An innovative scheme trying to break the vicious circle of homelessness by combining housing, training and support for re-entering the job market, and a saving scheme to help those at risk of homelessness get back on their feet.
All too often, homeless and unemployed people face a triple disadvantage when trying to rebuild their lives: unstable temporary housing, fluctuating benefits paid in arrears, and a lack of access to training and advice on how best to re-enter the job market. Freedom 2 Work, a new partnership with the private rented access charity Elmbridge Rent Start, aims to address all three of these roadblocks simultaneously.
The project offers secure tenancy in good-quality shared accommodation, providing clients with a stable foundation far removed from the confusion and uncertainty of hostels and refuges. Holistic support is provided to all tenants, helping them with advice on finding, getting, and keeping a new job. Finally, a savings reward scheme allows tenants to build up a pot of money, which can be used to cover gaps in welfare payments, pay off a debt, or even put down the deposit on a new flat in the private rental sector. The savings scheme will boost the savings made by clients with matching top-up funds, applied when clients secure employment.
All too often, people who are willing to work and trying to put homelessness behind them are held back by barriers to finding decent work and accommodation – barriers such as fluctuating benefit payments, high rental deposits, and the lack of stability in sheltered housing.
Commonweal and Elmbridge believe that this is a social injustice, and the Freedom2Work scheme was set up to address it. The project aims to focus on aspiration, rather than intervention – providing service users with the confidence, independence, and empowerment they need to rebuild their own lives.
Commonweal are providing revenue support funding of £150,000 over 5 years to support this project, thereby enabling Elmbridge Rentstart to make best use of the accommodation already available to them from local charities and private landlords.
Elmbridge Rent Start identify suitable tenants from amongst their existing client base. Clients can be anyone aged 18 to 60, drawn from a cross-section of needs, and the programme is open to anyone who is looking for a job, ready and willing to engage with the support offered by the project, and is happy to live in shared housing. The majority of clients are referred by the local authority, though some will come from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and other agencies.
Clients then rent a room in a shared house or a studio flat while they begin their support programme and start looking for a job. Intensive support is provided over the initial six months of the tenancy, with Elmbridge providing advice and training on household management, job-hunting, CV writing, budgeting, and other needs as identified. The aim is to help tenants find stable, sustainable employment around halfway through their 12 month tenancy, and then help them transition into the private rental market as they move on from the Freedom2Work project.
During the project, tenants are encouraged to save a small sum from their welfare payments as a growing credit on their rent account, with the target set at £40 per month. The saving scheme is operated by standing order, and the amount saved is down to the client, although there is a minimum contribution of £1 per month. Once the tenants have secured work, the savings are matched by project funds – so for every £1 saved, the clients get £2 back. This creates an extra incentive to both find work and practice careful personal budgeting.
Given that taking on full-time employment can sometimes lead to unemployed people becoming worse off in the short term – as unemployment benefits are cut off before working income has stabilised – these savings should smooth the transition into work. They can also be used for any other important costs that clients would otherwise struggle to meet – such as buying a travel card to get to work, or contributing towards a deposit on a new rented flat.
Around 20 clients are engaged in the Freedom2Work project at any one time, each staying on the project for roughly 12-months.
Evaluation and key aims
The key aims of the pilot are to test:
- Can the barriers that often prevent unemployed and homeless people from rejoining the job market be overcome through targeted practical, financial, and emotional support?
- What role do sustainable housing, secure employment and a managed transition to independence have to play in helping to break the cycle of homelessness?
- Is it feasible, sustainable, and replicable to run a savings reward scheme for people whose primary source of income is state welfare payments?
- Does a rental credit scheme help to develop financial stability for clients in the initial stages of new employment, and does it help improve the sustainability of employment and tenancy for service users?
- What would other similar organisations need to replicate this model elsewhere?
Due to a relationship breakdown and subsequent job loss, Arthur* ended up living on the streets. He was referred to Elmbridge Rent Start, who were able to find a bed for him in a local night shelter for the street homeless. However, the night shelter was a difficult and unstable environment for Arthur, who felt very intimidated by some of the other residents, and went back to sleeping rough again. Aware of his predicament, Elmbridge invited Arthur to join the Freedom 2 Work scheme. He subsequently moved into a self-contained bedsit where he was provided with bedding, basic kitchen utensils, and support to help him get back on his feet.
Arthur loved the new flat, and kept it extremely clean and tidy. After receiving advice and support on job-hunting, he was accepted onto a volunteer training scheme with the Queen Elizabeth Foundation shop, where he was trained in cashier duties, stock checking, and customer service.
After working as a volunteer, Arthur successfully applied for the role of shop manager – a full-time paid position – in a sister branch of the shop. Having settled his working life and regained his independence and confidence, Arthur subsequently moved on to a property of his own choosing, nearer to the shop he works in.
Arthur got into some financial difficult after he sold his car but failed to change the name on the ownership documents, as the new owner (a family member) racked up fines which Arthur was legally responsible for. Luckily, the Freedom2Work credit he’d built up during his time on the scheme was later used to reduce this debt, incurred through little fault of his own, and he is managing the rest through an agreed repayment plan.
*Names have been changed