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Finding the right property through our in-house housing brokerage

Having received a referral from a CCG to support a young man with a learning disability, the next job was to find and adapt a property near his parents.

The fairly routine requirements included proximity to shops, lockable kitchen, fixed furniture, recessed lighting, minimal door thresholds, staff bedroom and so on. But then…

A case study in frustration…

  • Local landlords with a suitable property all refused the let.
  • A best interests meeting had to be held to expand the property search radius, in the face of initial opposition from mum and dad.
  • We incurred substantial ‘finder’s fee’ costs through using external housing brokers.
  • The exempt rent application went to appeal as the proposed rent was considered excessively high
  • The CCG wouldn’t pay the difference between the local housing allowance rate and the market rate
  • The landlord insisted on a multi-year rental term, terms we couldn’t match in the tenant’s sublet
  • Shortly before the move, the family decided the property was not suitable for their son.

Anyone who has been involved in sourcing housing for people with learning disabilities and autism will be familiar complex situations like this. They’re commonplace.

Our response: dedicated housing brokers

That is why, in what we believe is unique in the learning disability sector, Dimensions is now employing specialist housing brokers as part of our nationwide offer to respond to referrals of people with support and housing needs.

Our brokers support our operational teams. They search, mediate and advise on the process of letting, purchasing, developing and accessing the private housing market and social affordable housing.

Housing Broker Mike Boardley comments, “We are seeing considerable success with housing for most individuals being found within four months of referral – some of those timescales would previously have been off the charts.”

“We’re also seeing great success with housing benefits claims; currently just 5% of our exempt rent applications are declined or in appeal.”

A new home for Kevin

Kevin (not his real name) is a young man with a diagnosis of autism, severe learning disability and bi-polar disorder.

He’s been in an ATU long term as a delayed discharge due to the lack of suitable accommodation and support in the community.

When designing the service for Kevin alongside the CCG and other healthcare professionals, we agreed on a very prescriptive specification. We would be looking to adapt a three bedroom detached bungalow in a particularly expensive London borough away from busy public areas.

Previous approaches had been made to access the housing register. Unfortunately due to the high level of specification required in the accommodation the local authority housing department were unable to help. Kevin could not purchase a property or approach the ‘My Safer Home’ scheme.

This brought a wide range of property into consideration and together we quickly identified a preference. We applied to housing benefit for an Exempt Rent and gained an agreement from the CCG to meet not only the cost of adaptations to the property but also to the rent top-up should the Exempt Rent agreement be unsuccessful.

This meant we were able to proceed with the let without delay, reducing the chance of losing the property on the open market. Due to the significant adaptations required to the property, we agreed an unusual 36-month lease with the landlord and matched that with Kevin’s tenancy agreement.

We worked with the Leasehold Manager, Asset Management, a Behavioural Specialist and external contractors to agree the schedule of works, and Kevin moved out of ATU and into his new place in June 2018.

Finding the right home – more detailed advice

Mike offers the following advice to people looking for a home for their loved one:

Understand your local market. Too many specifications are simply unrealistic. Bringing the housing broker in early can help manage expectations on all sides. For example,

For the same reason, the specification should be clear on what is essential and what is desirable – and minimise the essentials.

You can claim an exempt rent (above local housing allowance) as a supported housing provision but benefits or commissioning bodies may consider rent excessively high if:

  • the property is larger than the client’s needs
  • the rent is above the average rental prices in the area (for an equivalent property)

Often, CCGs will pay a top up if the exempt rent application fails; an experienced broker will be able to give all parties a steer as to the chances of success. Making this commitment contractual can ease things along as the exempt rent decision can take some time.

Beware of using a freelance broker unless you have a bombproof specification. Otherwise you’ll be charged finder’s fees even if the property proves unsuitable.

Where it is clear that the private rental market is the chosen solution, remember that most letting agents will require:

  • one month’s rent in advance
  • six weeks rent (as a deposit)
  • admin fees
  • holding & arrangement fees
  • rent if the property is empty (if it takes time for the tenant to use the property as their principal accommodation due to transition or start of service, the rent will need to be covered during this period)
  • other costs such as a professional inventory of the property
  • you also need to consider rent top ups if housing benefit refuse to meet the full costs of the rent.

Unfortunately these costs can’t be added to the rent as housing benefit will deem them ineligible charges.

Consider what the person wants but focus on their needs. For example, if you need sleep-in overnight support, a two bedroom property is all that would be allowed unless you require additional rooms, for example for a person’s sensory needs or medical equipment.

You can claim Housing Benefit from the tenancy start date but if there is a delay in moving into the property, Housing Benefit will refuse to pay unless the person is leaving hospital or moving out of residential care (you may be able to claim a maximum of four weeks’ rent to allow for this transition period).

If all the parties are happy with a property and you want to secure it, so as not to lose it on the open market, you will need to consider who will pay for the period the property is not occupied.

To get the most from your housing broker, the person must be tenancy-ready before referral. This means they must:

  • Be over 18
  • Be able to access welfare payments
  • Have capacity, a court appointed guardian, or similar. Best interests agreement is insufficient.
  • Have completed an application to join the housing register or made a homelessness approach
  • Know where their funding is coming from.

Find out more about Dimensions housing service