Researchers at the University of Birmingham found that at least 1400 new lettings have been made available across the West Midlands in the last few years, with 800 tenants now living in properties managed by Social Lettings Agencies (SLAs).

SLAs are a relatively new approach in England, and aim to access good quality, affordable and reasonably secure homes in the private rented sector for people who might otherwise be homeless or facing a long wait for social housing.

The research carried out by the Housing and Communities Research Group at Birmingham, with the West Midlands Housing Officers Group, found that SLAs had a significant impact on homelessness prevention, enabling their clients to quickly access good quality properties with tenant support and good services.

The study found they were particularly important for single homeless people aged under 35 who face increasing problems in accessing good quality accommodation.

Professor David Mullins at the University of Birmingham said: ‘Our research found five successful models across the region and a strong interest from other local authorities to help them respond to the Homelessness Reduction Bill , Housing White Paper and other current challenges. ’

The study provides rare evidence of landlord and tenant motivations and experience of SLAs.

In the case of landlords, the SLAs added value by enabling access to Housing Benefit and in providing tenant support. Some landlords found this of value when moving into this market from student housing, for example after a local student campus closure at Perry Barr in Birmingham.

The research identified a surprising level of cooperation rather than competition between SLAs and commercial lettings agencies. The latter sometimes let part of their portfolio through SLAs due to their better knowledge of the housing benefit market.

In the case of tenants, the study confirmed the importance of ‘no deposit’ and of bond schemes in enabling access and the ability to access types of property that are not common in social housing such as bungalows.

Professor Mullins added: ‘Tenants were generally pleased with the property types and areas, with properties made available in 38 out of 40 wards across Birmingham.’

However, the study found that there is no real comparison between the security of a council tenancy, with many council applicants also swayed by the higher rents and absence of Right to Buy with the SLA.

There were however some significant benefits of SLAs to tenants.

Professor Mullins explained: ‘While SLAs cannot become ‘the new social housing’ because of lesser security and higher rents, for some households they can offer advantages in terms of speed of access and property quality.’

‘They can provide attractive homes without affordability problems for those on full housing benefit such as older people, people with disabilities and young mums.’

Some landlords were found to be willing to roll tenancies on, and some tenants were confident that the SLAs would find a good alternative home if landlords withdrew properties.

There were some pitfalls of renting from SLAs, including falling into an ‘affordability’ trap as in some cases SLAs were able to secure rents above the Local Housing Allowance level .

Professor Mullins added: ‘These higher rents have helped secure more attractive properties but have also created a benefit trap for tenants, making it hard to move into jobs of over 16 hours a week without moving home.’

‘One solution identified through our research was that of the Spring Housing Rent Relief Fund. This scheme helps younger tenants in shared housing to get jobs and save for deposits on their next home, an ideal solution and a scheme we would like to see adopted by other SLAs in the region.'

Vicki Popplewell at the West Midlands Housing Officers Group said: 'This research has already attracted wide interest in the region with over 100 people attending our three peer learning events and regional research presentation. ‘'

‘Our member authorities need to find new ways to access good quality affordable homes to counter the long term reduction in social housing supply. We will actively use this research to make the case for policies to make SLAs more viable following the positive mention in the 2017 Housing White Paper – Fixing our Broken Housing Market’

For a copy of the reports and media enquiries please contact Rebecca Hume, Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)121 414 9041. For out of hours media enquiries, please call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165

  • Three reports published today include:
  • The Housing and Communities Research Group is led by Professor David Mullins and undertakes leading edge research and teaching as part of the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham. Housing and Communities has long been a key area of interest of research and teaching at the University of Birmingham, both in the School of Social Policy, and building on the 40-year tradition of housing research in the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies.
  • The research was carried out in conjunction with West Midlands Housing Officers Group (WMHOG) who represent local authorities with a strategic housing function and shares information and best practice. WMHOG oversees a forward looking housing research and part funded this project.
  • The Private rented sector (PRS) is a major and growing tenure of particular importance for younger households, including those unable to access home ownership or social housing. ‘Generation rent’ refers to the growing proportion of all under 35s living in the PRS in England (up from 28% in 2001 to 43% in 2011 and continues to grow). In contrast social housing is in decline and homeless pressure mounts.
  • Social Lettings Agencies, the focus of this research, have been defined by Evans (2015) as agencies that ‘help people access the PRS who are homeless or on low-incomes”. SLAs have been important for some time in countries with an insufficient supply of social housing such as Belgium, Ireland and Hungary (De Decker, 2002, Laylor, 2014, Hegedus et al 2014).
  • Let to Birmingham – the social lettings agency established by Birmingham City Council with a private company, Omega Lettings, from January 2014. Omega and LtB are now subsidiaries of Mears.
  • Spring Housing - a young third sector organisation started up in October 2014 by a group of housing association professionals in Birmingham ‘to return to the basic principles of the housing association movement- to provide quality accommodation for people in housing need’.
  • The Local Housing Allowance sets the maximum amount of housing benefit that may be claimed by tenants within a Broad Rental Market Area. While LHA levels are theoretically set to include the bottom three deciles of rents in an area, they do not map against actual market rent levels and have not been updated since 2011. In Birmingham an analysis by the local authority found that only 8% of local market rents would be accessible to clients depending on LHA alone to cover their rent. The Housing White Paper 2017: Theresa May’s Conservative Government’ plan to ‘fix our broken housing market’ wanted to ‘consider whether SLAs can be an effective tool for securing more housing for people who would otherwise struggle – providing security for landlords and support for tenants to help strengthen and sustain tenancies’ (DCLG 2017, p.66)