"At Dot Dot Dot, we are doing our best to create safe, inexpensive, well-managed homes where our guardians can feel comfortable and relaxed." - Katharine Hibbert, Dot Dot Dot founder

24 September 2020 | The Dot Dot Dot story | Back to Blog

How Dot Dot Dot can help to remove anxiety from the housing process

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Britain’s housing system is a mess – and the impact this has on renters’ wellbeing is real.  At Dot Dot Dot, we know this is a problem, so we’re doing the best we can to make property guardianship as stress-free as possible.  But we’re also calling for wider change to improve the situation for everybody.

For many in the private rented sector, the sheer monthly cost of their home is a major source of worry.  Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that fewer than half of private renters find it easy to pay the rent every month, even before the pandemic hit.  In London, renters on average spend 40% of take-home pay on rent – well over the 30% maximum considered affordable by most housing experts.

These rent levels make saving impossible for most tenants – so they see little prospect of owning their own homes in future.  Only a third of private tenants have any savings at all, and only one in four has more than £16,000 in the bank, according to ONS data.  Given that it’s almost impossible to buy a home with less than a 10% deposit, and the average house price in England is nearly £250,000 and in London is nearly £500,000 this puts buying out of reach for the huge majority, especially those whose parents can’t afford to help.  So the situation – and the financial pressure – feels inescapable.

On top of this, the homes tenants are paying so much for aren’t even very good.  Far too many homes rented out by private landlords have serious health and safety issues.  One in ten has at least one “Category One Hazard”, meaning a serious and immediate risk to a person’s safety, according to the Government’s latest English housing survey.  Whilst landlords are legally obliged to fix these problems, it can be very difficult for tenants to make them do so.

Even where homes are safe, they are often cramped. A survey last year showed that 90% of flatshares advertised for rent London don’t have a living room, so tenants relax, socialise and eat as well as sleep in their bedrooms.  On top of that, if they’re working from home during the pandemic, their bedrooms have also become offices.

And the situation is affecting more people than ever – today, 20% of households in England are renting privately, up from 10% in 1996, and the proportion continues to rise, according to ONS data.

No wonder this situation harms tenants’ physical and mental wellbeing.  Mind, the mental health charity, has an overview of the ways poor housing harms mental health, as well as advice on where to get help.

At Dot Dot Dot, we are doing our best to create safe, inexpensive, well-managed homes where our guardians can feel comfortable and relaxed.  We believe that this is a good way to support our residents to help others through voluntary work, but it’s also an end in itself – we were set up in 2011 in an attempt to show that property guardianship can be a way to create homes that people enjoy, as well as to enable more people to give their time to good causes.

All of the housing we offer costs between a third and a half of the local market rent, easing some of the financial burden, and we work diligently to make sure that none of the buildings we manage are risky or unsafe.  All the homes we offer – whether they are purpose-built housing or not – meet the fire safety standards private tenants should expect, and all have working fire alarms that we check regularly, along with carbon monoxide alarms where there is a gas supply.

Our guardians also enjoy plenty of living space – we never convert living rooms into bedrooms, and in our larger shared buildings we create communal spaces for guardians to work, eat or relax.  If you’d like to know more about the rights all guardians are entitled to, and the standards we work to at Dot Dot Dot, you can read more here.

We know that this approach works – through it, we have been able to ease some of the stress guardians face, and as a result they have been able to find the time and energy to give tens of thousands of hours to causes they care about.  Alongside this, the reduced cost of living has allowed many of our guardians to save up towards a deposit for a long-term home, or take a step back to retrain or change careers.

However, guardianship can never be the whole solution to the problem. Guardians know that they may be asked to move house with four weeks’ notice at any time, and that when this happens, they have no choice but to go.  In fact, the average stay in a Dot Dot Dot home for our guardians is more than 18 months – and that includes guardians who chose to move on for their own reasons, before we ask them to vacate.  This is how the model works – the homes we offer to guardians are cheap precisely because working with Dot Dot Dot gives property owners flexibility to go ahead with regeneration or sale plans when they want to.  But the unpredictability is a challenge.

So people who choose to become guardians are making a trade-off – they need to commit to being flexible in terms of move-out date in return for cheaper housing.  For some this is fine, and because the flexibility goes both ways, it is useful to know that they can also move out at relatively short notice without worry.  But we know this isn’t ideal for everyone, and for many not knowing how long they can stay in one place is a source of real stress.

The way we see it, it’s better to offer property guardianship to those who want it as an alternative to renting privately rather than to refuse to do it because it’s not a perfect solution for everyone.  After all, the alternative would be buildings that could house guardians sitting empty, and people who could be guardians struggling in the private rented sector.  That way everyone loses, so we think it’s better to do what we can within the constraints of the situation.

Because we know guardianship doesn’t suit everyone, for several years we have been providing rented properties with six-month notice periods alongside our property guardian properties.  While these cost slightly more than guardianships, they are still much cheaper than homes in the private rented sector, and have provided a good option for people who want to volunteer and who are looking for more security than guardianship can provide.

Ideally, we would prefer to be working in a situation where people were making a positive choice to become guardians, to save money, live in quirky buildings with likeminded people, and get support and encouragement to volunteer.  Many do join us for these reasons, but others approach us because renting privately just doesn’t work for them.  To get to that situation, serious and sustained political effort needs to go into solving the housing crisis.  The payoff from fixing the problem would be felt in improved health and wellbeing for millions of people.

We recommend backing the excellent work Shelter, the Resolution Foundation and Citizen’s Advice do to support and advise tenants, and to campaign for wider change.  And on top of that, tenants need to get on the electoral register and be ready to vote whenever there’s another election, so that the call for change is heard.

You can find out more about our commitment to providing great housing to property guardians and raising standards in our industry here.