Your Homes Newcastle identifies and targets rental income at risk from welfare reforms using Policy in Practice
Your Homes Newcastle is an award winning Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) responsible for managing homes on behalf of Newcastle City Council (NCC). With a housing stock of over 27,000 properties YHN worked with Policy in Practice to identify the impact of welfare reforms on each of those individual households.
Understanding the impact of welfare reforms
Welfare reform presents a complex picture for Your Homes Newcastle and its residents.
A range of different reforms have been introduced to lower welfare spending, most notably the Under-Occupation Charge (also known as the ‘bedroom tax’ or the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’) and the Benefit Cap. As well as the new measures announced in the 2015 Summer Budget and Autumn Statement, Universal Credit is being introduced with the aim of simplifying the benefit system whilst reducing spend on welfare.
YHN recognised that tenants would be faced with increased budget pressures and that YHN would need to support them in managing their finances.
Meanwhile, YHN also recognised that customers were being asked for similar information about income and expenditure from different people within the organisation at different times. It was proving impossible to track the history of the person to assess their need and provide the right support.
This was frustrating for the customer and wasted staff time which could be better spent supporting customers.
Creating efficiencies for staff
Preparing staff for the implementation of complex benefit changes, ensuring they were equipped to accurately advise people about the benefits available to them and how these benefits would change, was also becoming more critical.
One of the key welfare reforms is the introduction of Universal Credit and the payment of Housing Benefit to tenants rather than to the housing provider. YHN knew this could be a big risk to rental income but didn’t know how to accurately quantify that risk, let alone how to mitigate against it.
In addition, the emphasis of Universal Credit on creating a smoother transition from benefits to work provided an opportunity to encourage tenants to self-serve. YHN was looking for a system that enabled staff to have meaningful face to face conversations with tenants, who would be able to see what the impact of working variable hours would be on their income.
YHN estimates that nearly 12,000 tenants could move to Universal Credit and has anticipated that its existing specialist support services would need to change in order to cope with such demand.
Donna Gallagher, YHN’s Universal Credit Implementation Manager, said “Everyone’s going to have to provide a little bit of support, benefits and budgeting advice.”
Tackling this triad of challenges; understanding the impact of welfare reforms, supporting tenants and creating efficiencies for staff and the organisation, meant YHN needed an innovative solution.