Produced by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, the research exposes a social injustice faced by children where maintaining a relationship with both parents after separation may be a privilege linked to income.

New research  funded by Commonweal Housing and the Kurt and Magda Stern Foundation has found that restrictions around shared accommodation for non-resident parents are negatively impacting their ability to parent their children. This is further exacerbated by a benefits system which fails to recognise the complex challenges faced by many non-resident parents with shared carer responsibilities meaning the children of non-resident parents often live in much poorer households.

The full research can be viewed here. An accompanying executive summary can also be read here.

Increases in family breakdown and re-partnering have led to a rise in the number of non-resident parents, usually fathers, living separately from their children. Many parents have shared care arrangements but current welfare rules and housing provision currently only recognise one parent as having carer responsibilities. This means that the non-resident parent may only have the resources to secure accommodation in a shared house. Such an option is unlikely to fully meet the needs of visiting children.

Drawing on interviews with housing providers and non-resident parents, alongside existing data,  the research explored how existing shared housing solutions meet the requirements of non-resident parents whose children have overnight contact. Establishing that non-resident parents are a diverse group with a wide range of contact arrangements and housing situations, the research found that whilst shared housing can work for some, overall it poses a variety of problems for non-resident parents.

At the center of the research are a series of conclusions and recommendations for further action on how to better recognise the reality of shared care arrangements between separated parents. These include the recommendation that local authorities consider prioritising Discretionary Housing Payments to non-resident parents who are struggling to afford the rent on a one bedroom home, especially those for whom shared housing is particularly inappropriate. Further recommendations specifically for housing providers include offering longer tenancies to improve security for the parent and child and reduce turnover of other housemates.

Commenting on the publication of the research Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive, Commonweal Housing said:

“Through their research Cambridge has highlighted a clear social injustice faced not only by non-resident parents but also their children. With measures of child poverty narrowly focusing on a child’s resident parent, the research exposes the reality that many children are spending their time in a poorer-quality living environment in cramped conditions with a lack of privacy.  It is our hope that the learning from this research will lead to improved housing solutions for non-resident parents and their children”

Author of the research Kathryn Muir from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research said:

“Our research uncovered a surprisingly broad range of approaches to housing non-resident parents, each one taking a differing approach to overnight contact with children. It is clear, however, that children’s relationships with one of their parents is negatively affected by their housing situation, partly due to a benefits system that does not recognise shared care arrangements. There should therefore be greater recognition of the reality of shared care arrangements between separated parents in the benefits system. Local authorities and housing providers should also take this into account, for example, when assessing child poverty or allocating Discretionary Housing Payments.”