UK: Schools And The Provision Of Affordable Housing

Last Updated: 28 March 2019
Article by Chris Billington and Emma Ridge

Assessing the implications of an absence of affordable housing for teachers, and considering how schools' surplus land could provide solutions.

There have been a number of recent references to concerns expressed by schools around the lack of affordable housing and its impact on the recruitment and retention of teachers.  Reports in the press have highlighted the plight of teachers threatened by homelessness.  The absence of affordable housing does of course have much wider social implications.  However, some schools have challenged their own role and whether they can do something positive to help.

Government strategy

The Department for Education published its Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy in January 2019 highlighting four key barriers and strategy priorities to address them.  Within this strategy is:

  • recognition of the budgeting challenges schools face and that more is being asked of them
  • a commitment to exploring whether there is a demand from teachers for new homes on surplus school land and whether an extension of permitted development rights is needed to speed up such developments.

This does not, however, include any funding commitments.

The housing issue is not new

The Teachers' Housing Association was established in 1967 and provides rented accommodation for people in housing need, particularly those associated with education. The Teacher's Building Society was founded in 1966 and provides mortgages and savings accounts to teachers. Both organisations are mutuals, owned by their members rather than by commercial investors who would generally be seeking to maximise a financial return. Other housing associations will support keyworkers, that is public sector workers including those in education, with lower-than-market rents.  For those in a stronger position, there are various Help to Buy and Shared Ownership schemes.

It is not unusual for new housing developments, or refurbishments, to including planning conditions to make provision for affordable housing. Since 2010 local authorities have been able (and since 2014 are required) to charge a Community Infrastructure Levy on developments, which raises funds for the provision or improvement of local infrastructure (such as school provision).  However CIL monies cannot at present be used to support affordable housing; although a 2018 Government consultation opened up this possibility this has not followed through.

So what can a school do?

Again in many ways, this is nothing new.  Maintained schools have long provided homes for members of staff, such as caretakers.  Academies have inherited many of these arrangements when a caretaker transferred over on conversion, including obligations to rehouse the caretaker on retirement.  Similarly the few maintained boarding schools and academies with boarding provision that exist also make provision for housing staff, as part of their boarding duties.  Such arrangements may be few and far between, but they demonstrate the principle that maintained schools and academies can and do make provision for housing staff.

The issue is therefore, not can but how schools make provision for housing staff.

Independent schools, many of which are educational charities similar to an academy trust, have long made provision for staff accommodation (for both teaching and non-teaching staff).  This includes provision of rented accommodation, assistance with buying local homes through loans (unsecured and secured through second or third mortgages) and private shared-ownership schemes (where the school may jointly own the accommodation bought by the teacher).  There are various advantages and disadvantages of such schemes, including tax issues that need to be considered.  However, such support was not introduced overnight and independent schools have had a long period of time to establish their local arrangements.

Most maintained schools and academies will not have the luxury of spare cash to be able to finance such schemes, or at least not so that they can be made available to all staff.  As noted above, attention has been given to what some schools may have; and that is surplus land.

For a great many years there has been opposition to schools disposing of playing fields, which usually includes any unbuilt land that a school occupies.  There are various regulations that govern how any land identified as surplus to a school's requirements can be disposed of.

Land ownership

A significant starting point to be overcome is the simple fact that whilst some maintained schools will own their school site, most do not.  Land will be vested in the local authority or perhaps a foundation or diocese. Some academy trusts will own land, but many more will have a lease, either from the local authority or a private landlord, or occupy under a licence, particularly for church schools.  Accordingly prioritising housing for staff is very likely to be a collaborative project rather than something that is wholly within the control and power of the school.

Of course, even if sufficient surplus land can be made available, the homes will have to be built.  Again most schools would not be in a position to finance such a project. There are options, which include discussions with commercial developers and housing associations.  Each party will have different needs, priorities and expectations.  Work will be required to ensure that prioritising housing for school staff is a common objective.

A further option is the government-owned property company locatED which it has been suggested could extend it operation to support housing for staff alongside the delivery of new school places. 

Wrigleys' experience

Wrigleys has worked for many years with a range of not-for-profit organisations in the charity and voluntary sector, including community groups which have sought to tackle the lack of affordable housing in different and novel ways. For most schools wishing to support housing for staff, there will need to be some form of collaboration with others.  Other (non-commercial) options do exist alongside registered housing associations, which should be considered.

Community land trusts

Community land trusts (CLTs) are a growing movement, set up for the purpose of furthering the social, economic or environmental interest of a local community by acquiring and managing land and assets.  Anyone can become a member of a CLT. 

Further background on what a CLT is can be found in an earlier article, available on the Wrigleys' website, along with a list of some of our CLT clients.  A 'local community' can be defined by common interest or geography, such as a group of teachers or a school working with local groups to ensure quality education provision. 

An example is London CLT's St Clements scheme which offered 23 permanently affordable homes with prices linked to local wages.  This is a radical scheme that deliberately decouples the cost of homes from the housing market where Wrigleys acted for a number of the eventual buyers.  London CLT is looking at a number of other sites and teachers who are struggling in London would be well advised to look at London CLT to see whether they would be eligible for a property.

There are various projects around the country; one at the stage of buying a site is in Oxford, where the intention is to let at perpetually affordable rents, with the support of the local council.

Community-led housing

Community-led housing groups, such as cohousing groups and housing co-operatives, have been around  for longer than CLTs (at least in the UK).  Again there is an earlier article on what is cohousing on our website (here). These organisations can offer an alternative to buying your own property and give members a chance to live at least some of their life communally.  Communal living, with the opportunity to close your own front door when you want, can appeal to diverse groups of people, from those moving to a new area to older people who want to live in a supported environment.

A housing co-operative is particularly suited to individuals or couples seeking a smaller, shared house option, although there are larger, multi-unit models. 

A number of examples of current cohousing groups can be found on the UK Cohousing Network's website and some of those that Wrigleys have acted for recently can be found on our website, for cohousing and housing co-operatives.

Examples of how these work are project in:

  • Colchester, which involved around 30 properties with a central communal building (known as a common house) where residents can chose to share kitchen and dining and lounge facilities (although each property does have its own separate facilities). 
  • Leeds involving 20 eco-build homes in a mix of co-operative and cohousing principles, including family and individual rental units.

Schools already support housing for staff

As noted above, schools already support housing for staff.  Smoothing the playing field disposal rules and planning process will likely help, but is not an essential first stage for increasing the number of schools supporting staff in this way.  Most schools will find it difficult to go it alone and few will, at least initially, have the requisite skills or experience to manage any large scale project.  Collaboration will be key and there are existing examples of effective affordable housing schemes from across the not-for-profit sector.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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