In light of the nationwide shutdown of most businesses due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) the government has responded with substantial changes to the welfare system. Frontline organisations looking to support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis have seen unprecedented demand for welfare support and benefits, as DWP reports almost 500,000 applications for Universal Credit in the past nine days alone.

Policy in Practice hosted a webinar with guest speakers Frank Curran and John Mortimer, RedQuadrant, to explore how frontline organisations can support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis whilst maximising the efficiency of their response to the emergency. Listen back to the webinar on demand and view the slides here.

The three main benefits changes have been put into place to support people

The government has made significant changes to the welfare system to support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The three main ones are:

  1. The basic allowance in Universal Credit and Tax Credits will increase by £20/week
  2. The Local Housing Allowance (the LHA), will increase to align with the 30th percentile of local rents
  3. Universal Credit awards will be based on actual income rather than a notional income (the Minimum Income Floor)

As a result of these measures:

  • Households in receipt of Universal Credit whose bills are higher than their monthly income will fall from 16% of households to 10%
  • The average increase in Universal Credit awards as a result of changes coming into effect from April 2020 will be £98/month, an increase of 7.3%
  • Increases in the Local Housing Allowance vary hugely between different regions, with rural areas only increasing by 2%, but some areas in London increasing by as much as 40% due to differences in housing costs

Zoe Charlesworth and Megan Mclean, Policy in Practice, have analysed the impact of the new measures announced so far by the government to show how they will help households hit by Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Read our full analysis of these new measures that will help households hit by Coronavirus (COVID-19)

How four councils are responding so far

We’re having dozens of conversations with councils to understand how they’re responding to the crisis and how we can help. Our conversations have revealed the following priorities for local authorities:

  1. The first priority for many has been to think about housing and homeless people in particular; finding places for people to live and ensuring they feel secure in their homes has been a huge priority.
  2. A second big priority has been setting up home working for staff; some councils were already well set up but those who weren’t have had to mobilise very quickly, which is no easy task.
  3. The third big priority has been sourcing food and its related distribution, which is ongoing.
  4. The fourth priority, as mentioned by Haringey and Swansea Councils, is understanding who is socially isolated and doesn’t have access to the internet, given that this is a long period to be by yourself. 

In addition, Sutton Council was keen to know who its most vulnerable residents are and asked us whether analysing its existing data sets could identify them (see below). East Suffolk Council also told us how they are re-deploying staff to do outreach work by shopping and delivering food to residents, ensuring their immediate needs are met. 

Policy in Practice advises how to identify the newly vulnerable

Households are becoming newly vulnerable due to losing work hours, being made redundant or suddenly earning less than previously. People who are newly vulnerable are suffering income shocks, and find themselves unemployed, underemployed, or falling into debt.

As well as responding to the immediate crisis councils, housing associations and service providers must also consider who isn’t vulnerable today but who may become so next week or next month, and how this demand can be anticipated.

Yet, with limited resources, support will inevitably need to be focused on those in immediate need. Existing vulnerable residents who are already at-risk may need more specific types of support to address their isolation and to maintain their access to basic goods and their income.

To help with this, we’ve added new functionality to our LIFT Dashboard to allow local authorities to identify particular key groups that, from our Coronavirus analysis, we have determined are most at risk. These key groups include:

  1. Couples with school-age children eligible for income-based Free School Meals, and couples with younger children
  2. Lone parents with school-age children eligible for income-based Free School Meals, and lone parents with younger children
  3. Self-employed and low earner households affected by self-isolation
  4. Single pensioners living alone
  5. Single people with Limited Capability for Work / Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity who are living alone
  6. Single people without Limited Capability for Work / Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity who are living alone
Use data analyis to identify and support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Councils with a LIFT Dashboard can identify individual households who are vulnerable to Coronavirus

Use data analyis to identify and support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Councils can target support to those most in need now, or anticipate future crisis, by filtering households against criteria such as existing arrears

RedQuadrant advises how to ensure your response and service design is adaptive

In order to best respond to the different demands and crises your organisation may be facing, it is crucial to ensure that you are well-placed to understand the immediate needs, the wider context and the risks it may pose, as well as anticipate future need and additional changes.

Setting up this kind of response requires a set of approaches:

  • Evaluate your efficiency: become aware of what’s working and what’s not working, end-to-end
  • Understand the bigger picture: break the silo and remove the barriers people have
  • Connect to community groups and networks: (e.g. to ensure that there is a food logistics flow)
  • Reach out to existing partners and agencies to see how to work with them directly
  • Mobilise volunteers in the wider public
  • Focus on your online presence and guidance: take a look at your website and the resources you have online
  • Set up ways to escalate referrals that are complex and cannot be answered by customer service (e.g. callbacks)

Being able to be reactive to changing circumstances and changing situations, while addressing complex problems and increasingly complex situations is crucial to providing front-line support.

Support providers are currently struggling to make their support as holistic as possible while also reducing the burden on front line staff to make sure that help is going to those that really need it.

Connect with mutual aid networks to address the growing need

A key first step to take is mapping out existing resources, such as food banks and newer Covid-19 mutual aid groups, and ensuring the local resources on your website are up to date. This is crucial to be in a position to direct those in need of wider resources and more specific types of support.

Another step to take is connecting with local volunteer schemes who can help your residents access food and support packages, provide social support to those who are isolated, as well as assist those who are less digitally literate to get online to communicate with loved ones from afar.

Triage the increased demand for information while adapting to working online and remotely

As frontline organisations shift from face-to-face support to telephone and online support, adding a self-service link to a benefits calculator onto your website can help alleviate the burden on your front-line staff and free up the phone lines. Customers can submit their information from home and send it to advisers remotely, while also getting direct help from the built-in support.

Some frontline organisations, such as Vivid, have already done this with Policy in Practice’s Benefit and Budgeting Calculator. This self serve approach was adopted by Curo during the roll-out of Universal Credit; they found that their triage approach to helping its most at-risk customers first resulted in frontline staff spending 80% of their time with 20% of their customers.

Use a benefits calculator with eligibility built in to support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis Increase the efficiency of your front line response

With such a high demand for support, advice and resources, it is crucial to make your response more efficient to reach as many of those in need as possible. Shifting around staff, ensuring your IT system can handle the increased traffic, and finding ways to triage your helpline and support are crucial.

With so many recent changes and announcements from the government, it is important to create learning possibilities and update training (via webinars and e-learning) and guidelines to help staff respond faster to straightforward cases. Meanwhile, putting in feedback mechanisms and methods for referring more complex cases can prevent people from falling into the gaps.

Use a benefits calculator with eligibility built in to support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis Policy in Practice is here to help

Policy in Practice delivers welfare support through software, advice and analytics. We are helping frontline organisations to support vulnerable people through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and are responding to the crisis by focusing on how we can support others.

  1. Your income and Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a free resource for people to know what welfare support is available to them. This has been open to comments, which we are responding to in an FAQ style, so the most common questions are answered.
  2. The Benefit and Budgeting Calculator has been updated with each of the changes as they were announced. We saw usage of the free calculator double and then double again in the first few days of the outbreak, highlighting how concerned people are about their finances. If you are a Benefit and Budgeting Calculator client and wish to add a self-service link to your calculator onto your website as you shift from face to face support to telephone and online support, please talk to us. We will work fast to get this live for you.
  3. For our local authority data analytics clients, we have identified the six key groups likely to be impacted by the measures put in place to contain Coronavirus (COVID-19). These insights have been useful to senior leadership teams planning their response to households hit by Coronavirus (COVID-19), to better target support.

Free webinar: Recap of the major benefits changes and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Wednesday 8 April at 10:30 – 11:30
Register for the webinar here

As new measures to control Coronavirus (COVID-19) are introduced Policy in Practice’s Head of Policy, Zoe Charlesworth, summarises the major changes to the welfare system that have been made. Zoe will also share new analysis we’ve done to show the impact of the new measures and how they will help households hit by Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Join this webinar to learn:

  • What benefits people in different situations might get
  • How to get the most support for families and households
  • What the impact of the 3 main changes mean for households

Register for the webinar here

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Join this webinar to learn:

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