Six tips for sourcing furniture on a budget

July 28, 2021

You have just had a meeting with the Dot Dot Dot team to welcome you to property guardianship, and you’ve been given the keys to your new space! What next? 

Alongside cheaper living costs, a welcoming guardian community and an opportunity to give back to causes you care about, living with Dot Dot Dot also enables you to get creative redecorating your home. The prospect of filling an empty space can often feel daunting, so just follow our guide to sourcing furniture on a budget based on our recent experience of  furnishing  a studio flat in Queen’s Park, north west London.

1. Connect with friends who are giving stuff away

If you’ve got a friend who’s decided to Marie Kondo their life, now is the time to get in touch with them. Start contacting friends and family early to ask if anyone is having a clear out. You’ll find that people are more than happy to donate their unloved items. We were kindly given some cushions, a print for the wall and a chair!

2. Keep an eye on Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree

There is a wealth of furniture being given away or sold cheaply online if you’re willing to look for it. We found a 2-seater sofa worth £500, a coffee table and a bedside table that were going for free, so it’s worth signing up for email notifications and keeping an eye out for gems. You could try:

3. Get creative

Decorating on a budget sometimes requires creativity to get the ambience you’re looking for. For the creatively challenged, there’s some easy options out there for you. Try putting dried lavender in an old glass bottle, or installing a lantern-style light shade for softer lighting. We found three light shades for £6 on Argos. 

4. Look for cheap soft furnishing options in charity shops

Charity shops are not just for clothing – you can also find some great homeware if you know where to look. We found a fluffy grey rug which is great for sectioning off the living space in a studio flat. There are also plenty of online guides to the best areas for charity shopping.

5. Get same day delivery on Argos

Argos offers same day delivery on most of its items, so it is a good resource if you are keen to get settled into your new space. It has everything from lamps, to bed frames, to kitchen appliances, so you can order everything in one go. They also have some great artificial flowers and plants if you have a tendency to kill the real thing.

6. Hire a van with Zipcar

If you want to make the most of sites like Freecycle and need a van to pick up larger items, Zipcar is the place to go. They currently operate in London, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge, and you can hire a large van from £10 an hour or £95 for the day. Pick up and drop off points are easy to come by, so it’s perfect if you need to transport furniture from A to B.

For more inspiration for decorating your space on a budget, check out our guide for re-styling your home. If you’re not yet a Dot Dot Dot guardian, apply now online.

 

Five simple steps to re-styling your home

July 14, 2021

Once you’ve secured your new home, you’ll probably be thinking – how can I start decorating? One of the benefits of being a Dot Dot Dot guardian is that in a lot of our properties you have the creative freedom to paint and refresh your space so you can really feel at home. As we recently created a show flat in Queen’s Park, we’ve got plenty of top decorating tips to share – with one key thing in mind – how to decorate affordably. 

1. Stripping wallpaper

Time to ditch that tired wallpaper to give your walls a fresh start? Thankfully this one-day DIY job can be done fairly painlessly. First, make sure your floors are covered with old sheets or newspaper to protect them from debris. Next, test how easily the paper peels off the walls with a putty knife – if it comes away easily, then you’re dealing with an easy task. If it doesn’t budge then you’ll need to use water and a chemical stripper. We’ve got the method for both below:

Peelable wallpaper

You’ll need:

  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth

This simple method entails loosening the edge of the paper with the putty knife, and tearing carefully. Repeat all around the room until the walls are free of wallpaper, and voila – all that’s needed now is a thorough clean with soapy water. Make sure the walls are completely dry before you begin painting.

Traditional hard-to-remove wallpaper

  • Water
  • Wallpaper stripper like this one from B&Q
  • Spray bottle
  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth
  • Rubber gloves

Mix your wallpaper stripper with water as per the instructions on the bottle, then pour into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture onto a small section of the walls and leave to absorb for a few minutes. Then, as with the peelable wallpaper, use the putty knife to loosen the edges of the paper and scrape off, repeating the spray, absorb, peel method all around the room. Lastly, go over the walls thoroughly with soap and water to remove any residue left behind!

2. A fresh coat of paint

A good place to start is to consider what you want the finished look to be. Don’t forget that you don’t have to paint all four walls the same colour – do you want an accent wall? Could the door frames be a standout colour? Make sure to consider your approach carefully before you begin. 

Once you have an idea of the style you want, pick up some samples and get testing your colour palette out. This will give you the chance to see what the colours look like at different times of the day and in different rooms. We recommend painting your samples onto paper and tacking the paper to the wall – just in case the light colour you might choose doesn’t cover up the dark sample you started with!

must haves for painting your walls:

  • Paint
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray 
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes
  • Masking tape (for neat edges)
  • Damp cloth

Before getting stuck into the main event, ensure that all of your furniture is either out of the room, or completely covered with old sheets or newspaper for protection. Next, grab your masking tape and firmly cover where the wall meets the floor or skirting board, and the ceiling, to ensure clean paint lines.

Next, with your roller brush at the ready, work from the ceiling down, moving your way methodically around the room. Roller brushes are good for covering large areas quickly but you will find it easier to use a paint brush when it comes to painting closer to the ceiling and floor/skirting board. 

You’ll want good ventilation to keep the air flowing through your property at this stage – make sure to keep windows open and consider having a fan on to encourage air movement (plus, the fans will help speed up the drying process). 

If you’re covering up dark walls, don’t forget that you’ll probably need to apply several coats to ensure complete coverage, or first use a primer. 

Once you’re done with the fun part, you’ll want to clean your brushes and rollers to keep them in good condition for next time. For latex and water-based paints, all that’s needed is a thorough rinse through with soap and water. For oil-based paint, you’ll need some mineral spirits to really wash the residue away. 

Top tip: people will often give away free paint that they no longer need or want on Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace. Check out these options if you’re looking to source paint on the cheap!

3. Easy to lay flooring

For a cheap and effective option to cover up any worn out flooring, you’re in pretty safe hands with a roll of lino, or stick on vinyl tiles. As the simplest and most cost-effective way of sprucing up your floor, peel and stick tiles can look more professional than you might think. B&Q does a great range of simple colours from just £8 per M2. 

If you’re after something soft under foot, you might consider opting for carpet tiles. Most of them will come with sticky backs making application simple and straightforward. Check out Screwfix’s range of shades and hues for prices from £39.99 for a pack of 16 tiles. 

A third low-maintenance option is a good coat of paint. This oft-overlooked method of sprucing up a floor can add a sumptuous accent to your new room – plus, it’s a great way to use up any leftover paint you might have from refreshing the walls! 

4. “Upcycling” second-hand furniture 

Tired and dated furniture might not be on the top of your list to collect via Freecycle or a charity shop – but what if you were to give it a revamp? Instead of buying new and often badly made pieces, restyling a second-hand table means you’ll be  creating a unique item for your home. 

Check out car boot sales, charity shops, Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace for inspiration. If the item is wooden, consider how you might give it a spruce – does it just need sanding and re-varnishing? Or would it benefit from a coat of paint? Remember that chalk-based paint works best on wood, and you’ll need to add a top varnish or wax layer to protect your piece and give it a finished sheen. 

If you have a chair with grubby material on it but have never re-upholstered before, don’t worry. YouTube is a great resource for simple how-to videos to make the most out of your new item. Plus, a simple search on Ebay will throw up a wide range of fabric offcuts for low prices to give your piece a brand new style. 

5. Deep clean

Top tip: if you’re looking for an economically and environmentally friendly cleaning solution for your home, a solution of bicarb, vinegar and lemon can actually clean just as well as many commercial cleaning products! The Guardian’s handy guide provides a run down of how the experts give their homes a going over with these three simple ingredients. 

Start with cleaning the bathroom. Spray your shower, bath, toilet and sink down with your chosen bathroom cleaner and leave to soak for a few minutes. Using the rough side of a cleaning sponge, get to work scrubbing down the bath or shower, focusing on areas that need special attention. 

You’ll then want to give the kitchen some attention. Starting with the fridge, use an antibacterial spray and go over all exterior surfaces. Remove shelves and trays from the fridge and clean thoroughly with soapy water.  Repeat this step with any other white goods you have in your kitchen. Then wipe down drawers and cabinet faces, and clean your sink with bleach making sure to rinse thoroughly afterwards to avoid staining. 

Next using glass cleaner and a microfibre cloth, go through the property to remove marks and stains on all of the windows and mirrors. 

Lastly, using a hoover or a dustpan and brush, make your way through each room to clear up any dust and debris left behind after your wall-painting and floor-laying. A damp cloth can be handy to really get into the corners of your rooms to ensure a polished finish. 

Discover more about Dot Dot Dot guardianship and how to apply to become a property guardian. Stay posted for part two, where we’ll be revealing six tips for sourcing furniture on a budget. 

Dot Dot Dot…10 years and counting

June 23, 2021

Dot Dot Dot chief executive, Peter Brown, reflects on what he’s learnt after moving from a housing association to work for a social enterprise.

So Dot Dot Dot is 10 years old…and I’ve been part of it for seven of those years. The first time I heard about Dot Dot Dot was in about 2012 when someone in my network mentioned that someone he knew had started a property guardianship social enterprise. That turned out to be Katharine, who had recently started her social enterprise and was looking for properties to house people who did great volunteering. The concept has been proven with some early successes, but more properties were needed. 

At that time, I was working for the local authority housing organisation, Tower Hamlets Homes. Like most housing providers of that size, we had a small number of properties that couldn’t be used for longterm local authority tenants. I was looking for a solution that was better than just leaving the properties empty and hoping for the best, which had been the strategy up to that point. Having people who also volunteered whilst looking after the properties met a business need, because it cut risk and costs, and gave long-term tenants great neighbours. It made my housing management colleagues feel good that properties were being put to a good use by working with an organisation that was innovative as well as trustworthy. 

Because I worked for a client before I came to work at Dot Dot Dot, I got to experience the full value of what happens when you partner with an organisation that is purposeful, exists for all the right reasons and has a clear, socially responsible approach to doing business. Perhaps it’s unusual to switch from a housing provider to supplier, but many of the values that housing organisations hold true are shared by Dot Dot Dot, The way that work is carried out has changed over the years, but the Dot Dot Dot business model, our desire for impact and the commitment we have to good results for everyone hasn’t altered.

I have always been a fan of the social enterprise model. To my mind, they occupy that space somewhere between purely commercial organisations and fully mission-driven charities, and try to take the best bits of each, aiming to create something powerful, purposeful and, crucially, sustainable. It’s been a pleasure to be part of Dot Dot Dot’s journey this far and to get to work with so many great clients, colleagues and guardians over the years.

Most of my career before I joined Dot Dot Dot was in the public sector, and for organisations much larger than Dot Dot Dot. When I contrast what it’s like to lead Dot Dot Dot with those earlier professional experiences, there’s something quite freeing about organisations like ours that are smaller and able to be nimble. At Dot Dot Dot, we are very focused on doing the right things for our clients and those we house, and increasingly we will be focusing our efforts partnering with clients who we think will enable us to do our best work. At Dot Dot Dot we are trying to do one thing – provide housing that makes it easier for people to do good – and everyone in the team wants to do this and to find ways to do it well. 

It’s also good to be able to stay connected with people working in all kinds of housing organisations – the big, the small, the specialised, as well as the more general. Through our careful choice of guardians who want to volunteer, and our diligent management approach, we have always made sure that we can add value to our clients’ work and projects. We know that we get our strongest feedback when we are working in situations where choices about what guardians are on site and how they are managed matter the most. These situations commonly are the more complicated regeneration and development programmes, and bigger buildings in the areas where property owners have a long term stake and ongoing interest. They are often settings where clients have sensitive projects and often with longer-term residents closeby.

Another reflection is that I’m more certain than ever about how vital a brilliant team is. Dot Dot Dot has a great team of people working for it – with its Board supporting the exec – and the collective value of the team’s commitment, energy and skills is immense. We couldn’t achieve what we have over the last 10 years without our people.

Over the years, the way we have done our work has of course changed – we have more staff, we have evolved and improved how we work and, as we have become bigger, we have become more professionalised and created more specialised roles. When I began at Dot Dot Dot, we could travel to all of the properties in our portfolio by bike (or bus if it was raining!), since they were all in East London. We aren’t so local anymore – we have properties throughout London and the south east, as well as the south coast, Oxford and Cambridge and Manchester – but the commitment we have to our work, our desire to create a positive impact and our sense of values has not changed at all…and hopefully won’t do in the next 10 years.

Spotlight on: Ailsa, looking back at eight years of Dot Dot Dot guardianship

June 17, 2021

From our longest standing guardian of eight years, Ailsa

Back in 2012 I’d just started volunteering with Bow Arts after not being in London for long. At the same time, I got made redundant from my job and had to leave the digs I was in at the time. I was on the brink of having to leave London altogether until one day when I was leaving an arts exhibition, I was feeling flat and started chatting to the receptionist about my situation. She told me that her friend had just started up an organisation called Dot Dot Dot, and as I was already volunteering I’d be a great fit. 

I wasn’t sure at first, but I went on the website, got in touch and met with Dot Dot Dot’s founder, Katharine. We had a really honest and open conversation about property guardianship – and I was hooked on the idea. 

I decided to press on with becoming a Dot Dot Dot guardian and met Katharine at Blackwall Tunnel DLR stop from where we walked through a housing estate to a little fifties flat at the top of a tower block in east London. She showed me the flat and I immediately thought, yes, I’m having it! It was so exciting to bump into other guardians on the stairs – it was all so new to all of us, it felt like such a novelty. We used to do ‘come dine with me’ evenings and visit each other’s flats for drinks. For me, they became my London community;  my best friends. Ten years later, I’m still close with several of them after bonding so much in those early days. 

I ended up staying in my fifties flat for six months where I paid £260 a month before we were asked to vacate the building. Luckily a 1-bed flat came up in an area nearby. Katharine was also living here at the time so we ended up living close by to each other. I ended up living in five different properties over the eight years that I was a guardian – I knew I wanted to stay living in east London and there were times that I moved out and privately rented somewhere else. It’s expensive, I had to share with other people in a small place and put my stuff into storage. And so I always came back to Dot Dot Dot. 

As a Dot Dot Dot guardian, you know that you’re going to live alongside good people who care about others. There was safety in it for me as well – I know what being a guardian involves and so I was keen to roll with moving to new places when we got given notice. Sticking with it, saving money and feeling secure allowed me to pursue my art career and volunteer with a big range of organisations. I’m not a guardian at the moment but there’s a good chance that I’d look to be a Dot Dot Dot guardian again in the future. 

Read more stories from our guardians on their volunteering and how living with Dot Dot Dot has given them the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals.

Spotlight on: Aoise and Zoe, International Women’s Day

March 19, 2021

For International Women’s Day, we highlighted two of our guardians who are supporting women through their work and volunteering, helping to build a more equal future for all. Read more from our former guardian Aoise who’s paving the way for women leaders in social enterprise through her work with Supply Change. And our east London guardian, Zoe, who has been supporting vulnerable women and children in temporary housing through her volunteering with the Magpie Project.

 

Aoise, Supply Change

From our former guardian, Aoise

I was trying to find a place to live in London, and to do that in an affordable way was really difficult because London is so expensive…My weekend jobs were mainly waitressing which wasn’t that well paid, so I really wanted to be able to find a place that would allow me to continue with Year Here (a programme for entrepreneurs driven to create meaningful social change). That’s where Dot Dot Dot came in.

Living with Dot Dot Dot and not having to pay huge amounts of money for housing was a huge aspect of being able to carry on with Year Here. It gave me that breathing space to explore options with Supply Change, the social enterprise I set up with two of my fellow alumni, and really build on the learning I had gained from Year Here. It gave me a great launching pad and foundation.

The whole ethos and mission of Supply Change is to help social enterprises win and deliver more contracts. Our supplier base is over 50% women-led, which I think is quite common across the sector, and from the outset we try to support them to get them in front of buyers. We believe that redirecting some of that buyer spend to social businesses and social entrepreneurs can be really meaningful, especially when they’ve got past the stage of relying on grant funding. Directing revenue and regular contracts to these businesses is a really really great way of supporting social enterprises and the women who lead them.

Another way I support women entrepreneurs is through Supply Change itself. We are completely women-founded and we are a 75% women team. There are a lot of amazing women leaders in the social enterprise sector. Three female leaders in procurement is definitely a change in the way things have been done previously. We are paving the way for a lot more women to be leaders within the social enterprise sector and social procurement.

Zoe, The Magpie Project

From our east London guardian, Zoe

For a long time I had been looking to be involved with an organisation focused on supporting women, but hadn’t found myself with enough time to do so. Then after becoming a guardian with Dot Dot Dot, I found myself with more time to dedicate to issues I cared about. After learning about the incredible work that the Magpie Project does to support women and their children, I knew their cause was the one I wanted to be involved with.

The Magpie Project is an amazing charity that supports vulnerable women and their small children that are living in temporary accommodation. They work incredibly hard to get these families on their feet, and they stand up for them in ways that others haven’t. Since I started volunteering for them my role as a volunteer has involved a bit of everything. On a regular shift my role involves helping during a day session at their centre in various ways, as well as creating illustrations that they could use.

Since the pandemic started the Magpie Project has been working very hard to find ways to continue supporting its families in a safe and socially distanced way, and they’ve been very successful in finding ways to deliver help such as food and essentials to their homes. Even when the Magpie Project centre had to close its doors because of the pandemic, it found ways to continue delivering help to families that would otherwise be destitute

I volunteered for them remotely by creating some videos for the children and families to do illustration and creative activities at home. Volunteering for the Magpie Project allowed me to support women not only by helping with the work that they do every week at their centre, but also using my own skills, such as creating illustrations they could use to raise awareness about their cause, or to sell and to raise funds for the women and their families.

Becoming a Dot Dot Dot guardian enabled me to dedicate more of my time to causes I care about, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible given the high cost of living and rent in London.

Dot Dot Dot not only gave me the opportunity to pursue my own path, as I was then able to afford enough space to have my own studio at home to develop my work, but also gave me the opportunity to give some of my time to others and help causes I feel are meaningful and worth supporting.

Read more stories from our guardians on how living with Dot Dot Dot has given them the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals.

Creating social impact with London Borough of Newham and Civic in east London

March 16, 2021

Since 2016, Dot Dot Dot has worked alongside London Borough of Newham to house a total of 159 property guardians in 46 properties awaiting regeneration across east London. Beyond the invaluable work we do to manage and secure empty properties in the area, our mission to create social impact in the communities in which we work has given us the opportunity to partner with London Borough of Newham and Civic to repurpose empty spaces for community use.

Aligned values

Like Dot Dot Dot, Newham are also committed to creating social impact through their Community Wealth Building initiative. Community wealth building, according to CLES (the national organisation for local communities), is ‘a new people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy, and places control and benefits into the hands of local people’. Championed by Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Newham’s commitment to community wealth building aims to address poverty levels in the borough by economically empowering local communities. 

Almost half of Newham’s homes are in the private rented sector, where rents rose 56% between 2012 and 2019, and a huge 75% of salaries in Newham are put towards rent. At Dot Dot Dot, our commitment to affordable housing in areas where local people are priced out by high rents has provided a strong foundation for our partnership with the borough council.

Supporting relationships with stakeholders

Aside from delivering residential meanwhile projects for empty properties, there are many other ways we can support our clients. In 2017, Newham council reached out to Dot Dot Dot for some guidance on a potential meanwhile project on a piece of land earmarked for regeneration.

In the short term, they were sensitive to the possible disruption for residents, and wanted to utilise empty spaces in Custom House to bring the community together. Beyond our work to secure empty properties for Newham, we have also been able to support relationships with stakeholders, be it current residents or fostering new partnerships with other meanwhile organisations. In 2017, we used our expertise in the field to set out two proposed organisations that Newham could work with to repurpose the land, with Dot Dot Dot as the junior partner. By 2018, Newham had cemented their partnership with Civic, who are ‘supporting the new development of civic infrastructure’ in east London. 

Social impact in Newham

Civic’s work to reutilise disused spaces as community hubs mirrors our mission to repurpose empty buildings as housing and give back to the community through volunteering. As part of their transformation of the empty space at 3-9 Freemasons Road, Civic have encouraged community involvement in the project through volunteering. 

Dot Dot Dot has been able to assist Civic through our partnership with Newham council, by connecting local guardians in Canning Town and Custom House to Civic’s volunteering opportunities. Guardians have assisted in the transformation of the Custom House Civic Community Hub in a variety of ways, including painting a mural, building outdoor furniture out of pallets, helping out in the community garden and painting ahead of the building’s transformation into community spaces.

Civic has been delighted to welcome our guardians into their voluntary effort, and the project is a great example of how guardians can contribute to their communities: “Dot Dot Dot volunteers have been an invaluable resource in our journey to reopen the high street. They have given back to the community in more ways than one. Together we’ve launched a fruit and veg pop up shop, a podcast and rehearsal room, a hanging garden, a Covid-19 response and so much more. It’s been incredibly fun and they feel like part of the team. We can’t wait to continue to work with Dot Dot Dot across our Newham project”. 

Adapting to new challenges

In March 2020, the arrival of Covid-19 put plans for the community spaces on hold. Civic had to adapt to their changing environment and turned their hands to assisting their community in what was, and continues to be, a difficult time. Dot Dot Dot guardians did not hesitate to help the crucial effort, providing support by distributing food and PPE, assembling activity packs for homeschooling, creating “thank you” packs for key workers and sourcing clothes for those in housing need with Amy’s space.  As each guardian commits to contributing 16 hours of volunteering each month, Dot Dot Dot can provide an invaluable resource and direct volunteers to causes that matter most to our clients and the communities that they serve. Once plans for the community hub remobilise, guardians will be key contributors to Civic’s vital work for the Newham community. 

Not only does our crucial work with Newham continue to provide affordable housing to residents, but it has provided the support and voluntary hours to enable them to invest in meanwhile projects with the community at their heart.

If you’d like to hear more about how we work with our clients and their partners, you can sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, here or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Life as a Dot Dot Dot property guardian: Tom, east London

January 29, 2021

From east London Dot Dot Dot guardian, Tom

I’ve been a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot for nearly four years. I’ve lived in my current home in Tower Hamlets since January 2020. 

Years of private renting meant rarely picking up a paintbrush, or delving into any DIY. Tight rental rules on decorating, and deposits, means properties have to remain how they are. As a guardian, I have helped paint rooms, put up shelves and hang pictures. It is enormously liberating to know I can try new things without the restrictions normally found in renting. My knowledge of plumbing has also improved as guardians are encouraged to find fixes for small issues themselves before calling assistance. I’m far from a handyman, but I feel I’m getting better all the time.  

Dot Dot Dot’s focus on volunteering has led to opportunities that could have otherwise passed me by. Life can be fast-paced and even with the best intentions, volunteering time can be choked by other commitments. The obligation to do 16 hours a month as part of my licence agreement makes volunteering part of my weekly routine, and never an “extra” thing that gets squeezed in (or squeezed out). I’ve given time to many organisations and causes close to my heart such as male suicide prevention, community sport and local regeneration. I’ve made terrific memories and met lots of new people through my volunteering. I’m currently a listening volunteer at Samaritans 

Guardianship has also given me peace of mind. Dot Dot Dot’s warm, approachable relationship with their guardians is hugely reassuring, especially during a pandemic. I’ve only had one experience of being given notice but I was soon offered another in the same part of London. I knew this wasn’t a guarantee so I was grateful for Dot Dot Dot’s efforts. Staying in the same area means remaining a short walk from my office (when I’m allowed there!) – saving time and money that could be otherwise lost to a commute. Communication from Dot Dot Dot is excellent – it feels very clear what I can expect, and what’s expected of me – which only adds to a sense of stability and clarity.  

A good home for less-than-market-rate cost made my 2019 career change easier. After ten years in one industry I began in another I was more keen to develop in. This meant an inevitable pay cut and the inevitable internal questions. Among everything else I had to think about, I felt fortunate to need not worry about affording my licence fee and could focus on managing the transition. 

Becoming a guardian has introduced me to an unfamiliar area of London and one I now love. Living in modern developments in Finsbury Park and Stratford, I had never spent meaningful time in the Custom House / Canning Town / Poplar corridor, just north of the Thames. I try to visit the river everyday if I can. The beautiful Thames Barrier Park is perfect for exercise and the peaceful Thames path is great for disconnecting from the world. I’ve become a regular open-water swimmer (and a volunteer) at Royal Victoria Dock, completing the 10K Dock2Dock in September and have volunteered with several community events. 

I never shy away from recommending property guardianship with Dot Dot Dot to others. Its’ differences to renting means it usually requires a bit of explaining but I’m happy to take the time. Being a guardian has given me the freedom to pursue my goals, develop skills I didn’t know I had and live in an area of London I love. I’m very grateful to all those who have helped give me this opportunity.  

Read more from our Founder Katharine Hibbert, as she explores what change has meant for our current guardians, and how our model has helped them through periods of transition in their lives.

Be the change – how Dot Dot Dot’s model helps people going through transitions

January 22, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert 

Change is always hard, whether it’s change you chose yourself or change you didn’t want but have to deal with anyway.  We know this first hand at Dot Dot Dot, because change is central to our work – for the buildings we manage, for the people living in them, and for the neighbourhoods living locally.  We regularly discuss how our work fits in with property owners’ transformation plans and how it smooths the regeneration process for local communities, so this blog focuses on the ways in which our work helps guardians who are going through changes themselves.

The most obvious way that we help guardians through times of change is by providing well-managed homes in convenient locations, costing a fraction of local market rents.  With some financial pressure off, guardians who want to retrain for a new job or start a project of their own are sometimes able to cut down on paid work to ease the transition.  For example, our guardian Rachel, a dancer, was able to set up her own business whilst still affording a home in London by living in one of our buildings.

On the other hand, some guardians need this breathing space for reasons they didn’t want.  When a relationship ends, it can be difficult for both partners to afford homes of their own when previously they were only paying for one.  We find that the housing we offer can help people to avoid adding financial stress to an emotionally fraught time.  Similarly, we hear from current guardians that the fact that they were already paying less for their housing has helped them to deal with a downturn in earning caused by the pandemic.

On top of this, the flexibility of the housing we provide is often useful to guardians going through a time of change.  It’s a fact of life for property guardians that their homes are only temporary.  They are placed in them as licensees to take care of them on behalf of owners, and may have to move out at 28 days’ notice if the owner wants them back.  While this lack of security is a down-side of guardianship for some, this flexibility works both ways.  Guardians are not locked into six- or 12-month contracts, and can time their move-out to suit themselves rather than to fit in with a tenancy duration.  This is useful for people who are finding their feet in a new city.  It also enabled some of our guardians to move out of our properties and back to their home towns at short notice when they realised that they wouldn’t need to go to the office for the foreseeable future.  Although we were sorry to see them go, this also created space for us to house new people who had to reconsider their housing situation due to the pandemic.

Our emphasis on volunteering is important for its own sake, but it also helps guardians when they’re going through transitions.  Giving time to good causes is a way to learn new skills and try new things, as our guardian Elizabeth describes here, and can lead to results that look good on a CV and support career changes.  Just as importantly, it often leads to working alongside people you’d never normally have met – whether charitable beneficiaries or fellow volunteers.  A survey by the British Heart Foundation found that four out of five of its volunteers had met new people through volunteering, and more than half felt less lonely as a result.  This mixing is also a way to see the world through a different lens and consider different value systems, which can lead to new ideas and open the door to fresh opportunities. 

Finally, we hear from guardians that our emphasis on neighbourliness and community is a support through times of change.  Leaving the familiar and working towards the new can be isolating – whether that’s arriving in a new place or moving on from a job or relationship, and whether or not that change was deliberate.  Having friendly faces around, and knowing that help will be available if you need it, can make a big difference.  Even though much of this mutual support has had to move online during lockdowns, just exchanging a ‘hello’ and a few words in passing with familiar people who live nearby can go a long way, as The Samaritans emphasise in their ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ campaign, and as The Economist discussed in a recent issue. 

So, while we can’t take away the difficulty of change altogether, we’re glad that through our work we’re able to make it a bit easier for some of our guardians, and we’re looking forward to doing as much as we can to help people through the uncertainty to come in 2021.

Find out more about our commitment to providing great housing to property guardians and raising standards in our industry here. Over the next three months, you can hear more on our Instagram from our guardians about how we are helping them through periods of change or to achieve a long-term goal. Follow us to keep up to date here.

The law has spoken – property guardianship and business rates

January 15, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Until recently, the situation on business rates for buildings lived in by property guardians was clear – the buildings were exempt from the business rates which would normally be due on empty buildings, and liable for Council Tax instead.  The conclusion last month of a long-running court case has changed that.  This blog by our Founder Katharine Hibbert, explains the situation now, and gives Dot Dot Dot’s response.

What happened?

Back in 2017, London Borough of Southwark challenged the decision that a building on London’s South Bank, Ludgate House, should be exempt from business rates due to its occupation by guardians.  The first round Valuation Tribunal for England agreed with LB Southwark that rates were due.

Ludgate House’s owners appealed this decision in the Upper Tribunal, and in 2019 were successful in overturning it, returning the situation to what was the norm elsewhere i.e. that the building was not liable for business rates, and council tax was payable instead. 

However, LB Southwark appealed again, and last month the case was heard in the Court of Appeal.  We blogged about the case back in November, before the court had heard it, and you can find our previous take on the matter here.

When the case was heard in December, LB Southwark were successful, and the Court of Appeal decided that business rates rather than Council Tax are due.  This is now the final word on the case, and sets a precedent for all similar arrangements, so is significant to the property guardian sector.

The full judgement is available here, and Giles Peaker, a housing lawyer who is an expert on property guardianship, has provided an in-depth discussion of the legal reasoning behind this judgement on his blog, here

The central issue which shaped the judges’ view was the fact that the owners of Ludgate House retained very significant control over the building and guardians’ use of it. This meant that although guardians were using it as their home, the purpose of their being there was of direct benefit to the building’s owners.  Therefore, the judges decided that the building’s owners hadn’t given up control of it to a sufficient degree to enable it to be removed from business rates.   

What didn’t happen?

Because the judges’ decision was based on fundamental points of property law, they did not consider the point made by LB Southwark’s lawyers that the property guardian scheme in question was unlawful in any case because the property guardian provider (VPS) did not have a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence in place even though the building needed it.  As the judges said: “it is unwise to deliver judgments on points that do not have to be decided”.

Whilst no doubt the judges made a wise decision here, Dot Dot Dot would have welcomed examination of this issue at high level.  Existing law makes it very clear that buildings lived in by property guardians need HMO licences if they are HMOs, and Dot Dot Dot always secures such licences or others required by local authorities where relevant.  Not all property guardian companies do so, which puts property owners, property guardians and the reputation of the property guardian sector at risk – not to mention the fact that it enables property guardians to claim back fees they have paid to live in a property which should be licenced and is not.   

It was also not relevant to the judgement that the building was lived in only by a few guardians. Even if more guardians had been present, the property owners would have retained overall control of the building, meaning that rates would have been due.

Dot Dot Dot’s response

At Dot Dot Dot, we are disappointed that buildings lived in by property guardians will now be eligible for business rates and not Council Tax under current legal arrangements.  The previous situation created an extra incentive for property owners to work with property guardian companies by creating tax savings, meaning that more buildings were brought into use as homes instead of being left empty. 

It is not even likely that this judgement will create significant additional tax revenue – a wide range of other rates mitigation schemes are available, most of which have no socially positive effects but which cut revenues to the government.  For example, leasing a building to a newly created company set up purely for rates mitigation purposes, which is then liquidated, is a legitimate way to avoid the tax which benefits no one except property owners and scheme providers. 

However, rates mitigation was never a major selling point for Dot Dot Dot – most of our clients work with us because they are looking for reliable, flexible, cost-effective property security and an opportunity to make a positive difference to society.  And, in fact, the majority of buildings we manage were not eligible for rates in the first place, because they are residential or properties like halls of residence or sheltered accommodation. We have already discussed the changes with the minority of our property-owning clients who it will affect, and are working with them to find ways forward.    

The most positive part of this judgement is that it reinforces guardians’ status as licensees. Licensees have permission to live in the building in order to take care of it on behalf of the building’s owner, rather than tenants who have a right to exclusive occupation.  This distinction has always been clear, but understanding of it is growing as property guardianship becomes more common and widespread, so every further reiteration of the point – especially in the highest courts – is helpful in reducing the potential for confusion.   As Peaker says in his blog: “This judgment does, however, mean that there are greater hurdles to climb in any possession defence by guardians alleging a tenancy.”

More widely, we at Dot Dot Dot agree with those calling for wholesale reform of business rates – including, last month, the Financial Times and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.  Taxes shape decisions for individuals, businesses and local authorities, so we hope that any future update to the business rates regime will encourage socially worthwhile uses of buildings that would otherwise be empty. 

Update 26th January 2021:
We understand that the owners of Ludgate House are challenging the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Supreme Court, so the verdict discussed here may not be the final word on how buildings lived in by property guardians should be taxed. We will provide updates as the case moves forward.

To talk to us about how Dot Dot Dot’s brilliant property guardians could be part of your regeneration strategies, please do get in touch at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.
You can also find out more about our commitment to raising standards in our industry here.

 

Why is Dot Dot Dot a member of the Property Ombudsman scheme?

January 15, 2021

Dot Dot Dot has been a member of the The Property Ombudsman scheme for a few years now, and you might have spotted the Ombudsman’s membership logo on some of our communications. Our Chief Executive Peter Brown explains why Dot Dot Dot a member and why we think it’s important.

Whilst Dot Dot Dot is not an estate agent, there are similarities between our day-to-day property management activities and the activities that you’d see any letting agent carrying out:

  •       making sure property is safe and ready to be lived in,
  •       advertising property and explaining the options,
  •       being clear and transparent on pricing and costs,
  •       marketing properties,
  •       vetting applicants fairly to find the most suitable occupant, and
  •       moving them in so they can make their chosen building their home. 

Several of our long-held company values and the way that our team always strive to do things – holding ourselves to high standards, treating everyone fairly and in a straightforward way – are reflected in the Property Ombudsman’s codes and its instructions to all members. So one of the appealing things for me about joining the Property Ombudsman scheme was that it gave us a considered framework for treating customers fairly. 

We’ve found that it’s been useful to reflect the Ombudsman’s requirements in our own processes because this gives us an additional way of making sure our values translate into action, and therefore shapes how our customers experience working with us.

We also think it’s a positive thing to be a part of a scheme that is improving standards across the lettings industry, even if the way we need to do things as a property guardian social enterprise is sometimes different from agents in the mainstream lettings industry. We’ve consistently championed over a number of years why we want all guardian properties to be safe, enjoyable and comfortable homes that meet all required legal standards. It’s important to us that we help drive up standards across the property guardian sector because we believe this benefits everyone involved. We see our Ombudsman membership as complementary to our approach in this important area.

We believe we are the only major property guardian provider to have signed up to the Ombudsman scheme. We hope that being a member of the Ombudsman scheme and what this signals is reassuring to everyone that is considering doing business with Dot Dot Dot – whether a property owner or someone looking for housing as a property guardian. 

Over the years that I’ve led Dot Dot Dot, we’ve seen increasing regulation and higher standards in many aspects of the property rental sector (electrical safety, property licensing) alongside a suite of stronger consumer standards (restrictions on the fees that can be charged, capping of deposits). These represent improvements to the private rented sector and provide a set of important minimum standards that give customers confidence, especially to those who are housed regardless of tenure type. 

Dot Dot Dot has always taken the approach that these standards apply to what we do – certainly we have seen ourselves following the legal requirements more willingly compared to some property managers. We welcome anything that helps to improve health and safety of the buildings which people call home, and we see that improved standards give guardians and property owners confidence in the property guardian sector.

It’s also a legal requirement for all property agents to be a member of a redress scheme, so, should it ever be needed, the Ombudsman’s high quality and independent service is available to our customers in the rare event a complaint could not be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you’d like to find out more about how we work, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, here.

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