Could furnished tenancies help tackle the cost of living crisis?

Claire Donovan, 11 August 2022

We know that as the cost of living crisis deepens, more families across the country will struggle to make ends meet. For those who need to move house during this time, the costs involved may force them into debt. As social landlords, you can take steps to protect these families and help them to sustain their tenancy in the long run.

Furnished tenancies in social housing can provide all of the essential furniture items and offer the peace of mind that if anything breaks, or needs replacing, it is covered - yet only 2% of social housing properties are let as furnished compared to 29% in the private rental sector.

Our research report, No Place Like Home, showed that living without essential furniture items has a devastating impact on people’s mental and physical health, and their financial and social wellbeing. Living in furniture poverty has added hidden costs too. Living without a cooker, for example, can add over £2,000 to your annual food bill as families have to rely on microwave meals and takeaways.

People moving from homelessness, women fleeing domestic violence, or those moving from a furnished to an unfurnished property will often have nothing. With the cost of furniture rising by over 30% since 2008, furnishing a whole property can be an insurmountable mountain to climb.

We know that the social housing sector is working incredibly hard to support tenants but there is more that can be done and furnished tenancies are an excellent place to start.

In July, we were delighted to talk about furnished tenancies as part of the NHF’s Working in partnership to mitigate against the cost of living crisis webinar. The questions that arose from the session highlighted the importance of our current research project, which explores furnished tenancies in much greater detail. We hope this research will provide a blueprint that will enable social landlords to create a furnished tenancies business case and help them to develop a scheme of their own.

Webinar attendees asked whether the cost of furniture can be included in the service charge element of both Universal Credit and legacy benefits, and we understand this is a particular area of concern. It is eligible for inclusion, and for those tenants in receipt of benefits, a furnished tenancy provides them with everything they need.

The benefits of a furnished tenancy for the tenant are clear, they have a bed to sleep in, a fridge to store their food and a cooker to prepare meals. But there are substantial benefits for the landlord as well.

Furnished tenancies can make tenancies more sustainable and reduce rental arrears - the cost of furniture is the biggest cause of year one debt in a new tenancy. They can also increase the appeal of hard to let properties. They generate income as the service charge continues to be paid after the capital cost of the furniture is recouped, creating surpluses that can be reinvested into supporting tenants in other ways.

It is not just furniture, however. Flooring, for example, is incredibly hard to obtain as few council crisis schemes or grant giving charities provide it. Properties without flooring can lose up to 15% of their heat, create noise issues in flats, cause health and safety issues, particularly for elderly or disabled tenants or those with young children, and be generally uncomfortable!

We encourage landlords to look at their voids policies and seriously consider cleaning and leaving flooring in place rather than removing it in every case.

End Furniture Poverty can provide lots of support and guidance to any social landlord considering the creation of a new furnished tenancy scheme. We can help with preparing a business case for your board, help you to understand how to finance and staff a scheme, how to measure and monitor its success, what furniture items to include and how to set the service charge. Our new research will be published in autumn and it will offer even more information and support.

We have worked with many housing associations over recent months and years, including Optivo, whg, Torus, Blackpool Coastal Housing, Cloch Housing Association in Scotland, and Home Group, and we’re speaking to many more during August to find out what information and data they need to explore furnished tenancies.

We have case studies of successful furnished tenancies scheme and we can introduce you to fellow housing professionals running schemes who can share their experience and expertise.

As inflation and energy bills continue to rise to unprecedented levels, we need to develop new ways to support the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom are social housing tenants. Furnished tenancies should be seriously considered by all social landlords and End Furniture Poverty is here to support you at every step of the way. Together we can End Furniture Poverty.

For more information, get in touch with our team or have a look at our website.