For a start, there are more people in rented accommodation who do jobs that can’t be done at home, but for those that can there are often restrictions.

For those lucky enough to be in a position to do their jobs from home there are some real advantages. Cutting out long commutes and the longer hours means that on the whole home working makes people happier and less stressed. It gives them more time for family, and for those other activities that people find difficult or reluctant to fit in, especially when they need to be in an office 9 to 5 and have to get permission – doctors appointments, exercise, hairdressers etc. Your life is not your own, so working flexibly is like a liberation.

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During the pandemic the majority of white collar workers, office workers, IT workers, financial services staff, civil servants and even some teachers, have the luxury of homeworking. But if you take the blue collar army only around 20 per cent can do their work at home – these have been the real heros of the pandemic, the train, bus and taxi drivers, NHS workers, some teachers, pharmacists, refuse collectors, supermarket staff etc., they’ve kept the country running.

But for those lucky enough to be working from home many of those in rental accommodation are presented with some real challenges. For a start, rental agreements often prevent or discourage homeworking and space is often a real issue. Few rental properties are configured for separate office space, so through Covid lockdown, with children and perhaps pets in the home, its impossible for tenants to work professionally, that is in a noise free and stress free environment where phone calls demand a silent background.

A recent Guardian article bemoans the fact that modern homes are just not designed for home working and suggests the need to create what the article calls “workhomes”. And it suggests tenancy agreements in public and private sector housing which allow or do not discourage home-based work. Unfortunately, with the minimal space availability in a modern home, few of these house situations are suited to the space and privacy requirements for home working, small flats are even worse.

The self employed account for up to one-third of the workforce living in rental accommodation and many of these are barred from working from home. Many self employed people could happily work from home if space allowed, and if landlords were to condone it. Childminders, hairdressers, IT workers, carpenters and furniture makers, online store entrepreneurs, beauty therapists, cake makers, caterers and curtain makers, ironers and plumbers etc., could all benefit from this.

One sticking point has been the Landlord & Tenant Act 1954, the Act which covers business tenancies and gives security of tenure for anyone who operates a business under a lease in any business premsie. Therefore virtually all residential tenancies ban tenants from operating a home business.

However, there’s a little known solution available and has been for some time, when landlords are willing to cooperate – the Home Business Tenancy. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 (SBEEA 2015), came into force on 1 October 2015 and amended the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 by excluding home business tenancies from the security of tenure provisions contained in Part II of the LTA 1954 (section 43ZA, LTA 1954).

To qualify the tenancy must be a special home business tenancy provided by the landlord, it must also be for a residential home which is let as a separate dwelling to one or more individuals. The tenancy must also:

  • require at least one of those individuals to occupy the dwelling-house as a home;
  • permit a home business (a business of a kind which might reasonably be carried on at a home) to be carried on at the dwelling-house, or for the landlord to consent to a home business being carried on; and
  • not permit a business other than a home business to be carried on.

This exclusion to the 1954 Act will not apply if:

  • the tenancy was granted before 1 October 2015; or
  • the tenancy was granted on or after 1 October 2015 pursuant to a contract made before that date; or
  • the tenancy has arisen by operation of any statute or law at the end of a tenancy granted before 1 October 2015 or pursuant to a contract made before that date.

As we move forward, with Covid perhaps being with us for the foreseeable future, it may be time to recognise that building design and attitudes to working from home may need to change. Both private and social rented housing may need in future to include enough work space.

A good internet supply to every home is virtually a necessity these days and it may in future be legally defined as a utility, just lake water and electricity – an entitlement for everyone. The TUC is calling for a universal right to flexible working, as is the case in Finland, and there may in that case be a need for a relaxation of the “Bedroon Tax” for social tenants if they are to be given the same opportunities as many privately owned households.

With a looming dramatic rise in unemployment on the horizon, and planned deregulation of the planning laws, flexibility for as many to participate in the workforce as possible should be a top government priority.

Frances Holliss, emeritus reader in architecture at London Metropolitan University, and a member of its Workhome Project, writing in The Guardian newspaper says:

“A strategic government response to the mass unemployment of up to 5 million people predicted in the UK in the coming years (many of whom will be social tenants), would be to allow them to trade from home. Every scrap of space that could contribute to providing social tenants with space to work from, or close to, home would need to be identified and transformed.

“Thirteen in every 1,000 social homes are empty and many are in buildings that can be difficult to use, for example, one housing organisation had a disused care home that could provide workspace for local social tenants. In addition, many housing estates include a community centre that could provide co-working areas and makerspaces for homeworkers. Where buildings are adaptable, programmes of shed-building, loft conversions and micro-extensions could be initiated. And council estate car parks in cities (which are likely to become increasingly empty) could provide space for dozens of tiny affordable trading or workshop pods, like the prizewinning examples at Gillett Square in east London.

“We also need to fundamentally rethink new housing as flexible places that support the interweaving of home and workspace. If the will was there, funding for the small-scale local interventions needed to create a nation of affordable “workhomes” would not be hard to find. Social landlords are in an ideal position to mobilise to deliver new ideal homes and workspaces.”

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