Summary of the research

The Holding on to Home study is exploring tenancy sustainment in social housing. It pays particular attention to identifying the causes of rent arrears, as this is the main reason why tenancies fail. This is an under-researched issue, which is problematic because tenants are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their rent, as new drivers of rents arrears emerge, and existing ones ‘play-out’, differently. This is because the context within which tenants pay their rent has changed significantly in recent years and, critically, is continuing to change. Key developments include: the continued roll-out of the welfare reform, Universal Credit, and the impact of other reforms ‘biting’; the COVID-19 pandemic and the lifting of temporary measures designed to mitigate its impact (furlough, the Universal Credit payment uplift, and the suspension on evictions); and, the cost of living crisis.

By exploring the behaviours and experiences of tenants and landlords, the research will provide evidence and guidance which will improve landlords’ tenancy sustainment policies and practices, making it easier for tenants to pay their rent and fewer tenancies failing. The research is mixed-methods, comprising: a tenant survey; in-depth interviews with tenants and ‘stakeholders’; a tenant diary-keeping exercise; conversation analysis of landlord/ tenant communications; documentary/ secondary data analysis; and, rent account analysis. Data collection is taking place in four case study landlords in England:

  • Southern Housing, a housing association with 77,000 properties in London, the South-east, the Midlands and the Isle of Wight, which was formed in December 2022 with the merger of Optivo and the Southern Housing Group.
  • whg (Walsall Housing Group), a Large Scale Voluntary Transfer housing association with 21,000 properties in the Midlands.
  • East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which has 11,000 properties in East Yorkshire
  • Stockport Homes, an Arm’s Length Management Organisation with 12,000 properties in Greater Manchester

A Tenant Steering Group will oversee all aspects of the research, and the study will also be guided by a Policy and Practice Advisory Group. The study is funded by the independent charity, the Nuffield Foundation, through the welfare domain of its Research, Development and Analysis Fund.

The study team

The Holding on to Home study is a collaboration between Sheffield Hallam University, where the core research team are based, Qa Researchthe Chartered Institute of HousingHQN (Housing Quality Network), and Andrew Burdett Design.

Core team

Paul Hickman

I have been carrying out research into the lived experiences of social housing tenants for an awfully long time, now – more than 30 years! I am leading the study and am based at Sheffield Hallam University. I hope our research will improve the lives of social housing tenants by making it easier for them hold on to their homes, at a time when their lives are becoming even challenging.


Peter Thomas

I have been carrying out quantitative and qualitative welfare research for over a decade. I am leading the tenant survey questionnaire section of the study and am based at Sheffield Hallam University. I hope our research will provide a deeper understanding of the contemporary challenges faced by social housing tenants and offer effective guidance beneficial to landlords and their tenants.

Maddy Arden

I have been researching the factors affecting behaviour and how to change behaviours for more than 20 years. I am leading the behavioural science aspects of the study and am based at Sheffield Hallam University. I hope that by applying behavioural science we can establish the most effective policies and practices for landlords so that social housing tenants can hold on to their homes.

Tony Manzi

I am an Emeritus Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University. I have been involved in teaching and research on the social housing sector for over 30 years. I will be involved in a number of activities in the study including data collection/ analysis and report writing. My aspiration for the research is to inform landlords about good practice in tenancy sustainment and increase understanding of the challenges faced by social housing residents.

Laura Kilby

My expertise is in analysing spoken and written communication, which includes researching conversations between members of the public and professionals. My role in this research is to explore how landlords and tenants communicate, both in their spoken interactions and via written communications. My hope is that our research will promote positive and productive communications between tenants and landlords.

Ian Wilson

My interests lie in research and evaluation of the effects of policy, interventions and events on people and places. I am leading the quantitative aspects of the study and am based at Sheffield Hallam University. I hope our research will illuminate the lived experience of social housing tenants through these challenging times and support the development of responses to make it easier for them to hold onto their homes.

Martin Lamb

I am a researcher in psychology, looking at how we can help people perform positive behaviours that are going to benefit them. My role in this project is to help with data collection and will be interviewing participants. I hope our research can support people to live more comfortable lives, not having to worry about losing their homes.  

Kesia Reeve

I am a researcher at Sheffield Hallam University and I have been researching housing issues for over 20 years. I manage the study and work in close partnership with its Director, Paul Hickman. By focusing on understanding ways in which tenants can be supported to sustain their tenancies, I hope the study will contribute to efforts to prevent and end homelessness.

Emma Bimpson

I have academic and practice-based expertise in local housing welfare systems, specifically in social and supported housing. I will primarily be involved in qualitative fieldwork and data analysis. I hope that the research will support improvements in policy, systems and practices to keep tenants in their homes in increasingly challenging circumstances.

Peter Fearnley

I am part of the research support team, with over 40 years’ experience in university administration.  I’ll be supporting the development of the Holding on to Home web site.  My hope for the project is that it will have a significant impact in identifying and addressing the issues faced by those who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Wider team

Andrew Burdett

Andrew Burdett Design

I have been a graphic designer for over 30 years and I am the Holding on to Home project’s website design lead for Andrew Burdett DesignOur aim is to create a website that is informative, engaging and helpful to users.

Helen Hardcastle ​

Qa Research

I have been working in social research for the past 20 years, supporting institutions such as Sheffield Hallam collect responses from many different types of people through surveys (either on the phone, in-person, postal or online). I am leading the Qa team carrying-out the survey of tenants.  I believe our surveys give people a chance to have their voices heard.

James Prestwich

Chartered Institute of Housing

James Prestwich is the Director of Policy and External Affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing. Before taking up this post in February 2020, he was Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation. James will input into all aspects of the research but will play a key dissemination role.

Rob Gershon​


Rob is a social housing tenant and a full-time carer, and is the lead associate for the HQN’s Residents’ Network. He has been involved in the Social Housing Under Threat (SHOUT) campaign for social housing. He is coordinating the Tenant Steering Group, working closely with Jon Land.

Jon Land


I am Head of External relations for HQN, a social housing best practice membership organisation. I joined HQN in October 2015 after five years as editor of 24housing magazine. As part of the study, I am helping to set up and support the Tenant Steering Group which is being run through HQN’s Residents’ Network. It is vital that resident life experiences are captured as part of the project and it’s great that tenants will be involved in helping to guide the research.

The Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance educational opportunity and social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy. It also provides opportunities for young people to develop skills and confidence in science and research. The Nuffield Foundation was established in 1943 by William Morris, Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Motors. The Foundation’s Research, Development and Analysis Fund is for projects to inform the design and operation of social policy and practice across three core domains: Education; Welfare; and, Justice.