Last month, the UK took its first serious steps towards trying to establish whether homesharing is a viable solution to two of our most pressing problems – a lack of affordable housing and an ageing population.A three-year programme, backed by £2million investment from the Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund – and in partnership with, amongst others, Age UK and the Social Care Institute for Excellence – is the first national homesharing initiative and seeks to gather convincing evidence that homesharing can work on a large scale.On the face of it, the idea of homesharing is simple – bringing together (mainly) older people who need help to live independently with (mainly) younger people who get an affordable place to live in exchange for providing companionship and some help around the home.Of course, homesharing is not a new idea. Indeed, Shared Lives Plus, another of the partners in the national homesharing initiative, supports a network of about 150 schemes in England for 1,600 people over 65 (and, notably, for over 8,000 people with learning disabilities).Worldwide there are many more, with well-established schemes in Europe and Australia, and is particularly widespread in the US.Research by Age UK and the Social Care Institute for Excellence found that homeshare arrangements vary:
- In England, most homesharers give ten hours of service per week to the householder, each paying an administration fee.
- Householders are typically in their 80s, though the ages range from 70 to well over 90. Homesharers generally have to be 23+ years old and the average age is 27.
- In other countries householders may offer accommodation in exchange for rent or a combination of rent and services.
- In Germany, Austria, and France the younger homesharers give one hour of help per month for every square metre of their room, plus a small rent.*
The very nature of homesharing means that arrangements can be flexible and suit not just older people but others needing help with care or housing. There are examples of arrangements which include personal care for older people and disabled people; child care help for single parents; and help with accommodation for key workers priced out of the housing market.So, what’s not to like? Homesharing is mutually beneficial to a host of people who would otherwise turn to local authorities for help. Homeshare even supports Government policies on providing care in the community, supporting people to stay in their own homes and out of hospital, and providing affordable homes. Would, then, a national homesharing programme prove to be the solution to all our problems, the social panacea, the Holy Grail of homes and homecare?In short, no. The research by Age UK and the Social Care Institute for Excellence found two main barriers to making homesharing more mainstream: firstly, people simply didn’t want to open up their house to strangers; secondly, the arrangements didn’t last – incompatibility was blamed for most arrangements ending within three months, and even those deemed successful lasted barely more than a year.But could a national scheme help overcome these barriers? Would people have more confidence to open up their homes if they were supported by a national framework working with expert organisations?Or could the apparent short-term nature of homesharing mean it is better suited to, say, reablement, enabling more people to recover from injury or illness with support at home rather than in hospital?Last month’s launch of the homeshare initiative will look to answer these questions and more, firstly through pilot two schemes run by Age UK Oxfordshire and Novus Homeshare, a London-based charity.As it says: “The programme and the experienceof these local schemes will ensure thoroughtesting, development and evaluationof the model to establish a replicable ‘blueprint’ for setting up homeshareschemes in new areas; with theintention of proving it is a sustainable andeffective response to the twin policy challenges of helping an aging populationstay in their homes forlonger and younger people find accommodation at a timeof record housing costs.”Funding for seven more pilots will be announced later this year, with the schemes ending in June 2017. We look forward to hearing the results.* Source: The Evaluation of Homeshare Pilots – Age UK and the Social Care Institute for Excellence