Southampton Church Rent Deposit Scheme

Photo: Centre for Homelessness Impact / Liam McBurney/PA

As a church, City Life took over the running of the scheme and relaunched in January 2021 following the closure of the previous scheme. Initially we took on contracts around Local Welfare Provision and the Rough Sleepers initiative (RSI) which continue today. The RSI scheme specifically helps those experiencing homelessness to access private rented accommodation either directly, or through the hostel route. Hostel providers and the City Council are able to make requests for us to pay deposits and/or rent in advance to secure accommodation for people. We then follow up after three and six months to check whether people are still housed.

The Local Welfare provision is available for other agencies to refer clients to who are either currently homeless and sofa surfing, or those at imminent risk of homelessness, as well as those who are unsuitably housed, e.g. a family with four children living in a two bedroom property. The scheme is able to signpost and provide basic advice (although not on particular landlords or properties), and make offers to pay a contribution towards a deposit. Once those referred to us have sourced accommodation and are able to provide details and evidence, such as a signed tenancy agreement, we pay landlords directly.

When we took on the scheme the contract was for £30,000 across both schemes, with some additional funding from The Covid Emergency Hardship Fund. Since this point we have taken on other schemes of work to help the council with housing people, partly because we are able to operate and respond to requests to pay landlords much more quickly than the council are able to. We now also run the Afghan resettlement fund and the Discretionary Deposit Fund.

While the local welfare and RSI funds are the only ones we receive referrals for, from other agencies, adding these other funds has enabled us to help a much higher number of people, and has widened the ways in which support can be offered. The scheme continues to support through deposits and rent in advance, but given the changing rental landscape and the scarcity of available property, we have also been able to help keep people in their homes through clearing rent arrears, paying monthly top ups to avoid defaulting on rent payments, and even helping people access accommodation where landlords are requesting multiple months’ rent in advance. All of this is done in close partnership with the city council.

We have helped a wide variety of people – individuals, families, refugees (including Ukrainians and Afghan families), those experiencing homelessness, those at risk of homelessness, those who are unsuitably housed. We’ve helped people both move into new homes as well as stay in their current home. Altogether, in the two and a half years to the end of June 2023 we have helped 668 people, 266 of which were children.

We’re currently working on raising funding specifically to help care leavers (who are often at higher risk of homelessness than many) access accommodation, and to provide some tenancy support alongside helping ensure they are able to maintain their tenancy and make a good start to independent living.

At present the scheme has grown to the point where we are regularly paying out of over £30,000 a month to support people either keep their homes or find new ones, preventing and moving people on from homelessness. August 2023 was our biggest month to date paying out close to £45,000.

Whilst it is amazing to be in a position to help in this way, it highlights the huge housing crisis and the massive barriers to securing suitable accommodation that is affecting many across our nation. While the scheme provides a rapid response that because of internal processes the council would be unlikely to run themselves, it also offers value for money as the alternative in many cases would be the council having an increase in the numbers of those experiencing homelessness in the city that they would have a duty of care towards. The likely alternative would be having to pay for individuals and families to stay in B&Bs and hotels. Despite being the cheaper of the options, given the current financial position of many councils across the country, including in Southampton, the current scale is not sustainable and a more radical change in housing policy and development of new property is required.