An investigation of social tenants access to homeworking opportunities.
More and more people are working from home in the UK, often using computers. But tenants in social housing are disconnected from this revolution. Tenancy conditions discourage or ban 'running a business' from home. Allocations take no account of families' space needs for work or for children's study.
Only a handful of landlords are helping their tenants' prospects by supporting home-based work. As home owners increasingly choose an extra room for a home office as an essential part of modern life, are social landlords condemning millions to a new form of social exclusion by denying them this choice?
This report demonstrates what barriers tenants face to home working. It also gives examples of landlords who are showing what can be done to overcome these barriers and proposes policy reforms.
Homeworking is expanding rapidly in the UK, assisted by new technology and the Internet. More and more people, especially school children, are enjoying the benefits - including skills development, flexible working and affordable business start up. But a new study, by Tim Dwelly, concludes that social housing tenants risk being excluded from these opportunities. The research, based on a survey of housing associations and a review of housing policy and practice, found:
This research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing Corporation was conducted by public policy consultancy Tim Dwelly in Partnership. Although its emphasis is on IT-related work, many of the findings and proposals relating to tenancy conditions, space standards etc. also apply to other forms of homeworking.
In Britain, 43 per cent of homes have Internet access and 52 per cent have PCs. Largely as a result of this technological revolution, there has been a homeworking revolution. One in four of the workforce now carries out some work from home. However, figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show a clear divide: working home-owners are 100 per cent more likely to work mainly from home than working council tenants.
The figures for homeworking are not insignificant for social tenants, however. One in 14 working housing association tenants and one in 20 council tenants work mainly from home. If the number of those who work at least part-time at home are included, the numbers rise again.
Barriers to homeworking
A survey of 25 housing associations, which together manage over 20 per cent of all housing association stock, revealed a lack of action on homeworking for tenants, but a growing interest in tackling the issue. It also uncovered a series of policies and practices that are clearly making home-based work/study difficult for social tenants.
Most associations had tenancy agreements that discouraged or forbade 'running a business' from their properties. None had allocations procedures which checked the needs of tenants or their children to have an extra room for work or study. One association said it told local authorities it was better to provide a spare room but funders put pressure on it to deal with short-term problems. Another association said it was easier to under-occupy in the north than in the south:
"There is oversupply in the North West and we could provide spare rooms if asked." (Housing association representative)
Few social landlords surveyed had considered their tenants' self-employment prospects. There was an assumption that this was inappropriate. Yet 69 per cent of housing association and 62 per cent of council tenants working from home are self-employed (LFS, August 2001).
Many associations are considering homeworking for their own employees. A growing number are also developing and managing properties tailor-made for homeworking - 'live/work' schemes. But these schemes are usually targeted at groups who would not be eligible for social housing but struggle to afford to both buy a home and run a business. However, associations have done little to apply the thinking behind these initiatives to most of the 1.4 million households they house.
The survey found:
"There is still a perception among tenants that working at home is not allowed. We have to do more to change that. The size of property is a major issue. There is not much spare room in our homes." (Housing association representative)
"A recent survey asked about employment status, educational attainment and career aspirations. Most tenants rated knowing about IT the most important among their aspirations." (Housing association representative)
"We successfully secured RDA funding to help us develop the Creative Lofts live/work scheme in Huddersfield. This is pioneering a new approach to linking jobs and housing. It is a model we may be able to replicate elsewhere." (Housing association representative)
When asked what the government and the Housing Corporation might do to make it easier for tenants to work from home, housing association respondents suggested revisions to the rules on space standards and under-occupation; better links between government policy on IT, education and social housing; changes to benefit and tax rules; and more encouragement for tenants to undertake homeworking.
Nearly 12,000 homes in six neighbourhoods across England have received funding under the £10 million Wired up Communities programme, launched in 2001. However, these initiatives have so far emphasised online service delivery and training. Few have integrated attempts to support home-based employment and enterprise.
The educational impact
For the 1.44 million families with children in social housing, the ability to use a PC for study in an appropriate space is an immediate concern. As government gears up to an IT-based curriculum, children are increasingly expected to do homework online from home, often from an extra room. It is well established that children who have use of a PC in a quiet room at home are more likely to do well at school. On this basis, children in social housing are likely to be increasingly excluded from educational advance compared to their counterparts in home-ownership. The scarcity of spare rooms in the social housing sector (especially for households with children) has not been considered for its impact on educational achievement. This is exacerbated by PC ownership: only 45 per cent of 7- to 14-year-olds from social groups D and E have access to home computers, compared with 71 per cent of C2s, 78 per cent of C1s and 85 per cent of ABs.
Although 70 per cent of the housing associations surveyed said they allocated on the basis of need only - mostly under pressure from local authorities - a number had moved or were moving towards a more flexible lettings policy.
"Our policy is based on need and takes no account of spare rooms for leisure or educational use. But this should be an aspiration for social landlords. The opportunities should be the same as those in the private sector." (Housing association representative)
Moat Housing Society has distributed recycled computers for its Greenwich Homes scheme. Apart from that, no association surveyed was directly involved in helping provide PCs for children to work on at home. Eight associations, however, were involved in community-based projects and/or in providing computer training for young people.
Possible ways forward
The researcher concludes that social landlords have not yet responded to the new way that homes work. They have made some advances on helping to provide web access, but have tended to see this as an opportunity to improve welfare services rather than to enable employment/enterprise.
He suggests that both central and local housing policy needs to review the basic assumption that homes are only for housing. The following policy options, which draw in part on suggestions from housing association representatives, could help address the 'digital divide' between social housing tenants and owner-occupiers:
The Housing Corporation
About the project
The research was supported by the Housing Corporation's Innovation and Good Practice Programme and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The sample of 25 housing associations was chosen to represent a broad mix of associations by size and region. Interviews were conducted in late 2001 and early 2002 by phone.