How rightsizing approaches can be a win:win solution for both tenants and providers

Posted: 17th January 2024 Will Morley, Consultant

Demand for social housing is continuing to outstrip housing supply. With little money available to build or acquire new social housing, landlords must make more effective use of their existing stock to meet demand. One way to do this is to look at rightsizing.

Rightsizing refers to the process of finding social housing tenants’ homes of a size suited to their needs and preferences.

The Regulator of Social Housing’s Tenancy Standard already requires registered providers to “develop and deliver services to address under-occupation and overcrowding in their home…focused on the needs of tenants”.

With changes to consumer regulation, including greater power for the Regulator of Social Housing to challenge organisations’ approaches, there has never been a more prevalent time for providers to consider rightsizing approaches.

Occupancy issues within social housing

The latest English Housing Survey indicates overcrowding is most common in social housing –8% of all social rented homes are overcrowded (328,000 households) compared to 5% of the private rented sector and 1% of owner occupiers. Recent research from the National Housing Federation has highlighted the impact of overcrowding on families, including over three-quarters reporting that their mental and physical health has been adversely affected by overcrowding.

At the same time, English Housing Survey data suggests that around 10% of social homes (391,000) are under-occupied by two or more bedrooms in England. This, too, can have a detrimental impact on households, with pressure from higher bills and, for those on benefits, the bedroom tax. It may also lead to damp and mould if tenants are not able to effectively ventilate or heat their homes.

What can providers do?

Having a tailored and targeted rightsizing approach can be part of the solution to addressing occupancy and making the most effective use of existing homes. Rightsizing policy approaches, such as financial incentives, support packages and dedicated rightsizing officers, look to support a positive move to a property more suited to a household’s needs.

The drivers and barriers around under-occupying households moving are complex and heterogeneous, but Altair’s research review indicates they can be categorised into financial, personal (including emotional attachment), practical and social factors. Any policy needs to sensitively consider how to best tailor an offer to the needs and preferences of residents.

But this doesn’t mean that housing providers should wait for tenants to come to them when looking at approaches to rightsizing. Instead, they should be continually reviewing their approach, talking to tenants about their motivations and what might make a new home more appealing.

Our recent research for the Isle of Wight Council highlighted that residents who had rightsized, or were wanting to rightsize, were motivated by financial pressures on their household, the difficulties of running and maintaining a home/garden that was too large for their needs, and wanting to move closer to family and friends. As such, Altair recommended that a financial payment per bedroom downsized, alongside a support service, was offered as part of an incentive package for downsizers.

Rightsizing also offers an opportunity to create vacancy chains to address housing demand and make more effective use of stock, as explored in our recent webinar.

Learning from others

Part of the challenge for providers is understanding what the different rightsizing approaches are in the sector right now and what learnings they can apply from best practice.

Altair are currently carrying out research to support a local authority’s review of their downsizing policy. We are running a sector-wide survey to understand existing approaches to downsizing or rightsizing initiatives and their effectiveness. All participants will receive a summary of the survey findings.

If you are interested then please complete the survey here by Wednesday 14th February or get in touch with me on Will.Morley@altairltd.co.uk.

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