Forging meaningful social connections is the obvious route to prevent loneliness. For those living alone, it can be hard to find ways to make those connections. One scheme that is helping tackle this issue is ‘Homesharing’. Programmes enabling homesharing have been around for decades, the first official schemes developing separately throughout Europe (including the UK) in the early 90s, but with limited media coverage. The main reason for the birth of this concept in Spain and Germany was the increasing demand for affordable student accommodation, however their role in preventing loneliness has also become evident.
How does it work?
Homeshare organisations carefully match people who want companionship, support or house help with people who need affordable accommodation and perhaps are looking for companionship themselves. The householder is usually a homeowner or tenant with a spare room. In exchange for low-cost accommodation, the homesharer provides around 10hrs of practical support per week. This sharer is not formally trained to give personal care (a.k.a a carer whose care is regulated by the CQC, for example), but gives practical help and friendly companionship. The householder and homesharer agree what support the homesharer will give. This is a flexible arrangement and can include duties like cleaning, cooking, gardening, accompanying to appointments or shopping.
No ‘rent’ is paid to the householder, but both parties normally pay a fee to the Homeshare scheme to cover the costs of finding and supporting good matches. These usually vary according to local economies. On average a homesharer will pay £160 per month and a householder will pay £140 per month to the Homeshare scheme, which results in significant savings on accommodation and similar domestic help. The homesharer may also pay something towards household bills, which would be agreed before the match takes place.
Does it work in reality?
The benefits are for the most part self-explanatory, as seen in the results of other intergenerational care programmes, including some international Homeshare schemes that I briefly mentioned in my Sharing is Caring blog. Last year, an in-depth evaluation of the Homesharing Partnership Programme commissioned by SCIE, gives further evidence. Findings suggested that there were many benefits of living within a Homeshare. For the householders this included:
- An improvement in wellbeing
- Increased companionship, reducing loneliness and isolation
- Help to maintain independence at home through practical help received
- Intergenerational skills sharing, e.g. help in using information technology
- Providing an additional layer of support to provide updates to family and care staff
The report also suggests that Homesharing may help the local health and social care system avoid costs through reduced usage of social care, accident and emergency and mental health services:
Benefits for the homesharers were also evident. Younger people also experienced a reduction in social isolation, and benefited from learning skills (cookery for example) from the intergenerational connection.
Other potential benefits include providing affordable housing, particularly in high cost areas like Oxford and London; better quality (space and location) accommodation for homesharers; a reduction in the demand for private rental and social housing; and the provision of further support methods for particular demographic groups such as individuals with disabilities, refugees, older males, those leaving foster placements and those with early onset dementia.
The report also suggests that Homesharing could also be used to provide low-cost housing provision for the social care workforce, as in Leeds, Oxford and Edinburgh Homeshare programmes mentioned its role in supporting retention and recruitment of social care staff who faced difficulty in accessing affordable housing. Problems with recruitment and retention of the care workforce are well known, heightened due to the uncertainty of Brexit and immigration status of non-UK staff (so I believe this benefit is particularly of note).
Although there seem to be many benefits of such schemes, of course there are some challenges of employing them. First, like many roommate situations, not all matches were completely successful. Some struggled to share the living space, resolve conflicts and align daily living routines. Due to the nature of this scheme, there were also some cases where the householder need escalated quickly, which resulted in the match becoming difficult.
There were also some considerations that could be seen in a negative light: council tax, pension credits and some other benefits. Homesharing could possibly affect whether the householder would continue receiving the 25% reduction for single homeowners, and councils vary in their responses. Similarly pension credits could be reduced for the homeowner as another non-dependent resident is seen to be able to contribute to bills and cost of living. SMI payments, housing benefits and severe disability premium could potentially be affected.
However, I believe that it is in the council’s interest to give breaks to people wanting to participate in these schemes. The overwhelming positive benefits, along with the increasing need to find solutions for the current health and social care budget, suggest that Homesharing could be a success for many more people.
One other difficulty that all schemes noted in the evaluation, was the lack of knowledge and awareness in local communities. Spreading the word is vital for continuing success of Homeshare matches. So, if you know someone who you think would benefit from this, make sure they’re in the know!
Where and how?
There are more than 20 different Homeshare Organisations across the UK, Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland, all of which are members of Homeshare UK, as well as a growing international network.
By Katherin Maule
 Bathing, medication administration, lifting, and feeding.
 Buying in this kind of help on a ‘per hour’ basis can be very expensive and on average costs about £15 per hour*. An overnight presence costs £120 per night on average. http://www.shareandcare.co.uk/your-questions-answered/ (* – the money advice service)
 Estimated costs have been calculated on the likely use of a service over the course of a nine-month match.
 Exemptions to this include care workers, full time students or individuals with disabilities.