’s not surprising that couples like Kimberley Grant and Matthew Thursfield, as reported in today’s London Evening Standard, have put their wedding plans on hold. The couple, sharing a four-bedroom house in Bromley, are living more economically than if they rented a place of their own. Their rent comes in at £480 a month, inclusive of bills, which is far less than the £750 average they’d need to pay to cover a one-bedroom flat just for the two of them. But even so, they’re struggling to save for their future, and so have yet to set a wedding date, although they got engaged this summer.

With 44% of couples responding to our survey saying that their housing situation is affecting their aspirations to settle down and start families, it seems clear that the housing crisis is making people feel trapped by their circumstances, and having a long term impact on their life-choices.

13% of couples said they don’t think they’ll be able to afford to rent a home on their own, never mind buy their own place, for the foreseeable future.

Flatsharing as a couple comes with a range of additional complications that the single flatmate doesn’t face. Just finding somewhere that will accept couples is tough for starters, without the added strains of trying not to make their housemates feel uncomfortable around them, the lack of opportunities to be alone with each other, and  just finding enough space to store all their stuff in a rented room.

It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. If two people sharing a room in a flatshare can’t save towards their future, what chance do the rest of us have?

Why proposals to extend tenancies might not be welcome

Recent proposals published by The Housing Voice Alliance, in their report into ways to fix the ‘broken’ housing market, include extending tenure in the private rental sector from six months to 24.  The call was intended to improve security of tenure, particularly for families with children, who are currently vulnerable to eviction at the end of a fixed tenancy and have a need for greater stability. But could this proposal have a negative impact on a growing contingent of tenants in the private rental sector?

A SpareRoom.co.uk poll conducted over the last couple of days has revealed a strong preference amongst flatsharers for shorter tenancies. Mostly young professionals in their twenties and thirties, over 300 tenants have voiced their opinion so far, with nearly 80% saying they would view the proposals negatively.

Our Facebook page has received a torrent of comments on the subject, explaining why flatsharers are coming out against the proposals:

“That could be totally impractical for a lot of people who rent. Especially younger people who are maybe working their way up the job ladder and may need to move to different locations based on their work,” says one respondent.

However, the response also reveals a lack of understanding of current tenancy contracts. Many flatsharers are worried about the implications of an extended contract, and see themselves as being locked into a tenancy, with the landlord having clear rein to increase the rent at any time.

They clearly don’t want to feel stuck, as one of the benefits of flatsharing is the flexibility to move when your circumstances change. Many feel such a move would hand too much control to the landlord, and a handful even suggested shorter tenancies of just three months would suit them better.

Sharers also raise interesting points about wider implications that may not have been anticipated by the authors of the report. Could a 24 month tenancy place further restrictions on who is accepted as a tenant, with perhaps stricter rules on deposits and guarantors coming in, as landlords seek to reduce their risk? This, as one of SpareRoom’s flatsharers points out, could lead to a lot of people finding it harder to get a tenancy agreement in the first place, and further exacerbate the housing crisis.

As more and more young people are sharing, whilst the options of renting alone or buying a home outright remain closed to them for the foreseeable future, policy makers and leaders of the housing sector would do well to note their worries and frustrations. Not everyone in the rental market is a family looking for security of tenure. And if the employment market is to be truly mobile and flexible, the housing market might also need to reflect this reality.

Join us for a Guardian panel discussion on renting

From 12.30-1.30pm today we’ll be joining a panel, including experts from Citizens Advice and Countrywide, for a live rental discussion on The Guardian website. Tenants will be able to ask questions relating to their tenancies, landlords or simply how to go about finding somewhere to live in a crowded rental market.

For further details and to submit your question visit The Guardian website

World’s biggest houseshare is forming in London

Some of us live on our own, some have family to share with and some live with friends. Some, however, find themselves in a position where they can’t have a house to themselves and don’t have enough friends to share with so they have to seek new housemates – often people they wouldn’t have chosen to share with otherwise. Enter David Cameron, desperate to fill the House of Commons with enough new friends to be able to take charge.

OK, that’s a fairly glib intro but the point is this – for the UK to have a stable and secure government over the next four years the main political parties will have to learn to work together and decide on some house rules. If not, we could see a long period of squabbling over whose turn it is to buy the toilet roll with very little real governing being done.

As with any form of share the parties will have to carve out a balance between themselves and strange and unexpected alliances may start to form. Suddenly, the calm, quiet person in the middle of the argument who isn’t fighting either extreme becomes hugely important as a mediator and is in a position of power over the other two who want to secure their support. Step forward Nick Clegg. If the Lib Dems play their cards right they could secure the electoral reform they’ve been seeking for years, setting themselves up well for the next election. Last night may have been a disappointment for them but it may just prove to be the stepping stone to the 3 party race they want to see in future .

With many existing house shares that involve new housemates moving in there’s a danger of the biggest room going to whoever was there first – step forward (or step down) Gordon Brown. It’ll be interesting to see how the Prime Minister (he is still PM for now) approaches the situation and what he’s prepared to give away to the Lib Dems in order to try and hang onto power. If he’s forced to step down then the others (and the rest of us) could find themselves with a new housemate nobody chose to live with, let alone be governed by.

Whatever happens over the next days and weeks let’s hope the country emerges with a government ready to steer us out of financial difficulty and address the serious problems faced by the housing market in the UK. With a serious shortage of housing something needs to happen to help homeowners who want to rent out a room and clear up the confusion surrounding the HMO situation for landlords (although I think a house with 650 in it is an HMO in anyone’s book).

At least if they’re all sharing it’ll cut down on expenses.

Matt

The SpareRoom Rental Index

As from today we’re making the SpareRoom.co.uk Rental Index available to download free of charge for our registered users – previously the index has only been made available to journalists.

Whether you have a large portfolio of properties or just need to know how much to charge for your spare room, the index is a valuable set of info on room prices across the UK.

There are 2 Indexes for you to view and download (free of charge – you’ll just need to log in or create a free account if you’re not an existing user). The first is a snapshot of the UK listed by post town and the second goes into more detail, both in terms of geographical location and data.

What does the index cover?

The index covers average rents for a room in the area listed (either post town or postcode). This is the average (mean) rent for a double room including bills.

Note – The figures in the index are averages across the previous 3 month period (ie. September’s index contains averages for June-August).

Other information covered includes:

  • Quarterly change – The % change in rent over the past 3 months
  • Demand index – Takes the average number of views per advert in each area and gives higher ratings to areas with the highest number of views per advert. A good indication of how much demand there is for rooms in an area – the longer the bar the higher the demand
  • Median rent – This is the typical rent you’ll see in the area, worked out by taking the exact middle point of the range of adverts in that postcode (in contrast to the mean weekly rent which takes the total amount of rent charged in the area and divides by the number of rooms). This is displayed according to whether the room in question was priced per week or per month (see below)
  • Median pw/pcm – Useful in busier areas as it gives an indication of whether rooms are likely to be advertised by the week or month in that area
  • Min/max pw – The lowest and highest rents charged in the area over the past 3 months

We’ll be making the index available every month from now on.

Download the latest index

Matt