Oxford City Council has completed the first year of its pilot Rent Guarantee Scheme (RGS), with 40 tenancies already signed up to the scheme.
The RGS works with private landlords and tenants, providing financial and tenancy management support as an incentive to landlords. At the same time, it helps tenants improve their capacity to sustain a tenancy in Oxford’s increasingly unaffordable rental market.
Oxford is the least affordable city for housing in the UK. House prices in the city are more than 16 times average earnings, and a private tenant on average earnings pays 56% of their income on rent. 30% of the city’s population lives in private rented housing.
A series of cuts to housing benefit, culminating in a four year freeze on local housing allowance (LHA) in 2016, means that Oxford claimants face a growing gap between their benefit and their rent.
According to the Valuation Office Agency, at the end of September 2017 the difference between LHA rates and median Oxford rents was £341 a month for two bedroom properties, and £428 a month for three bedroom properties.
Under the RGS, participating landlords agree to provide tenancies for families who have approached the council because they are at risk of homelessness.
In return, the RGS guarantees the rent to the landlord, and collects the rent owed from the tenants – this guarantee applies even during void periods or if the tenant has not paid. The guaranteed rent can be up to £103 a month above the LHA rate, and there are no fees or administration charges. RGS also offers landlords a damages bond and up to three months’ rent in advance.
Peter Bennet, a landlord participating in the RGS, said: “Oxford Rent Guarantee is a great initiative from Oxford City Council to protect landlords’ rent. It gives three months’ rent in advance and it comes guaranteed.”
The RGS also helps landlords to create and manage tenancies. It provides a choice of fully vetted prospective tenants, free model tenancy agreements and advice during a tenancy. The RGS also undertakes free property inspections and gas safety checks during the first year.
Andrew Queralt, a landlord participating in the RGS, said: “Being part of Oxford Rent Guarantee, I have total peace of mind. It frees up more of my precious time to spend with my family and to get on with my life.”
The RGS also supports tenants, with the aim of increasing their capacity to sustain a tenancy in the face of increasing benefit shortfalls. To do this, it offers tailored and flexible support to help tenants to improve their financial situation so they can pay their rent despite benefit gaps. Typically, this means coaching support to improve a tenant’s employability, to help them to find work or to increase their working hours. It can also involve help to claim other welfare benefits or referral to independent debt and money management advice.
As an incentive to engage with RGS support, the scheme can offer tenants temporary top-ups to offset any benefit shortfalls. These top-ups are payable on condition that a tenant is taking steps to improve their financial situation by undertaking one or more agreed activities.
So far, five tenants are undertaking training to prepare them for work, four are actively seeking work, and two have found jobs. Another eight tenants are looking to increase their earnings by working more hours, while two tenants have already increased their hours. Five tenants have increased their income by successfully claiming other benefits, and three tenants have completed money management plans.
Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “I am delighted that the RGS has met its first year target of forty tenancies. The growing mismatch between LHA and private sector rents represents a serious threat to the tenancies of households on benefits, and the RGS bridges this divide by offering support and incentives to both landlords and tenants.
“Landlords have told us that guaranteeing their rent and helping them manage tenancies gives them peace of mind, less hassle and more free time. I would urge any private landlord with properties in Oxford to let through us. To find out how we can help make your life easier, you can contact the RGS on 01865 252501.”
Landlords interested in the RGS can find out more at www.oxford.gov.uk/rentguarantee or by calling 01865 252501.