Coronavirus: NHS workers offered free accommodation

By Paul Lynch and Anna Khoo
BBC Shared Data Unit

  • Published
BSImage source, Bobby Singh
Image caption,
Estate agent Bobby Singh is asking landlords to offer properties to NHS staff for free

Thousands of landlords are offering homes to NHS workers for free following reports that some face eviction.

Swathes of UK hospital employees have been forced to rent properties to relocate or isolate from their families.

Some are facing eviction because landlords have deemed them an infection risk.

But in the past week, sites have sprung up to manage the number of property owners now offering free accommodation.

Merilee Karr, a co-founder of the Short Term Accommodation Association, set up NHS Homes a fortnight ago.

The site aims to put health staff in touch with landlords willing to offer properties for free or next to nothing.

Mrs Karr, who also runs the luxury letting service Under the Doormat, said the the short-term letting market was down by 90 per cent.

As a result, many in the industry had empty properties and were willing to help out.

About 400 rooms are now listed through NHS Homes, worth a combined total of £1.2m in rent a month.

She said: "Our sector is in lockdown and there's no way of knowing how long so we thought, let's put our spaces to good use.

"There's no better way to do that than helping the people who are going to be helping us through this crisis."

Image source, Kay Morgan
Image caption,
Kay Morgan is charging NHS staff just £5 a day.

Among the landlords, Kay Morgan, from Ayrshire, has offered to rent her flat in Prestwick town centre out to all frontline staff for £5 a day.

She had been making between £50 and £150 a night through various booking sites.

"As a family we have well and truly used up our NHS quota," the 46-year-old said. "As the virus started, ping went my phone and all the cancellations came in.

"I thought, rather than it sit empty, I can help somebody."

She said the opportunity would allow staff members to take on extra shifts, knowing they had a place to stay away from their families.

Image source, Kendra Smith
Image caption,
Simon Bell, whose partner John is a doctor, rents out his London home while in Sri Lanka

Elsewhere, Simon Bell, 51, is lending his home in Brixton, south London, to an NHS worker he has never met.

He and his partner run a social enterprise in Sri Lanka and for the past eight years, Mr Bell has spent half his time there and rented out their London home while they are away.

His partner John trained as a doctor in the US and has just flown out to help with medical needs in Seattle.

"We were lucky enough to be here when it all started going really crazy. Sri Lanka is in lockdown too and taking precautions, but so far it's not too bad," he said.

"It just felt like some way of being able to help when we're so far away and so many people are suffering so much worse. It was a no-brainer, a brilliant idea."

The site is aiming to house 100,000 health workers through short-term lets. More than 1,500 landlords hosts signed up in the first two days.

Director of public policy Patrick Robinson said: "The hosts who are offering accommodation through this initiative are real people, they can see what's happening to their friends, neighbours and their community and want to do everything they can to help."

Image source, AirBnB
Image caption,
Patrick Robinson, director of policy at AirBnB, says hosts are willing to help during the crisis.

Scores of private landlords and local estate agents across the UK are also joining the effort.

Bobby Singh, from Birmingham estate agents Love Your Postcode, contacted its clients to ask if they would offer empty properties for local NHS staff.

"In the last eight days we've had about 50 people moving into properties, quite a few of them co-shared by doctors and paramedics," the 39-year-old said.

Mr Singh said the main reason staff needed accommodation close to their work was "to prevent the virus from spreading to their loved ones".

Others have been redeployed at hospitals miles away from their home.

But, he added other front line staff had been asked to leave their existing accommodation because of fears they may carry the virus, similar to the case of Joseph Alsousou, a doctor from The Wirral.

Image source, Joseph Alsousou
Image caption,
Doctor Joseph Alsousou was evicted from his flat due to fears he also had the virus.

The 43-year-old surgeon had been renting a room at a house in Oxford on weekdays but was asked to leave in March because his landlord was worried about contracting Covid-19.

Dr Alsousou has now set up Rooms4NHS, which will put medics in touch with landlords offering cheap or free properties.

"The response nationally has been amazing," he said. "There are people offering rooms, whole flats, cottages and even their own residence.

"It has really touched me how people are behind the NHS."

In London, many NHS staff are renting places in the centre of the capital to avoid using public transport.

Anaesthetist John Thornton, 48, is staying in a flat offered to him through the NHS Homes scheme.

The apartment is six minutes from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where he works - allowing him to avoid the exposure and exhaustion of a commute.

"It's a fantastic gesture on their part and very helpful," he said. "If one of your family gets sick, you can avoid them and not isolate for a week or two weeks."

Image caption,
Advice on how to slow the spread of the virus

Additional reporting: Rob England, BBC News

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