Friday, 3 February 2012

Tackling overcrowding through helping tenants who want to downsize

A win-win that I hope will benefit residents in both situations!


Reading Borough Council will be increasing the range of voluntary incentives and support for tenants living in larger properties who are considering downsizing.

Assisting tenants in this way will also enable the Council to release family size accommodation to help tackle problems with overcrowding.

The Council has found that some tenants   particularly single people or couples, whose children have grown up and left home   who occupy larger properties, are struggling to maintain them, face fuel poverty and other financial worries.

Meanwhile, the number of people waiting for a family sized home is increasing all the time, with more than half of the 8,000 people on the Council's Housing Register (HomeChoice) in need of properties with two bedrooms or more.

The Council carried out a consultation with tenants last year to find out whether the Council's current support for tenants wanting to downsize needed to change and whether it acted as an incentive for people to register to move to smaller accommodation.

Based on tenants' feedback, the Council is delighted to announce that it is increasing the budget to support tenants who wish to downsize by £50,000 in the coming year to offer more personalised support to those who want to move to a smaller property.

Under this voluntary scheme, tenants living in larger properties will be given a budget of £2,000 to help with the cost of moving to a new home.

This would enable the tenant to select a range of goods and services to suit their needs. It could include a collection service to recycle any unwanted furniture, the availability of a handyman before and after the move to help with small jobs such as taking down and putting up curtain poles, bathroom cabinets etc, the payment of a deposit on private rented accommodation for another family member and a freshly decorated, newly carpeted property which is ready to move into.

The majority of tenants who responded to the consultation, said they would also definitely find a dedicated member of staff to provide advice and help important to make it easier for them to consider a move.

Therefore the Council will assign a dedicated staff member who will promote the scheme to tenants. They assist tenants with any issues that arise in the application, bidding and moving process and work with landlords to ensure both the Council and private landlords make the best use of housing in Reading.

They would also create a database of tenants who do not have internet access at home and may have mobility problems, and arrange for these tenants to receive information on available properties through the post.

Last summer there were 96 households who were seeking a move to smaller Council property, which represented 2% of the Council's housing stock. A number of these did not actually move so it is hoped that this scheme will help make the process easier for them.

The actual number of council tenants who are in larger accommodation than they need is likely to be around 10-11% based on national estimates and a number of these tenants may be interested in this new scheme.

Molly Barton, 81, and her husband John, 85 lived in a three-bedroom Council home in Brunnel Road for 53 years. They are both disabled and found it increasingly difficult over the years to manage the stairs and maintain their home and large garden.

Just over three months ago, the couple moved into a one-bedroom Council home in Southcote Road and are very happy. The smaller size property is much more manageable for them.

Mrs Barton said: 'We hesitated about leaving our home for years as we'd been there for so long, but a larger house was getting more and more difficult to maintain. We've got five children but when you get older you don't need so much space. We were a bit sad leaving our old home as the neighbours were really nice but this house is a lot better suited to our needs now. The Council helped us with moving and we had a removal van and everything sorted out for us. 53 years worth of bits and pieces is a lot to sort out and move onto somewhere new as you can imagine. We are both a lot happier now, its so much easier with no stairs to maintain. We're really glad we made the move.'

Tenants who are interested in downsizing like Mr and Mrs Barton should contact the Council's housing allocations team on 0118 937 0172.

Of those families with an identified need for accommodation there are currently 48 families on the Housing Register waiting for a five-bedroom property, 222 waiting for a four-bedroom property, 724 for a three bedroom and 1312 in need of a two-bedroom property.

The problem of overcrowding can affect Council tenants and people living in private rented accommodation in Reading.

This includes families with disabled members having difficulties in obtaining consent from their landlord in adapting their home when required..

Regardless of their current housing, If they are on the housing register households will be entitled to apply for suitable houses that became available as a result of existing tenants downsizing in the normal bidding system.

Rachel Eden, lead councillor for housing and neighbourhoods, said: 'Many tenants living in larger properties have told the Council that they are struggling to maintain their homes and pay the bills once their children have left the family home. By working with them to support them moving to smaller, more appropriate accommodation under this voluntary scheme, they can improve their quality of life and at the same time help provide a home for a family who are living in overcrowded conditions. During the "Let's talk" consultation residents told us that the provision of decent affordable housing is a priority. I am delighted that this improved scheme will help us work to tackle the difficulties faced by both those struggling with a large property and overcrowded households."