The Dundee Homefinder Service is a model for helping low income citizens gain entry to the private rented sector. It provides comprehensive support to those who are on the margins of homelessness. The most powerful feature is the rent deposit scheme which helps lower the upfront cash requirement of rental housing.
The rent deposit scheme was in place for some time, though few citizens actually used it in the first few years. A review of the homelessness strategy in 2007 confirmed that the scheme was underutilised, leading to a revamp of the service to what we see today. Now approximately 250 citizens are able to gain entry to a home each year as a result of the changes.
There are three essential components of the Dundee Homefinder Service:
- A rent deposit guarantee bond can be issued to an eligible resident of Dundee who is having difficulty saving the upfront funds required to establish a new tenancy. The bond is written for the amount of one month’s rent. This reduces the normal cash requirement from two months to just one month of savings. The aim is to lower the bar for accessing private housing so that lower income individuals, couples and families can move in. The expectation is that these clients will be able to afford the regular monthly rate. Anyone receiving benefit payments is likely to qualify as long as the home is priced at or below Local Housing Allowance.
- The Accommodation Finder Service actively promotes the deposit guarantee scheme to landlords in order to increase access for a wider network of available properties. When a person finds a home that meets guidelines for the scheme but that property is not yet included, the staff can discuss the merits of the service with the landlord. They can even assist with negotiating the terms of the tenancy. If a home is listed at an amount that exceeds Local Housing Allowance rates, staff can attempt to persuade the landlord to reduce the stated rent so that the unit may become eligible for inclusion. Landlords have become accustomed to this service since it improves the marketability of each property. Vacancies are reduced as a result.
- Staff continue to provide floating support and mediation to ensure that the initial tenancy is a success. This component often includes an arrangement where tenants slowly build a deposit through a series of instalments based on the frequency of income or benefit payments.
There are several rules that apply to landlords, tenants and properties. Units must be clean, safe and managed by a Registered Landlord. A home located outside Dundee City Council area would be subject to a separate scheme not controlled by this council. Tenants must come from low income, which may or may not include benefit payments. Staff must be confident that an applicant would make a good tenant. A history of rent arrears is likely to disqualify someone from consideration.
Anyone who is homeless or has been living in temporary accommodation for at least three months may be a prime candidate for the bond guarantee. A major purpose of the scheme is to reduce homelessness by facilitating the establishment of new tenancies. It has certainly been successful in achieving this goal.
Prospective tenants who need help with their rent deposit may call the Dundee Homefinder Service on 01382 433003. Landlords are also welcome to call the same telephone with enquiries about the scheme. A member of the Housing Team can answer questions and arrange an appointment at 50 North Lindsay Street.
Tenants approved for a bond are still expected to pay the first month’s rent on their own. In extreme cases it may be possible to match the applicant with an outside grant to cover rent in advance. Staff can help with referrals when necessary.