First person

Published in the Daily Telegraph, 24Nov2007

Paying for your own accommodation is a mug's game, says James Trollope

Why bother with the beastly business of buying a house when it's perfectly possible to live at somebody else's expense from cradle to grave?

Scrounging off one's parents is the obvious first step, although doing so until pensionable age may be taking it too far. I'm sure there are still many 18-year-olds desperate to leave home: the problem is finding someone to foot the bill.

While searching for a solution, I'd recommend a spell in a kibbutz, or some other establishment where you can trade manual labour for bed and board. Worth checking, though, that there's not a war on at the time. It took me ages to work out what all the noise was about when I visited Israel in 1973.If university is the next port of call, why not get the armed services to see you through? At Durham, I was deeply envious of all those military chaps with sports cars who whisked away the best-looking girls while I fought a lonely battle with my moped. Come to think of it, one of them ending up marrying Princess Anne...

Despite the obvious property advantages, marrying royalty remains a specialist pursuit. But don't despair; the church and the foreign office - if you can swing it - have some jolly nice houses, too. I remember staying once at the Bishop of Carlisle's pad - a fabulous medieval castle with the added advantage of being closed to the public.

And then there's the ambassadorial route. But beware: while embassies are more lavish and better staffed than their ecclesiastical equivalents, delivering sermons might be less tiresome than listening to politicians doing the same.

Turning to more basic shelter, council housing is not to be sniffed at. Technically, of course, you should pay rent but if your savings are less than £16,000 and you qualify for other benefits, there's a good chance that you can live there rent-free.

Free board and lodging are also available at her Majesty's pleasure. While prison may be too basic for most, not having to worry where to lay your head explains why some criminals reoffend. And, for them, the demise of "slopping out" will have increased its appeal. Luxuries may be lacking but choky is far from cheap. According to Home Office statistics, the annual cost of keeping a prisoner at HMP Exeter is £41,661.

Whether it's sewing mailbags or entertaining politicians, the downside to free accommodation is that something is usually expected in return. And sadly, on retirement from your pulpit, cell or foreign posting, you may find yourself homeless.

Securing a billet in old age is challenging but not impossible. One attractive option is to become a Brother of The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester where (from personal experience) even a passing visit leads to an offer of free bread and beer. Those seeking to join the Band of Brothers (there are 25) must be over 60, single and no longer employed. As well as a comfortable apartment in magical surroundings, brothers enjoy subsidised food and heating; free hair cuts (monthly); free eye tests (quarterly); and a regular subsidised taxi service to a local supermarket.

Little is required in return besides wearing a gown and attending a daily church service. In fact, much the same as I had to do, decades ago, as a chorister at Windsor - which brings me to my final tip.

Sitting in the choir stalls in our cassocks and surplices, we were thoroughly outshone by a group of gentlemen who, in their scarlet tailcoats and plumed cocked hats, looked as though they were on the run from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. These were, and are, Windsor Castle's Military Knights: 13 good men and true who, in return for looking stunning on parade, are given free accommodation at one of the best addresses in Britain. Only retired army officers under 65 need apply, but for those who audition successfully, what a grand finale.

Predictably, as a selfish, ageing male, I seem to have ignored opportunities for retired single women.

Should I duck for cover before I suggest Googling "nunneries"?