Innovation in Homes 2: Transforming the Private Rented Sector

Big Society Capital is actively looking for partners to co-develop investment solutions to provide homes for people in need. My interview with Bridget Young (Programme Manager at the Nationwide Foundation) is the second blog in the “Innovation in Homes” series, where I will be highlighting innovative initiatives and partnerships that we have come across. Read my previous interview with London Ventures here.


Hi Bridget, we are delighted to hear about the Nationwide Foundation’s Transforming the private rented sector (PRS) programme. Trusts and foundations have traditionally focused more on issues around rough sleeping and homelessness, why is it also important to focus on PRS?

We have to deal with the realities of the world we are in right now. The PRS market has grown significantly and is now larger than the social housing market in most of the UK. Historically, vulnerable people and families on low incomes were mostly living in supported and social housing; but we know that a more diverse group of people are living in the PRS now.

The bigger question is: what do we want the PRS to be and to do? If we do not want the PRS to house vulnerable people, then we need much more social housing supply. If this is not going to happen, then we need to make the PRS better.

We know that being at the bottom-end of the property market is difficult for people. Poorly managed PRS can have detrimental effects on people’s finances, physical health, relationships, education and general wellbeing – these all exacerbate poverty and vulnerability.

There is a complex web of interlinked problems at play here. How does the programme aim to address these issues?

To begin with, we need better data on who is living in PRS and what their experiences are. This is why we have commissioned the University of York to produce a piece of research to bring us up-to-date on the “state of play” of the PRS in England. We are also funding a three-year project in Greater Manchester to improve the experiences of vulnerable tenants living in the PRS.

We believe that by giving tenants a meaningful opportunity to talk about their experiences and voice their opinions, they can start driving real changes and influencing a wider debate.

We do this by putting tenants at the heart of decision-making -  giving them a voice and profile in the PRS market. One key part of the project is a Partnership Board that we are setting up to provide strategic leadership to this project. Representatives will include tenants, landlords, local authorities, housing providers, health professionals and charities. The project will launch a test and learn fund for organisations to pilot new ideas to address issues faced by vulnerable tenants in the PRS, which the Partnership Board, including the tenant representation, will oversee.

Transforming the PRS in Greater Manchester is your first place-based funding programme. Why have you chosen Greater Manchester to test this approach?

There is evidence to suggest that a place-based approach can create better and longer-lasting changes, as solutions are led locally and tied to local need.

In Greater Manchester, we sense a real appetite for change under the leadership of its mayor Andy Burnham. Even before the new metro mayoral system, there has been a long-standing tradition of local authorities working together in the area. We know that locally there has been lots of activity which has built momentum. We could see the benefits of providing funding and being a catalyst which brings the different people and projects together. In addition, Greater Manchester’s PRS landscape is rather diverse. Different local areas are facing a range of challenges from affordability, to poor quality, to gentrification. This creates more potential for learning and future replication in other areas.

We are still in the early days of running this project, but a key learning so far is to engage with stakeholders as early as possible, even if you don’t have all the answers or feel you don’t have much to say. This seems especially important in a place-based initiative as it helps to build local ownership of the project.

If you have a magic wand to change one thing about the PRS, what would it be?

Just one thing? I have prepared a list!

Well, I will start with an evidence-based national PRS strategy that helps us define what we want the PRS to look like, so we can then build appropriate policies and practices around it. This is already starting to happen in Scotland. This is already starting to happen in Scotland. I would also want more multi-disciplinary work that supports PRS tenants, such as approaches that address both health and housing needs together. We need funding for support services that is long-term and consistent. Finally, we need stronger rights, security and voices for tenants.

That’s a wonderful list. Thanks again for your time and insight.

Big Society Capital is actively looking for partners to co-develop investment solutions to provide homes for people in need. If you or your organisation is also working on innovative ways to improve the private rented sector, please get in touch with me.