Does business have a responsibility to support its employees with housing?

This blog was originally published as part of the The Great Business Debate. Visit the website to see the original post and join the debate.

The days of employers building houses for their workforce are long gone. Purpose built developments, such as George Cadbury’s Bourneville, are consigned to the past. But today, employees need support from their employers with housing more than ever.

We are in the midst of a housing crisis. The repeated failure of governments to build enough homes has resulted in a severe shortage. This affects everyone.

House prices have grown by over 60% in the last 10 years, whilst average wages have stayed the same. The British workforce is under pressure, whether they are being priced out of homeownership, facing relentless rent increases or amongst the 1.5 million waiting for a social home.

The crisis cannot be ignored by business. Responsible employers take employee welfare seriously. They also respond to anything that may impact profitability.

Many companies are concerned about this; one third of firms in London believe that a lack of affordable housing local to their place of work is affecting employee productivity, while CBI members have said that the access to and the cost of housing has had a negative impact on recruitment. But apart from raising wages, what can they do to act?

Small practical initiatives can assist employees both financially and emotionally.

Shelter has pioneered a rental deposit loan scheme, which gives staff access to an interest free loan to pay for their tenancy deposit. This has since been taken up by the Co-operative Group and a number of other businesses.

Legal & General have worked with Shelter to run a ‘housing health check’ on their workforce. Staff were surveyed on their housing situation, and L&G took steps to address the employee concerns that were uncovered.

There are also opportunities for businesses to have a wider impact beyond their workforce, by becoming advocates for more affordable and better housing.

KPMG teamed up with Shelter to write a landmark report; ‘Building The Homes That We Need.’ This sets out how to the deliver the 250,000 homes the country needs to build each year. It has had a real impact on pushing house-building up politician’s agenda.

British Gas has a five year Better homes for Britain partnership with Shelter, to improve the condition of one million privately rented homes. They’ve committed to providing advice & practical help, and influencing policy to raise standards. British Gas have also been funding Shelter advisors, who provide face-to-face debt and energy efficiency advice to people struggling to pay their energy bills.

Nationwide have been supporting Shelter with fundraising, backing services & influencing policy change. They are aiming to support 16,000 households into a home to call their own, through funding our Birmingham Family Support Service. In addition, The Mortgage Works [1] has helped renters, by becoming the first buy-to-let lender to allow borrowers to offer tenants the option of a longer term contract.

We may not be entering another golden age of employer built homes, but there are plenty of other ways that business can support staff with housing. This may be direct support, broader practical action or wider advocacy of long term solutions to the housing crisis.

Businesses are highly influential in the UK. But this also comes with great responsibility. There is a real opportunity for business to lead the way out of the housing crisis, benefiting their employees and the economy in the process.

[1] Nationwide’s Buy to Let arm of the business