Controversial 'bedroom' tax could be key to helping Bromley's homeless
PUBLISHED: 15:51 17 September 2013 | UPDATED: 15:51 17 September 2013
On sofas all over the borough are the "hidden homeless" - people who are continuously crashing at different friends' or acquaintances' houses, with the worst affected often being the young.
The Latch Project in Bromley helps 16 to 25-year-olds who don’t have a roof over their heads find their feet by placing them with people who have spare rooms.
Now the organisation is hoping to attract a new type of host – those affected by the “bedroom tax”.
The arrangement will help both parties, says Nici Moran, who works for the project, based at the United Reformed Church, Widmore Road.
People with spare rooms who may have to give up their property because of the tax can avoid doing so by taking in a Latch tenant, which will actually give them an income.
“It’s a common misconception that housing association tenants are not allowed to take in lodgers,” says Nici. “We always get people to check their tenancy agreements but most housing associations are fine with it.”
The housing benefit for a single person is paid to the host, the rate of which in Bromley borough is about £78 per week.
“It sounds callous but in a way we are hoping to benefit from the bedroom tax, or at least attract people who hadn’t thought of us before,” Nici says.
The charity has helped thousands of young people in Bromley over the past 20 years. The benefit is two-fold – with youth unemployment so high, giving them a home also means a much better chance of finding work.
Nici says: “The hosts are brilliant and I have so much respect for them. There’s one who has been with us since we began almost 20 years ago and she has housed almost 50 youngsters.
“Some have been out of a house for over a year. Technically they’re homeless but are not shown on statistics – we call them the unseen or invisible homeless. A lot of the people we see are sofa surfers, kids who have had to move out of the family home for whatever reason.”
One of those Latch has helped is Junior Duffus, 20. He used Latch for three years from the age of 16 until it helped him find a permanent home in Penge.
He was determined not to move to Great Yarmouth with his mother and says if it were not for the charity he would have ended up relying on friends or on the street.
He said: “They were a godsend to me. I didn’t want to move away from my friends. They gave me another option.
“It’s a great service and I got on really well with the family I stayed with. It’s not without its flaws – you have to check-in with their host and it gets to a certain point where you want more independence. But I would recommend it to anyone in my situation.”
But funding problems have put the future of the service in jeopardy. Nici is afraid dozens of people in Bromley would be left with no alternative provision, and there are no hostels in the borough.
Latch has to raise at least £75,000 a year to keep running.
She said: “What we do isn’t easy, but it is crucial. A lot of people see it as similar to fostering but as the people are older they’re expected to have more independence.”
She added: “We also look to find them something permanent when they can stand on their own two feet – we take a long-term view to their future.”
Are you interested in being a host? Visit latch-project.co.uk for more information.
Angie Brigdon, 48, of Beckenham, has been a host with Latch for four years.
“I first got involved because my son’s ex-girlfriend was having difficulties and Latch placed him.
I thought what they were doing was really useful for those they were helping and I wanted to do something which would really benefit someone.
So far we’ve had three youngsters stay in our house - two have been positive experiences but one was not. I think the girl had lied to Latch during her screening process and she was only with us for a couple of weeks.
The current girl has been in the house for about 18 months and we’re in a really good place. There were teething problems - she was 17 when she came which meant more restrictions and she had to adapt to our house rules.
My family have adapted to the change in circumstances really well and we try to sort out any problems we have as a family.
Latch are very supportive. They won’t be there the whole time but they’ll always be in the background if you need them.”