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Generational Bed Blocking

05 December 2017 - Rosemary French OBE

I am a baby boomer. According to Wiki, I am ‘one of a group of the wealthiest and most active which received peak levels of income’. My grant paid me to go to university and I bought my first flat at age 24 benefitting from MIRAS mortgage relief. Admittedly, the interest rate was huge at 15% and to pay it, I had to work several nights in our local pub and take in a lodger.

Now, like most of the Baby Boomer generation, I now live as a couple in a house much too large for us.  Over the past few weeks I have been pondering about lodgers while running our Bed and Breakfast.  My husband and I started the B&B not in some coastal resort but in the heart of Surrey. Our town has one super hotel but not nearly enough rooms for the demand so I thought, why not rent out some of our unused bedrooms to visitors.  I had also read about the success of Air BnB and meeting new people appealed to me.

So, we started a few years ago and have really built up the three-room business.  Surprisingly the rooms have almost wholly been taken up by grandparents visiting their children or vice versa.   Grandparents cannot stay with their children because their homes are too small and grown up children want rooms because their grandparents are living in retirement villages or apartments with the same problem. 

And, then, there are the lodgers.  We always seem to have one even though this is supposed to be a one or two night stay sort of place.  I had one 82-year-old last year who needed to stay for three months because she had sold her home only to learn that her new retirement flat would not be ready. In a previous world her family would have put her up but they already had three adult children in their home, unable to get on any housing ladder.  A case of younger generational bed blocking, perhaps?

Or the Chinese PHD chap who lodged for four weeks because he could not find an affordable long term room to rent. It is far easier if you are a couple of adults because rental landlords make much more money out of two in one room.  I took him to look at one room which was a cupboard with no window.  I just could not believe it and was so ashamed.   Or the three Greek medical physics post grads who stayed for a month instead of the planned week.  They had found it so hard to find accommodation either affordable or near the university.  Again, I was ashamed because they all intend to work in the NHS which they admire so much.  We need them and yet do not make them welcome as they train.

I do not pretend that what we do is anything more than a lifestyle business where we both enjoy sharing our home with the loveliest of people.  But it has struck me that there must be so many Baby Boomers like me who have the extra accommodation who could help a huge variety of interesting guests. Or what about the elderly and infirm who could share their large home with a younger person who needs a room and who would be able to look out for him or her should they need help.   The tax man has even encouraged us with rent-a-room tax relief.  There must be many innovative ways to get the UK out of this young person housing crisis and this might be one.

First published in the South East Business Magazine, October 2017


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