This year we have welcomed clients from new sectors, namely the financial services, debt sector and utility sector, as well as growing our client base from local authorities, housing associations and charities. We hold bi-annual steering groups to connect our clients with each other, to listen and ask for feedback about our product roadmap, and to explore new ways to help the UK’s most vulnerable families.

In July 2021 we held our latest Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group online. We were joined by over 15 clients across a range of sectors to gather useful insights to ensure the continued improvement of our product.

We split the steering group across two main sessions: learning and sharing within the group and future developments.

VIVID Homes use the calculator across four teams to encourage benefit take-up

We were delighted to hear from Linda Tookey, Money Advice and Benefits Manager at VIVID Homes on how her team is using the calculator. The calculator is used across four teams: the Money Advice and Benefits team, the Homeless Prevention team, the Lettings team and the Older Persons team.

Whenever someone makes an application for housing, be it new applicants or existing customers doing a mutual exchange, they are sent a link to VIVID Homes’ self-serve calculator to complete an assessment. This ensures that everyone is assessed for any benefits they may be missing out on and can check whether the homes are within their budget. This process allows immediate referrals to be made to the tenancy support team, meaning that people are targeted for benefit support at the earliest possible point in the process.

Linda’s team has found that the guidance within the calculator is so helpful that most people are able to complete the calculations by themselves. This has allowed for the Money Advice and Benefits team to dedicate more time to helping people who need additional support.

We heard how clients use the calculator

We then split into the first set of breakout sessions of the morning. We wanted to hear about how your organisation uses the calculator, which teams use it, whether or not the self-serve tool is widely utilised, and any pain points.

One of the most notable points raised during these breakout sessions was embedding the engagement of customers into the process to enable a holistic view of income, potential income and debt. From a revenues and recovery perspective there has been some difficulty in engaging customers with the calculator. The resistance stems from people being reluctant to fill out a budgeting form with the people who are seen to be responsible for collecting debts. Mandating customers to do this would embed the calculator within the process and make it part and parcel of claiming benefits or seeking support.

Better communicating the full potential of the calculator was also seen as an important part of the everyday use of the software; showing people exactly how the tool can help to build their financial resilience will naturally aid engagement.

Most of our clients spoke on how they use the tool for income maximisation as well as a preventative tool to help people before they fall into crisis. The budgeting tool was also noted as particularly useful in affordability, especially when applying for housing. The self-serve tool has been found to streamline processes within organisations, freeing up resources and allowing teams to spend more time on complex cases.

Northern Ireland Housing Executive rolled the calculator out to over 600 staff

We were then very pleased to welcome Alex Kapka, Assistant Principal Office, Welfare Benefits Unit, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), who shared her experiences with the group on rolling the calculator out to over 600 advisors. This included anyone within a customer-facing role within the organisation. The organisation has taken a multi-faceted approach to the rollout, threading it across every aspect of the business and integrating it within the organisation’s policy. With over 75% of NIHE’s tenants receiving some form of support, be that Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, the calculator has become an integral part in helping to support tenants.

Tenants have a calculation offered to them as part of the signup process to ensure NIHE has oversight on what benefits they are currently receiving and to assess where the gaps in their support fall. This information was lost with the transition from Housing Benefit to Universal Credit, so using the calculator has been able to plug this knowledge gap to ensure no one falls through the cracks.

This harmonious approach across teams means that the calculation can follow a customer throughout their journey with the Housing Executive, being updated where necessary, which has allowed for a much smoother customer experience as well as a more personal approach for the advisors themselves.

Debt and engaging customers will be the greatest challenges in the coming months

We then split into breakout rooms to learn from you. We learned what you see as the main challenges for your organisations in the future, and how we can ensure our tool is doing the utmost to help you and your teams.

Debt is set to be one of the greatest challenges organisations will face over the coming months. The budgeting tool on the calculator as well as the self-serve tool are going to be instrumental in tackling debt, particularly as COVID-19 support comes to an end.

We discussed different methods of communicating with customers online and in person, as well as better promoting the self-serve tool so that customers can complete this lengthier section of the calculation in their own time. Conveying the benefits of the budgeting tool were also touched upon, as it is the most detailed budgeting tool on the market it will give customers the most accurate overview of their finances and where they can build up their financial resilience.

Haringey Council takes an holistic approach to family finances

We welcomed our final client of the session, Darrell De Souza, Project Manager from Haringey Council who shared how their teams are running a new pilot scheme with the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator. It will see the teams taking a more holistic approach to family finances to help those people in need of more targeted support.

The Benefit and Budgeting tool is one amongst many that Haringey offers to its residents. The Calculator is being used to ensure residents are in receipt of the full range of support on offer, whether this is employment support, pointing people in the direction of council tax reduction or looking at eligibility for Free School Meals.

Haringey Council has also set up the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator to work alongside Policy in Practice’s Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) platform. Using data from LIFT, the calculator team will be able to take a more targeted approach to benefit take-up with the Calculator, ensuring that they are reaching the right people at the right time.

This three month project is in its early stages, which will be gradually rolled out universally across all offices on the front line, including social care, customer services and benefit and council tax teams. We look forward to hearing more results in due course and wish Haringey Council all the best with this exciting new project.

We shared our new developments of 2021 so far

Finally, we looked to the future, sharing with our clients the new developments we have introduced in 2021 so far. The biggest of these includes the new calculator design which was informed by over 1,000 end-users as well as an accessibility organisation and our own clients. This has received a very positive reception and we thank you for your support on this journey in helping to design the best calculator possible.

Our clients were then split up into the final breakout sessions of the day to offer their thoughts on which items in our development pipeline are most important to you. We also heard what was on your wishlist for the calculator and the areas we can most improve upon. This level of future steering is invaluable to us to ensure our product is designed with the client’s needs in mind.

Get involved in our next Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group

We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part in our Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group. Hearing our client’s experiences and opinions on our products is vital to us and we really value these sessions.

  1. The next Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group will be held in January 2022 and registration details will be sent to our clients in due course.
  2. If you are not yet a Benefit and Budgeting Calculator client and would like to know more about how the tool helps local authorities, housing associations and other support organisations to grow the financial resilience of the people they help please call 0330 088 9242 or email hello@policyinpractice.co.uk

Register for an upcoming webinar

TitleDateStart TimeDurationRegister
How Autumn’s income shocks will hit low income families The factors that have kept many low-income families out of poverty in the past year are changing, meaning many thousands will be worse off.

Families are set to be hit by big income shocks with the ending of furlough, the reintroduction of the Minimum Income Floor, the loss of the £20 a week Universal Credit increase and the ending of the Benefit Cap's grace period. New data analysis from Policy in Practice predicts significant losses for some families who will struggle to cope and who will need the support of frontline organisations to help them through.

In this webinar we will explore what the Autumn may bring for low-income households and how support organisations can work now to prevent hardship and prepare for an increased demand for services.

Join this webinar to learn:

- How much different households are set to lose when Covid supports are withdrawn
- What support tools are available for individuals and organisations
- Best practice advice from a frontline organisation

We will be joined by Monica Kaur from the Money and Pensions Service.
29/9/202110:30 BST1.3 hours
Register
How Kent County and district councils collaborate with data to tackle poverty Covid has turned our world upside down. Many residents in Kent, as elsewhere, have experienced financial hardship whilst, for organisations, the pandemic has been the catalyst energising them to work differently.

In summer 2020 Kent Districts and Communities Recovery Cell set up a group to focus support to residents at risk or already experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic. Residents unused to facing financial hardship suddenly needed help to navigate support and advice systems. The group knew that things are likely to get worse for Kent's residents before they get better as furlough ends and families who were just about managing are tipped over the edge.

In a first for local government, Kent county and district councils have boldly chosen to collaboratively share their data to get powerful cross-county insights that will drive their poverty prevention activity. The information will help them to target of a wide range of campaigns to residents such as employment support, free school meal take-up, public health interventions, housing initiatives and benefits take up.

Importantly, the project has transparency built in so that councils can very easily benchmark with each other to identify and share best practice in a safe, collaborative way.

Join this webinar to hear:

- Kent County Council's vision for greater collaborative working with districts
- Maidstone District Council's drivers for districts to collaborate with their data
- Folkestone and Hythe District Council's impact achieved so far from data-led poverty prevention campaigns

We will be joined by guest speakers, Zena Cooke, Corporate Director Finance at Kent County Council, Steve McGinnes, Director of Mid Kent Services at Maidstone District Council, and Jane Worrel, Revenues and Benefits Senior Specialist at Folkestone and Hythe District Council.
20/10/202110:30 BST1.3 hours
Register
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LIFT steering group: tackling COVID recovery, homelessness and debt

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