Is fixed-term the way forward?

By Mary-Kathryn Rallings - on 13/05/2014

HACT's Research Manager Mary-Kathryn Rallings discusses the increasing popularity of fixed-term tenancies among housing providers, what they mean for the tenants and some of the reasons why the sector is deciding to implement them.

Sixteen years on from the introduction of Irwell Valley’s ‘Gold Standard’ scheme, social housing providers are still coming up with innovative ways to try and influence the behaviour of their residents, to provide support and to encourage engagement. Here at HACT, we’re completing work on a substantial piece of research looking at some of the different methods of tenancy sustainment, including encouraging residents to engage in employment and training and the introduction of rewards or incentives schemes. This post offers a sneak peek into some of the headline findings.

The introduction of fixed-term tenancies, as opposed to guaranteed or lifetime tenancies, is the intervention that prompted perhaps the most polarised opinions. Whilst potentially contentious, fixed-term tenancies are also becoming increasingly popular across the sector. In an online survey of our HACT 100 Club members (with 48 respondents), 32.61% have introduced fixed-term tenancies, and a further 19.15% are considering doing so – that’s over half of the responding organisations.

This is where it gets interesting. Although fixed-term tenancies are being introduced by more and more organisations, the terms of these tenancies and the reasons for implementation are incredibly diverse. Fixed-term tenancies can vary from anywhere between two years and nine years according to our research – and there may be more approaches! The reasons for implementing fixed-term tenancies are also variable.

At some organisations, fixed-term tenancies apply to all new, general needs residents. At others, they apply only to particular properties or to particular residents (e.g. specially adapted properties or residents under 25, for example). This variation in length of fixed-term tenancies and the residents to which they apply signifies that although fixed-term tenancies are being introduced in many organisations across the sector, they are being introduced to meet different aims – both for the business and for the residents.

Firstly, for some organisations, fixed-term tenancies have been introduced as a direct result of welfare reforms – as a proactive measure against arrears and/or to counteract under-occupation. Fixed-term tenancies (and introductory tenancies) ensure that housing providers have a greater degree of control over their stock. Larger properties and specialist properties can be let on shorter terms, ensuring that they are used effectively and efficiently. Likewise, those residents who are profiled as being more likely to fall into arrears (such as under 25s) can be given an introductory and/or a fixed-term tenancy to test the waters and intervene if necessary.

Secondly, the aim of engendering greater ‘independence’ for residents is significant. Several organisations discussed fixed-term tenancies as part of a broader aim to help residents in their overall journey through social housing. At these organisations, the idea is to provide greater support in direct connection with the tenancy and with residents’ broader ambitions (whether it is employment, education or home ownership). Ideally, at the end of the fixed-term tenancy, the resident will be better equipped and potentially ready to move to another tenure, allowing that property to be let to a new family. Some of these interventions come with conditions – generally speaking, that residents agree to engage with the housing provider on a number of areas and that this engagement at least partially forms part of the tenancy agreement itself.

Although fixed-term tenancies and elements of tenancy conditionality are commonly discussed as ways to address the housing shortage and ensure social housing is reserved for those who need it, there are broader questions about what flexible tenure, tenancy conditionality and other methods of influencing behaviour (like rewards and incentives schemes and pre-tenancy training) will mean for residents…

Will residents be repeatedly moved as family circumstances and household size change? What will this mean for creating sustainable communities? Is it fair to attach conditions to fixed-term tenancies? How can housing providers offer more support and encourage independence without hand-holding residents? Do these interventions aimed at influencing resident behaviour signify a shift away from the social ethos of housing providers? Can these interventions help to rebalance the relationship between landlord and tenant, putting greater responsibility on residents to uphold tenancy agreements? Perhaps most importantly, what do these interventions say about the changing nature of the sector, both in the context of welfare reform and in the context of who is being housed by the sector?

Our research considers these questions in the context of case studies at eight housing providers and broader sector perspectives from the HACT 100 Club. Stay tuned for publication of the research report and we encourage you to join the debate!

The research HACT is undertaking has been funded by Yarlington Housing Group and Trafford Housing Trust.

Fixed-term tenancies; housing research; social housing

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