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North Somerset Council are now working in collaboration with local landlords on a brand new solution “The Ark Passport Scheme” to help more benefit assisted and low income tenants secure private rented accommodation.
A shortage of affordable housing and the introduction of Universal credit*, which restricts the payments of rents direct to landlords, has led to significant difficulties for benefit claimants to access affordable homes.
The Ark Passport Scheme aims to address this and allows tenants to separate and prioritise rent and other important payments. It provides a banking facility which creates a secure payment “wallet” on a tenant’s benefit, making sure that the landlord receives their rent – which is extremely useful to those tenants who have been transferred onto the Universal Credit model.
Not only does The Ark Passport Scheme give landlords greater security against such issues as non-payment of rent, it also offers the added advantage of having a rent guarantee and legal expenses insurance policy in place for the duration of the tenancy.
The Ark Passport Scheme aims to equip families and individuals with the opportunity of securing decent accommodation, overcome the need to find prohibitive deposits and rent in advance as well as enabling tenants to build their credit rating and reference history.
The Ark Passport Scheme is a tool to encourage both private landlords and housing providers to house those in receipt of benefit with an aim to reducing homelessness.
Stuart Adams, Senior Lettings Officer from the Housing Resource Team at North Somerset Council, said: ‘We have been looking for a long term and sustainable solution to increase the supply of residential properties from within the private rented sector in North Somerset, to continue to effectively tackle the issue of homelessness prevention.
‘Working in collaboration with The Ark Passport scheme, we hope to alleviate the financial concerns faced by landlords when accepting tenants who are in receipt of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit.
‘After completing the basic elements of The Ark Passport Scheme, tenants will be in a position where they are fully referenced and financially ready to commence a tenancy. They will also have the backing and support of the Housing Resource Team which has dedicated officers to assist both landlords and tenants throughout the tenancy.
‘The scheme is in its infancy, however it is innovative and I expect that as the model is successfully rolled out it will be adopted by other councils too.’
An Ark Passport Representative said: ‘The answer to alleviating long-term homelessness must be something which encompasses security, longevity, education and understanding and not just throwing taxpayers money at a problem that has no solution.
‘The main benefits to landlords who participate in The Ark project are that the rent is guaranteed via the secure wallet in the tenant’s bank account and that the legal expenses insurance will cover all of the landlord’s legal repossession costs.
‘Furthermore, Ark users can gain access to a free advertising portal for their vacant properties as well as a Council appointed support team specialising in Universal Credit.
‘Working in collaboration with North Somerset Council, together we hold the key to enable good landlords to offer better homes to tenants’ right across the district. We hope that by working closely together on this project that the concept will bring shelter, durability and harmony to neighbourhoods for people who want a secure and comfortable way of life.’
The Ark will also be a welcome edition when the Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force from April 2018, with £61million government funding behind the bill. The bill – which became an official act of parliament in April – places a legal duty on councils to give people meaningful support to try to resolve their homelessness, as well as introducing measures to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. This follows a warning from a homeless charity, that the number of people forced into homelessness is expected to more than double to half a million by 2041 unless the government take immediate action.
So it’s good news that 22 additional housing sites have been identified by North Somerset Council recently, in order to meet the area’s housing needs over the next nine years. These will provide a total of 821 homes which are all expected to be delivered over the next five years.
Therefore, North Somerset Council would like to take this opportunity to invite both private landlords and letting agents from across the district to attend a free seminar on The Ark Passport Scheme which will be taking place on Wednesday 27th September (6pm-8pm) at the newly refurbished Museum in Weston-super-Mare. There’s no need to pre-register for this event, all are welcome so please come along.
* Footnote: What is Universal Credit? UC affects tenants who claim Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Working and Child Tax Credits or Housing Benefit. With all these changeovers proving complex and impacting on many parts of benefit claimants’ lives, those claiming the aforementioned benefits will eventually see their benefit replaced by one single benefit – Universal Credit. Furthermore, the latest Universal Credit Survey shows that 40% of UC claimants in arrears were not in arrears prior to going onto the new welfare scheme.
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