Miss, where's my false teeth?

You can't afford to live near your school, but the old lady down the road is offering you her spare room. All for a monthly rent of pound;59 plus a few chores. Jill Parkin explains

Now that you've got the job, how about help with living costs? Most young teachers in areas of high-price housing think about sharing - perhaps with a fellow professional, someone who is young and single.

But there's another sort of housemate on offer: elderly people who need companionship and have rooms to spare in their homes. It's an idea that is gaining ground among keyworkers who can't afford to buy homes near their jobs.

Homeshare, a London and Oxford charity, runs a housing barter service that matches homeowners with homesharers. It is attracting young teachers, especially those from overseas.

The idea is that older people who need help to stay in their own homes offer rooms and shared use of facilities in return for about 10 hours' care and support a week. It's a way of providing low-cost support to the elderly that also benefits their carers.

Homeshare, founded in 1993, charges the young lodgers pound;59 a month and homeowners pound;77. It has 90 places available.

"It's a good system," says Dorothy Seymour, who runs the central London Homeshare office. "The householder receives help with household tasks and has someone in the house at night, while the homesharer gets accommodation.

"It's a great comfort to know that there's someone in the house at night, that someone is coming home and will be there for a chat and to make a meal."

Homeowners must be 50 or older, but in practice most are in their eighties or nineties. The lodgers must be at least 23 and working or studying during the day. The scheme does not accept people working unsocial hours, and the vast majority of places are for single people. They must also make a commitment to stay for at least six months.

Sharers have one day off a week, but must be home at night, apart from one weekend a month when they can stay with friends. The 10 hours' help should be spread across the weekdays with a little at the weekend. Typically, the duties include offering companionship plus some cooking, light cleaning, laundry and shopping.

Homesharers are chosen to suit the householder's needs, and training is given in first aid and aspects of ageing including dementia.

"There's intensive support to householder and homesharer during the first month," says Dorothy Seymour, "After that there are routine inquiries and visits and we're always there at the end of the phone."

But there other ways around the cost of housing. If you're a young teacher tied to an area of expensive housing, the pound;250 million starter home initiative announced last year is worth exploring.

The initiative is run by the Housing Corporation, the government agency which funds and regulates housing associations. It aims to provide about 10,000 homes for keyworkers, including police officers, nurses and teachers. Priority is likely to be given to teachers of shortage subjects.

The scheme offers equity loans, interest-free loans and shared ownership deals to help people buy housing near their jobs. And the first deals have already gone through.

Shared ownership is part-ownpart-rent. Teachers could buy a quarter or half share of a house and be able to buy further shares - at the going rate - at a later date.

Equity loans allow teachers a lump sum towards a house, repayable at the same percentage on resale instead of in monthly payments.

The starter home initiative, which includes new housing, is managed by local housing associations, known as registered social landlords. Other such landlords include trusts, co-operatives and companies.

There are more than 2,000 housing associations in England, managing some 1.5 million homes. These organisations are non-profitmaking, so surplus money is ploughed back into housing.

Teachers can also use the homebuy scheme which helps people on low incomes to buy homes on the open market. And there is a general shared ownership scheme, not linked to the starter home initiative. On top of that, there is a right-to-acquire scheme and a voluntary-purchase scheme: tenants can buy properties they have been renting, sometimes at discounted prices.

Ryan Jones, 24, is a typical case of a teacher who was nearly lost to the profession because of high prices. He teaches PE at Chalvedon school in Basildon, Essex, but can only afford to live there thanks to starter home funds.

"I spent the last two summers playing rugby in Colorado in the States," says Mr Jones, who was living in his parents' house, close to the school. "House prices here are so impossible that I'd thought about living out there and teaching in an American school. Then I read something about the SHI."

His two-bedroom mid-terrace is worth pound;75,000. He is buying an 80 per cent share; the remainder is funded by Moat Housing Group, a source of starter home money.

After a while, he will be able to buy the 20 per cent if he wants, or simply pay it back upon re-sale.

"My house is close to the school but still outside the catchment area, which gives me some privacy," he says. "I'd never have been able to do it without the scheme."

Home helps

* Homeshare scheme Tel: 020 7376 4558 www.homeshare.org

* Housing Corporation Tel: 0207-393 2000 www.housingcorp.gov.uk

* Dept of Transport Local Government and the Regions Tel: 020 7944 3000 www.housing.dtlr.gov.uk

* The starter home initiative aims to help 2,815 teachers in London Berkshire, Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Kent, Sussex Surrey; Cambridgeshire; Hertfordshire; Bedford; Essex; and the South-west

* Moat Housing Group has pound;8 million ringfenced to house 334 teachers in Essex, Kent and Sussex: www.moat.co.uk

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