My SO Home: No. 3

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Jennie Smith*

“Shared owners shouldn’t be prohibited from subletting. Otherwise, to me, you are just a hostage in one city.”

My gripe is that the subletting policy needs to be relaxed – massively. I think once you have been in a shared ownership property for, say, 7 years you should be able to sublet it for 2-3 years if something in your life demands it, and you shouldn’t be prohibited from doing it. Otherwise, to me, you are just a hostage in one city.

With COVID and cladding people don’t know if their job is secure or whether their home is safe. But nobody is going to sell without first testing out they can make a viable life in another part of the country, and that takes time to work out.

I understand all the arguments about shared ownership being funded by public money, but the issue could easily be mitigated by capping how much rent shared owners can charge if they sublet.

When I bought my 30% share 14 years ago from a small housing association, the agent told me they wouldn’t have a problem with me subletting for a year if I wanted to work away. The block was later taken over by a larger housing association, whose policy became ‘only in extreme circumstances’. After the credit crunch, I couldn’t get a job in London and ended up finding one on the south coast with a salary of only £17K per year. It was better than nothing. But it was too far to commute every day (I couldn’t afford to travel on the fast train so my journey was around 3 hours door-to-door). Obviously, I couldn’t afford to keep my flat empty in London and rent Monday to Friday on the south coast. But when I asked my housing association about the possibility of subletting my flat they weren’t interested.

At that time my father was terminally ill. It was a complicated situation but, in a nutshell, I sent an email to my housing association where I tried to explain that I needed some flexibility with my flat. They just sent back a generic response – saying they only sublet in exceptional circumstances – which completely let me down. How much more exceptional could my circumstances have been? After that I just felt like the whole policy was not instrumental to living a life.

I considered selling my flat, but the sums didn’t add up. Taking into account all the costs of selling a 30% share, I’d have walked away with zero.

I was left with no choice but to commute between London, the south coast, and my father’s home in the north of England. I left my job on the south coast after 9 months, and got a job closer to London. My father passed away shortly afterwards.

*Name has been changed.

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