Recently renovated houses in East Devon
Recently renovated houses in East Devon

The results are in on a three-year research project looking at people's homes and wellbeing thanks to the help of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) housing department.

More than 3,000 individuals, both private and council tenants, took part in a survey and 58 people were interviewed face-to-face as part of the joint initiative, with housing association LiveWest and the University of Birmingham.

The results of the project found the security and affordability of social/council homes helped to improve people’s health and overall well-being, complemented by the council’s wrap-around support for example through providing financial advice.

Other key findings were:

  • Having a good home matters to overall life satisfaction and happiness.
  • Social housing has a positive impact on all aspects of wellbeing, reducing anxiety, particularly for those facing mental health challenges.
  • People in social housing were less likely to struggle financially and were more likely to say they were satisfied with their life, compared to private renters.
  • Whilst the quality of home was important to respondents, long-term security and affordability were the top reasons respondents wanted to stay or move from their home.
  • Satisfaction with the local area in which a home is situated was associated with higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction, and lower levels of anxiety.
  • Half of all of the people surveyed said they were struggling to make ends meet, making them more likely to be anxious and less likely to be happy or satisfied with their life.
  • Residents were more likely to experience poor mental health if they were under 65 years old, were living alone or with non-dependent children or felt like their home affected their wellbeing in a negative way.
  • Affordability is a major strain on households with almost half of respondents saying this was an important reason why they stayed in their current home or needed to move. Those that had higher housing costs also showed higher anxiety levels.

Natalie Brown, EDDC’s information and analysis officer, said:

"Often we focus on landlord satisfaction surveys but this time we wanted to put the tenants at the heart of this survey and to really understand the relationship between wellbeing, the home and the landlord. Only by understanding all these parts can we really begin to look at ways to best improve our services for our tenants."

“Working with an expert research team and a housing association was important for us to get the best insight possible into what is going on for people living in different tenures across East Devon. Above all else I think this research has reminded us what a fundamental part of someone’s life a home is, as well as the importance of our role as a landlord and making sure we get this right, especially as we enter a particularly financially challenging time for many people across the district."

How the council is using the results:

  • EDDC has a number of mental health initiatives, being led by a newly appointed mental health specialist who will also play a big part in training council housing officers to give additional support to residents.
  • The council’s financial resilience team will continue to help residents struggling with the cost of living – click here for more information.
  • Council officers ran Exeter Community Energy sessions in community centres across East Devon, helping residents to make their homes more energy efficient and save money.
  • The private sector housing team and homelessness team have been working with private residents living in poor standards of housing.
  • Reviewing its decisions on what planned works and upgrades need to be done on its housing stock, not only considering the condition of the properties, but also the suitability which impact tenant’s needs and wellbeing.
  • The results of the study have made EDDC even more acutely aware of the impact the cost-of-living crisis has on its tenants.

EDDC is asking tenants to complete a survey, with a deadline of 31 March, for their direct experience of the impact of the cost of living crisis on their lives and their satisfaction with the housing service. This survey will inform us on how we can support tenants further.

Case Study 1: Housed following homelessness and sleeping rough – Exmouth

‘A’ has a history of drug addiction, dealing, sleeping rough and begging, sometimes for several years at a time.

Their only solace was their beloved, four-legged, best friend – a dog who had given them security and companionship, on the streets, when all felt lost.

When a friend took A in to the EDDC housing office, the pair’s life finally began to change for the better – allowing them to finally find a stable home, in social housing.

Before this, A felt unable to approach the council and didn’t think they could be helped.

Following some bad experiences in private rented housing living in sub-standard properties, A struggled finding anywhere that would accept dogs.

Not having an address also made it hard to do anything official like claiming benefits or finding a job. There wasn’t much to do during the day, and A tended to rely on individuals’ kindness rather than getting help from support services.

Sleeping rough also made it hard to eat healthy food, keep warm and dry, and maintain good personal hygiene – making A feel self-conscious, judged and like they had lost any sense of personal dignity.

Although A had a great GP, they did not approach any mental health services – after already having bad experiences.

A, who moved into a flat in Exmouth – which also allowed them to get treatment for a longstanding health problem, said:

"Getting a flat has made such a difference to my life, it’s made a huge difference.

"I now feel safe, you know, go home, lock the door, if I don’t want to answer the door if someone knocks, I don’t have to, but I generally do because I feel safe there."

Case Study 2: Housed after being served notice from private rented housing – Honiton

‘B’ grew up in Exeter and lived in private rented housing from the age of 20. She had two children with her partner and was settled in their home for six years until their landlord gave notice that the property was being sold.

They borrowed money to rent another house but, after a while, they were told that house was also being sold. They approached EDDC directly, feeling they couldn’t afford to rent privately and they were worried about the insecurity of doing so.

Luckily EDDC was able to find the family a council home, and were able to place them in temporary accommodations while the property was being readied.

The family found it difficult to stay in one room even on a temporary basis, but knowing they would soon be able to move into a house shortly after gave them something to look forward to.

Where possible, EDDC’s housing team try their hardest to make all transitions as smooth as possible – making sure to try and allow children to stay in the same school, and finding a place where they can have their own home.

An EDDC spokesperson said:

"The security of living in a house where families know they can stay is very important. The wellbeing of the children is helped by having a stable home. Since this family moved we have been pleased to hear how well they have been doing."