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Housing has been a difficult issue for nurses in recent years as house prices have risen sharply. Despite being considered as key workers, nurses have struggled to get on to the property ladder.

In 2006 nurses were unable to afford houses in 97% of UK towns, according to the Halifax bank. The price of an average home in London is now nine-and-a-half times the salary of an average nurse.

If nurses cannot afford to live near their place of work, they are increasingly likely to leave the profession or move away from particular areas that will then face staff shortages.

Traditionally, trust accommodation was readily available for newly qualified nurses to live in, but there is less such accommodation available now as trusts have sold off land.

The government has tried various approaches including appointing a NHS housing coordinator to help, and a Starter Home Initiative that claimed to have helped 10,000 key workers find a home over three years.

That initiative was superseded by the Key Worker Living scheme set up in April 2004, which provides help with housing to public sector workers including nurses, but it only operates in London, the south east and east England.

Under the scheme, workers can obtain an interest free loan of up to £50,000 towards buying their home through several approved ‘zone agents’. They can also get subsidised rent or a loan to buy a share in a newly built property. Demand, however, for help from the scheme has far outstripped its available funding.

Other forms of help exist at some trusts, which offer interest-free loans to staff so they can buy season travel tickets or bicycles.

People working for the NHS can also contact NHSdiscounts for help and advice on buying properties and discounted offers on mortgages and loans.

Renting is one way that nurses deal with the reality of an expensive housing market and many trusts’ human resource departments will help staff find rented accommodation because it is their interest.

Some trusts also offer interest free loans towards rent, repayable over a period of time.

In London, there is a charitable housing association called London Strategic Housing, which works in partnership with the NHS and other key employers. Homes across the capital and the home counties are specifically designed for NHS staff among other key workers and can be rented or bought.

Updated: September 2006

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