Our recent free policy webinar showcased how two leading UK housing providers are helping tenants build their financial strength despite record rises in rents. Collectively both housing providers have boosted their tenants’ incomes by over £5 million using Policy in Practice’s Better Off Calculator. This blog explores how they redefine their tenants’ experience with benefits entitlement checkers and community outreach work.
Listen back: How housing providers are boosting the financial strength of customers during the cost of living crisis
How have the costs facing tenants changed in the cost of living crisis?
Key cost of living changes have meant record rises in rental prices and mortgage interest alongside declines in household incomes. By July 2023 the housing and cost of living crisis continues to put pressure on households’ budgets.
- Rental prices increased at the highest rate (5%) since being recorded in the 1950s
- 4 million mortgage holders were exposed to higher interest rates (7%)
- Households with the lowest income faced inflation of 12.1%
Such record rises have an impact on the private rental and social housing sector.
One London borough saw their cross-subsidy model to fund social housing become “increasingly unviable”. Their business plan would sell 23 private properties to develop social housing on the same estate. However, they have struggled to sell the properties because families are unable to secure mortgages.
This crisis also impacts temporary accommodations. The combination of welfare austerity measures, the pandemic, and the cost of living crisis, means more of their tenants are not able to afford their current tenure. Many more are at risk of homelessness.
Across the UK the number of households in temporary accommodation has increased, especially in Wales at 19.7% and England at 10%. Many more councils increasingly rely on this to house homeless families.
All of this comes alongside £19 billion of support is unclaimed each year. For the households on benefits, the freeze to the Local Household Allowance and inadequate benefit levels means many households are not receiving enough money to offset rising costs
What best practice exists of housing providers who are tackling the cost of living crisis for tenants?
Our recent webinar covered how housing providers are supporting their customers through the cost of living crisis. We invited housing professionals to discuss their work in maximising the income of their customers.
Our guest speakers were:
- Julie Alexander, Manager for Welfare Benefits and Financial Inclusion, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE)
- Beverley Hiden, Tenancy Sustainability Team Leader, Community Housing
Northern Ireland Housing Executive gives tenants financial support at any time during their tenancy
Julie shared that NIHE is more than a landlord. In addition to managing 85,000 general tenancies, they have a regional statutory and strategic authority for housing in Northern Ireland. Namely, they have a statutory responsibility for homelessness and responsibility for the Housing Benefit budget.
Their Welfare Benefits and Financial Inclusion team sought to ensure that each household receives financial services at key points during their tenancy to prevent financial crises and improve financial resilience.
Similarly, Beverley tells us that Community Housing had a similar goal to integrate their income maximisation and financial support services at the start of the tenancy. In Worcestershire, we estimate that there is £22 million in unclaimed benefits. Amidst rising needs due to the cost of living, targeted support was needed to encourage households to claim all of their eligible benefits.
Benefit entitlement checks are central to building tenants’ financial resilience
As part of the Making Your Money Work Service at NIHE financial inclusion managers offer financial support to all tenants at important trigger points in the household journey.
The calculator helped their team move from reactive to proactive outreach.
Since January 2021 frontline staff have used the Better Off Calculator for regular checks of household income, expenditure and benefits entitlement. The calculator provided their staff with clear explanations of the national and local benefits available to each tenant. The full budgeting suite shows where tenants might make additional savings.
On the one hand, it helped maximise the income of households in arrears with targeted benefits support. It also identified hard to reach target groups of tenants who may not put their hand up for support.
We struggled with being able to proactively identify people who might not be waving a big red flag at us because their housing costs are getting covered by benefits. We know people are out there, the rent is maybe paid, there are no rent arrears, but it doesn’t mean that they’re living comfortably within their tenancy.
We have now been able to proactively target tenants to offer support to who we otherwise wouldn’t necessarily come across in our day to day work.
Community Housing used community outreach sessions to empower tenants
Community Housing has been shortlisted for the Affordable Housing Awards 2023 in the Financial Inclusion Initiative of the Year category for this work with tenants.
The team supported tenants in two phases:
- Referrals from the income team for cases with arrears and non arrears
- Community outreach: The team offered drop in advice sessions, energy awareness training and food vouchers. They also went on community walkabouts to learn about housing in the community to see where they might provide additional support.
Like NIHE, their outreach services have allowed them to target support to people who may not be aware of their level of need.
They come and chat to us about all sorts of random things and often that leads to help that they didn’t realise they needed. And then we end up finding a way of helping them so often what people think is a primary problem is not – there is something in the background that they didn’t realise they could get help with.
Being in the community and offering benefits advice was one way that they were able to offer tenants much needed support. Most referrals for their services are coming directly from the public.
It also seems to reduce some of the apprehension or stigma associated with asking for help. Beverley shares that the uptake in their support “means that people are hearing about the work that we do and aren’t afraid to contact us.”
NIHE and Community Housing secured over £5 million in benefits income for tenants
NIHE opened 5,400 Better Off Calculator cases that identified more than £3.5 million in additional benefit entitlements and helped secure £1.4 million in benefit income
Since 2021, NIHE financial inclusion team has opened 5,400 calculator cases, identifying more than 3.5 million in benefits entitlements.
- In 2022 the Making Your Money Work programme helped 2,675 tenants, 45% of those eligible. Using the Better Off Calculator the team was able to generate 1.4 million in extra benefit income for tenants
- This generated over £850,000 in additional income to rent accounts from Housing Benefit and Universal Credit
- This has helped to reduce arrears or pay the rents of 53% of NIHE tenants
Community Housing supported over 2,150 tenants with an additional £4.1 million in benefits income
Presence in the neighbourhood has proven effective in raising awareness of this much needed support.
Their work generated an extra £4.1 million in benefits income. A few headlines from their efforts over the last year are listed below:
- 268 new claims for Universal Credit worth an average £130 weekly per household
- 169 new claims for Housing Benefit worth an average of £142 weekly per household
- 144 new claims for Personal Independence Payments worth an extra £31.25 weekly per household
How can housing providers help tenants during the housing and cost of living crisis?
Tenants need to be protected from the record rises in rental costs. Housing associations and other organisations can help.
Our recent report shows that £19 billion of benefits goes unclaimed each year. Housing providers can help tenants access this life changing support.
- Make benefit entitlement checks a regular part of the tenancy experience: Maximising the income of tenants with benefits take up can help them address rent arrears and enable them to pay their rent.Policy in Practice’s Better Off Calculator can be integrated into the customer journey for tenants. The award winning software used by NIHE, Community Housing and other housing providers brings the full range of national and local benefits into one fast, engaging and accurate assessment. It also has a helpful and fully incorporated budgeting section to show tenants see where savings might be possible
- Learn from the best practices of other housing providers: Community walkabouts, workshops or drop-in advice sessions are effective ways to raise awareness about benefits. This type of engagement activity also helps to address instances of stigma that might make households afraid of accepting support