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Under Occupancy Pilot Supports Downsizing Tenants

Tuesday 10th August 2010
As David Cameron proposes reductions in housing benefit in a bid to encourage efficient use of bigger homes, a pilot scheme in Rochdale has found that residents under occupying their home are keen to downsize - if they are given help, support and advice to do so.

Irena Wilkinson has been seconded by ALMO Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) to work for the Council's Home Improvement Agency to identify RBH tenants who are under-occupying their homes.

"Since January we have identified around 400 tenants who might be under-occupying their property," said Irena. "We wrote to them and over half - 245 - said they would be happy to move to a smaller property."

According to official estimates a total of 234,000 households in the social tenant sector in England are overcrowded while 456,000 are under-occupied, meaning people have more than one extra spare room.

Under the government's proposals council tenants could be forced to downsize and Gareth Swarbrick, Chief Executive of RBH is uncomfortable with the idea. "I think we need to see the full consultation paper before offering any detailed comment, but my initial reaction is that this is not the way forward and that voluntary schemes like ours will be much more workable."

In Rochdale the majority of the 400 under occupying tenants are older people whose children have grown up and left the family home.

property is too big for their needs, can be difficult to maintain and costly to heat and run.

"The Rochdale experience shows many people do want to downsize," continues Irena, "they just need help to make it happen. They also want to be sure they are being moved to a property that suits their needs in an area they want."

Irena has moved 46 families out of their under-occupied homes into smaller ones and these homes have then been re-let to families.

"This is not a fast process," said Irena. "We have to be sensitive to the needs of the downsizing occupants and ensure they get the home they want. This could include Occupational Therapy assessments and discussions with families. We need to ensure the home they move into meets their needs for the future.

"There can be large property chains involved and if one person drops out or changes their mind the whole thing collapses."

No pressure is put on tenants to take part in the under occupancy scheme or move and it is entirely optional.

Gareth Swarbrick adds: "This solution provides a win-win for everyone. Irena also works with other registered social landlords in the area so that as many homes as possible are included.

"This scheme demonstrates that it is not, as the government has suggested, tenancies for life that are the problem, but developing a friendly workable system that helps people move to properties that best suit their needs.

Tenants are happy to downsize providing they are given choice, information and help and this is the route that should be followed."
Posted by 0 for Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
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