Cambridgeshire councils launch social lettings agency to help find homes for homeless people

Five Cambridgeshire local authorities have clubbed together to form a “social lettings agency” to help homeless single people and families get a good home in the private rented sector. Based within, and led by, Cambridge City Council, the service will be open for business, and looking to work with good Cambridgeshire landlords, from 13 January 2014. Landlords will be offered a guaranteed monthly income – with no fee taken out – and a full management service in a package the councils are describing as an “unbeatable, worry-free deal”. In return, landlords will provide homes for tenants who would otherwise be homeless.

The new service, called ‘Town Hall Lettings’, is the councils’ response to the growing difficulties low-income households are facing when it comes to getting a tenancy in the private rented sector. In a market where demand for good properties is high and growing, landlords have no need to take the risk of letting to people who do not have a conventional tenancy or credit history, with the result that many people who would potentially make excellent tenants cannot find a place to live.

Town Hall Lettings deals with this by taking away the biggest risks that stop landlords renting to low income households. First, it vets all prospective tenants to make sure they are ready for the responsibilities of a private sector tenancy. Second, Town Hall Lettings will agree a good market rent for a property and then guarantee that payment for the length of the management agreement, even if the property is temporarily unoccupied. Third, it provides a comprehensive management service, free of charge – a terrific deal in a market where a percentage management fee is commonplace.

Town Hall Lettings is a joint venture by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire District Councils. It was set up using a grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government to help councils give better help to single homeless people. Cambridge City Council will also work with Town Hall Lettings to get more private sector housing for homeless families.

Welcoming the initiative, Executive Councillor for Housing at Cambridge City Council, Catherine Smart, said: “The launch of Town Hall lettings is good news for Cambridge families who, under a new Council policy, may now be helped out of homelessness with the offer of a suitable private sector tenancy. However, it is arguably even better news for single homeless people across Cambridgeshire – a group we have long wanted to do better by. Research shows that single people living in insecure accommodation or sleeping rough soon start to develop a range of additional problems. This is bad for them and is also very bad economics. By getting single homeless people quickly into good shared accommodation we can prevent their slide into dependency and let them get on with their lives.

Town Hall Lettings is not the answer to everything, but it has terrific potential. I know I speak for my counterparts in the other Cambridgeshire authorities when I say we are very pleased to have got this venture off the ground”.

Town Hall Lettings has been set up to provide a top-class housing management service for landlords while also acting as a social agency to make the market work better for people who, on their own, have limited market power. It will bring together people looking for a home with property-owners looking for a good deal, to the benefit of both groups and the wider community. Landlords wanting to know more about Town Hall Lettings should contact the Landlord Liaison Officer on 01223 – 457920.

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