In May 2023 we launched our 6-bedroom property in Northampton.
Our approach is unique as it is a hybrid between a hostel or supported living accommodation and a standard Household of Multiple Occupation (HMO). The residents live in the property, sharing duties and responsibilities, essentially forming a single household. However, they volunteer to abide by the terms of the license agreement, which is more typical of a hostel.
During our very early testing, we have already supported 5 prison leavers. These were residents who would have only received short-term support after prison or were at risk of homelessness.
We keep our rent in line with the local housing allowance and assist the residents to claim their benefits. In Northampton they receive £89.50pw towards their rent and Own Merit charges a flat monthly service fee of £110. Whilst the residents are unemployed and if they comply with the house rules and complete their weekly tasks, they are able to claim a £20 weekly discount.
Our model was developed with the support of HMP Five Wells. We worked with a prisoner-led council to understand the challenges people face when they leave prison. Together, we worked through a model that they felt would best support them on release. Together we agreed a set of rules that everyone agreed to. This social prescribing approach has meant the residents have directly influenced their environment.
When in the house, this socially prescribed approach continues. Weekly house meetings are an opportunity to raise any issues, address any potential conflict or understand where someone may need a little help or support. There is also an opportunity to challenge, change or adjust the rules, and if the suggested changes are reasonable, we incorporate them.
The power of this approach cannot be underestimated. It allows the residents agency and it means the community, through a facilitated democracy, is the authority.
Where appropriate, Own Merit encourages the rebuilding of family connections and supports with planning and transport.
Everyone is supported, not only by Darryn and Steve, but also by each other. The struggles experienced by the residents will be best understood by other residents, who will likely have experienced the same challenges. This peer-support approach means we are providing a unique 24/7 supportive living model.
The aim is for each resident to be able to become self-sustaining. At Own Merit we work with local employers and organisations to assist the residents into training or employment.
In the existing supported living model residents are advised that they should not get a job. If they gain employment the funding for their accommodation, paid by the local authority, falls away and this cost is passed directly on to the individual (up to £360 per week). The residents face an impossible situation, a poverty trap, where they are met with the impossible choice of continued state dependency or gaining employment and facing homelessness.
At Own Merit we think this is absurd and counterproductive. If our residents gain employment, we do not increase their rent. We believe people should earn more if they work, so that they are incentivised to do so.
To date we have supported two residents into work, one into volunteering and another is in full-time education.