Homeshare: Good for service users and for council budgets

Homeshare schemes can work for the mutual benefit of older and young people, reports Natalie Valios

adults good practice

Cilly Haar (left) had been considering residential care before deciding to share her home, most recently with social work student Joanna Nabrzyyska

Homeshare schemes can work for the mutual benefit of older and young people, reports Natalie Valios


Project name: Crossroads Care Central & North London Homeshare.

Aims and objectives: To provide a simple and affordable service for people who feel vulnerable or isolated, and who need help and companionship around the home.

Staff: Co-ordinator and small admin team.

Annual cost £100,000, funded by users.

Outcomes: Provides companionship, support and flexibility for users. The scheme is currently examining whether it is delivering cost savings from individuals staying at home longer rather than going into hospital or nursing care.

Homeshare involves two people with different needs who can help each other: the householder – usually an older or disabled person – who has a spare room and is in need of some support and companionship; and the homesharer – typically a student or low-paid worker, who needs accommodation and is willing to help. In return for offering support, the homesharer pays no rent and just shares the bills with the householder.

Homesharing has featured in the UK for over 20 years. However, there are currently only 11 schemes in the country. Alex Fox (see column, right), chief executive of Naaps, the representative organisation for Homeshare in the UK, says there are several reasons for this.

“It is relatively easy to find householders who have a spare room and need company but it can be more difficult getting a big enough pool of young people, especially in rural areas.

“Homeshare needs to stay below the threshold at which it becomes a regulated service, which means it can’t involve personal care, and you need to avoid creating tenancy rights so keeping it out of various forms of regulation is challenging.”

Naaps has just launched a good practice guide for commissioners and policy makers, outlining these barriers and Homeshare’s benefits. These include providing older and disabled people with support to delay the need for intensive care services, giving family carers a helping hand in supporting loved-ones, and supplying young people with affordable housing.

Its aim is to make Homeshare a mainstream part of the care and support system.

The largest UK scheme has been run by Crossroads Care Central & North London for four years. It is the only one that is self-funding, rather than dependent on local authority subsidy. The carers charity set up the scheme because it supported the ethos of Homeshare, says business manager Lee Whitehead.

Homeshare is also a neat fit as a supplementary service; if a householder’s needs increase Crossroads Care can top up the support from the homesharer with its home care service. This can delay the need for residential care.

Homesharers have to offer 10-15 hours of support a week to the householder, which can include shopping, cooking, cleaning and providing company.

Both parties make an upfront payment of £1,000 to Crossroads Care to cover administration, the matching process, and ongoing monitoring.

Currently, there are 80 people using the scheme – 40 pairs. The scheme works across eight London boroughs and there are plans to expand this to 12. Initial clients were easy to find as Crossroads Care is aware of many individuals who fall below local authority criteria to receive home care or a personal budget.

Since then, interest has spread through word of mouth and local authorities are taking note. “Some have asked how much they need to pay us for the service and my response is ‘nothing, we want your endorsement’. One local authority now wants to pilot between 10 and 20 referrals,” says Whitehead.

“Large employers have also contacted us, interested in supporting the carers in their workforce so they can return to work full-time,” he says. “And we have had a lot of interest from universities and colleges with students on courses like the social work degree who see this as a way for them to gain practical skills.”

Once someone has applied to join the scheme, questionnaires and interviews lead to matching being done, first on paper and then through face-to-face meetings. Homesharers also receive a Criminal Records Bureau check. “We look at what the householder wants and match it to someone’s skills. The first pointers are gender, location and any personal experience, for example whether they have been a carer or done any relevant voluntary work,” says Whitehead.

After meeting and deciding to go ahead, both parties agree on the type of support and the number of hours per week. Homeshare co-ordinator Cathy Mandaza then speaks to both parties every month for the first three months and then on a quarterly basis to check that they are happy and that the arrangement is meeting their expectations. So far only about 5% of arrangements have broken down, due to escalating support needs rather than personality clashes.

Whitehead sees the biggest obstacle to more schemes being set up as a misconception of what Homeshare is among councils.

“They perceive it to be a service that needs to be commissioned and paid for. It isn’t, it is a micro-service with two people making the arrangements that we broker.”

Homeshare also fits into the Big Society and, says Fox, “is a cost-effective way of providing early and preventive support”.

“Investing in Homeshare makes a lot of sense,” he says.

‘It’s a great experience for working as a social worker ‘

A few years ago after a period of ill health, 89-year-old Cilly Haar was considering residential care until she heard about the Homeshare scheme run by Crossroads Care Central & North London. As she and her husband had taken in students for 22 years, Haar was comfortable with the idea of sharing her home. Since then she has had several homesharers and the latest is Joanna Nabrzyska, who has been living with her for about nine months.

“I’m still fairly independent,” says Haar, “but I wanted some company and help with the cooking”.

Nabrzyska discovered the scheme when she was looking for somewhere to live on the internet. In her final year of a Master’s degree in social work at Brunel University, her budget is limited. After filling in a questionnaire listing her interests, previous experience and expectations of the scheme she was matched with Haar and decided at their first meeting that she would like to live with her.

The feeling was mutual, says Haar: “I had a very favourable impression. We got on really well and have a shared interest in music and ballet and talking about politics and topical events. It all went very smoothly from the start.”

For Nabrzyska, it is a great option financially. “I also find it really rewarding living with someone I like, especially in London which can be quite an anonymous place,” she says. “It is a great experience for working as a social worker, and it is a lovely life experience.”

The arrangement they have is that Nabrzyska offers 10 hours of identified help per week. “It is mainly sharing the cooking and eating together several times a week. Then we watch the TV, play games or talk. It is about companionship and the security of having someone in the house in case of an emergency.”

Haar is sure that Nabrzyska spends more than the allotted time with her: “Joanna doesn’t look at the clock and I’m sure she gives me more than 10 hours.”


For more information on Crossroads Care’s Homeshare scheme phone 020 7485 7416.

More information and good practice guide on Homeshare

This article is published in the 24 February 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “What can homesharing achieve?”

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