How external investment is unlocking new opportunities for a charity and a housing provider

Pilar Lara Cruz of Crisis trains people to improve their chances of maintaining a tenancy

Pilar Lara Cruz of Crisis trains people to improve their chances of maintaining a tenancy

Article written in partnership with:

Crisis

Tenant skill-building Scheme: Renting Ready course
Aim: To help vulnerable people sustain tenancies
Number of participants: More than 1,000

The key to any successful tenancy begins with the tenant being able to stick to the terms that the tenancy agreement sets out. But for many vulnerable individuals, this is much easier said than done.Homelessness charity Crisis set out to help those individuals to maintain their tenancies by launching the Renting Ready programme.Renting Ready is a tenancy training course designed for homeless people, those at risk of homelessness, and those with limited experience of independent living. Its aim is to upskill vulnerable people to help them sustain their tenancies and live independently.

The course teaches individuals how to find a rented home and provides comprehensive learning around vital tenancy management skills. It covers areas such as housing options, rights and responsibilities, living on a limited budget, looking after a property and managing relationships with landlords and housemates.

“The whole ethos of the course is to prevent instances of homelessness,” says Pilar Lara Cruz, housing trainer at Crisis.

The course is helping individuals overcome some of the major barriers when trying to access accommodation, especially within the private sector. Ms Lara Cruz says that the Renting Ready programme provides a safeguard for those landlords so that they can be confident in the tenant’s ability to maintain their tenancy.

“For some landlords it could prove to be a selling point,” she adds.

Renting Ready has been delivered across Crisis’ Skylight centres for three years to more than 1,000 people, but more recently the charity has had the opportunity to expand the programme to a variety of organisations, including housing associations and local authorities.

“All participants said their confidence in managing a tenancy had improved.”

Ms Lara Cruz has been leading the development of this specialised Renting Ready programme across the country over the past 12 months, which is now funded by Civitas Social Housing.

Much of the first year has been spent developing the programme, Ms Lara Cruz says, but she has had the opportunity to start rolling out the course to vulnerable people in need.

To date she has delivered three separate courses to several organisations. One of these was a tailored pilot course to train a member of staff to deliver the course himself.

The other courses were delivered directly to learners. Those two courses resulted in 11 individuals successfully completing the course under Ms Lara Cruz’s tutelage, with more courses scheduled in the near future.

The feedback from the training has been overwhelmingly positive, she says.

“Through feedback forms, all the participants said their confidence in managing a tenancy had improved through the course.”

But completion of the course is not the end of the process. Crisis continues to monitor the progress of individuals three months and six months after the course is completed.

For a Renting Ready course she delivered in January 2017, the results have been particularly impressive, Ms Lara Cruz explains.

“About half of the participants have moved from temporary housing on to settled accommodation and they’ve been able to maintain that tenancy so far,” she says.

Inclusion Housing provides property services to vulnerable people (picture: Getty)

Inclusion Housing provides property services to vulnerable people (picture: Getty)

Inclusion Housing

Service delivery focus

Challenge: Need for more supported accommodation
Solution: 16 properties purchased by Civitas Social Housing and leased back to landlord
Aim: To improve quality of property servicing

There’s a “great need out there” for high-quality, independent supported accommodation, says Neil Brown, chief executive of Inclusion Housing.

To meet this need, Inclusion Housing, which operates nationally, is investing heavily to increase its portfolio of homes. Within the past few years, the organisation has grown to 1,300 properties and aims to grow further, says Mr Brown.

Inclusion Housing operates a business model that focuses on the delivery and management of housing. Its residents often need permanent support and cannot work themselves. Any government benefits they receive are often exempt from reductions experienced elsewhere.

As a result, Inclusion receives a steady, reliable rental and service charge income in return for providing its dedicated, specialist services in support of tenants.

Although it manages the properties, it doesn’t directly provide care services – these are instead delivered through a trusted network of care partners.

This freedom allows the landlord to focus on its key aim of raising the standards of service delivery for tenants across the sector, Mr Brown says.

Inclusion Housing’s singular focus has enabled it to build a strong reputation as an effective supported housing service provider since its creation in 2007. Mr Brown says it is this reputation that first attracted Civitas Social Housing to reach out to the business.

“We met and discovered that our aspirations were the same — getting the right type of growth and achieving very positive outcomes for individuals who need independent living and a better service,” he says.

In June 2017, Civitas Social Housing completed the £22m purchase of a portfolio of regulated social housing, comprising the freehold interest in 16 homes, with 173 tenancies. These properties are located across eight local authority areas, and are now leased to Inclusion to manage over a 22-year period.

“We’re providing accommodation for people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and autism, some of them with quite complex needs.”

The homes were already tenanted before they were leased to Inclusion, but this arrangement saw the properties moved into the housing association sector for the first time.

This was a draw for the landlord because by bringing the homes into the sector, there was an opportunity to raise standards higher than they had been previously.

“We’re providing accommodation for people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and autism, some of them with quite complex needs,” Mr Brown explains. “What we’re making sure is that property and management services remain of a very high standard.”

With occupancy levels already high and a care provider on board, taking over the management of the properties has been “relatively straightforward”, he says.

A strong working relationship with the care teams has also helped enable a smooth transition.

“We do work very closely on a local level with the care teams on the ground, so the managers and staff are on site and collaborate to ensure efficient and effective partnership working. We visit all our accommodation at least on a monthly basis to make sure standards are being maintained, but with our local people out there, we are able to respond as and when required,” he says.

Mr Brown hopes this partnership with Civitas Social Housing is just the first of many. What it has been able to achieve with this arrangement aligns closely with the organisation’s aspirations to increase stock numbers through acquisition and development.

“Through partnering with Civitas, there’s more investment going into the sector which allows for more accommodation, provides for higher standards and, more importantly, is meeting the needs and aspirations of residents.”