HAVING a roof over your head is a fundamental necessity and hardly a day goes by when we are not bombarded with news and statistics about our housing crisis.

The message is being fired at us from all angles – politicians, homeless charities, developers, house builders’ groups and councils.

In fact it is a matter of simple maths. Demand for homes – particularly affordable homes – is outstripping supply and the current target for construction in England alone is 200,000 homes a year.

And this month Malvern Hills District planning committee members have approved an outline planning application for a massive residential development consisting of around 2,200 homes on the southern and eastern edge of Worcester.

But house and flat share website www.SpareRoom.co.uk says there is another way of relieving the housing crisis – by encouraging more people to rent a room or the traditional practice of taking in a lodger.

It says if just three per cent of the 19 million empty bedrooms in England’s owner-occupied properties were let out, a population the size of Liverpool would have a new home without laying a single brick. This would give 570,000 people a bedroom without the need to build a single new home.

The Government’s Rent a Room Scheme allows home owners to earn £7,500 a year tax free by renting out their spare bedroom and, apart from providing a roof over people’s heads, it also helps support some home owners who otherwise would be unable to afford their mortgage.

SpareRoom says while the country struggles to meet its house-building target, homeowners are sitting on 19 million empty bedrooms in England alone.

The tax-free threshold for renting a room was fixed at £4,250 for 24 years until 2016 when it was raised to the current figure of £7,500. And it means home owners don’t even have to fill out a tax return if the annual rent is under the threshold.

SpareRoom says those using their spare rooms for a lodger are reaping the benefits. Its research shows 14 per cent of British homeowners renting a room admit they couldn’t pay their mortgage without a lodger and a further 33 per cent would struggle.

But there are plenty of incentives to rent out a spare room that aren’t simply financial. Nearly half (47 per cent) of respondents said the company was a definite benefit, while 15 per cent said they felt safer having someone else in the house and eight per cent pointed to meeting new people as a bonus.

Apart from helping pay the mortgage and regular bills, 16 per cent of respondents said that having a lodger means they can also help their children or grandchildren with university or housing costs, and 23 per cent said they use the income for home improvements.

Matt Hutchinson, Communications Director at SpareRoom, said: “Building the equivalent of Liverpool to tackle the UK’s housing crisis sounds like an impossible task. But most people don’t realise that an unoccupied city already exists, and it’s in the nation’s spare rooms.

“The Government’s Rent A Room scheme is a great incentive to homeowners and we fought for six and a half years to help make taking in a lodger more appealing than ever. But the real benefit is to the wider renting community. Creating a city’s worth of extra supply, spread out across the country, means more choice, and therefore cheaper rents, for everyone.

“If we’re not building enough new houses, we must make better use of the ones we have. Homeowners with an unoccupied bedroom are sitting on a huge number of empty rooms. Not all of them will want to take in lodgers, but three per cent seems like an achievable target to aim for.”

To find out more about renting out a room in your home visit https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home/the-rent-a-room-scheme

In the Spring Budget last March Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced that the Government would consult on proposals to redesign the Rent A Room tax relief so it is better targeted to support longer-term lettings. This is partly because it can currently be used by people operating Airb&b, which is not designed to provide long-term accommodation.

Worcester MP Robin Walker welcomed the idea of more people renting out a spare room to provide longer-term accommodation and relieve some pressure on the need for more houses, but he said it wasn’t the whole solution and would not be right for everyone.

“I think it is something that can play a part in meeting the affordable accommodation need. It is only suitable for certain people and some do not like the idea of sharing their home with a stranger,” he said.

He added he had rented out a room of a house himself about 15 years ago because it was the only way he could afford the mortgage.

“When I was first working in London, I clubbed together with a friend to buy a house and we rented a room so we could pay the mortgage. I know it can work. It can make the difference from being able to afford a mortgage or not.

“It is a good thing for people to consider if they are in the right circumstances but it is not the only solution. It can make a real contribution on relieving the housing crisis but a lot of people have forgotten the Rent A Room scheme.

“It stands alongside the whole campaign around empty homes and bringing them back into use.”

Mr Walker also pointed out that an initiative to match students at the University of Worcester with an older person with a spare room started more than a year ago.

Called Inter Generations Worcester, it is run by Vestia Community Trust and the University of Worcester and is a home-sharing scheme providing affordable, comfortable accommodation within easy access of the university for the student and the security of having someone close by and help around the home, as well as a contribution towards household bills and the opportunity to learn new skills, such as using computers and the internet for the householder.

For more information visit https://www.vestia.org.uk/intergen/ or call 01562 733 133.