Northern Ireland Housing Executive
Better Off Calculator
COVID-19 presented Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s tenants and customers with new and worrying challenges in 2021. The financial situations of both tenants and customers became more complex. The Housing Executive saw an increase in homeless applications as many of its tenants saw their incomes reduced or wiped out at a time when other costs were rising. They also saw an increase in both applications for benefits and rent arrears.
These challenges required increased organisational flexibility and necessitated a need for a closer relationship with and greater insight into tenants and customers.
Using the Better Off Calculator, the Welfare Unit at NIHE helped their most vulnerable residents by exploring what benefits they could be missing out on.
The Benefit and Budget Calculator was rolled out to nearly 600 front line staff across the organisation and allowed them to address challenges at multiple trigger points across its services. These included at the point of homeless application, tenancy sign-up, the moment a rent arrear arises and during any eviction proceedings.
The calculator allowed them to maximise tenant and customer income and provide feedback on budgeting. It also facilitated greater insight into tenants’ situations meaning they were able to identify where advice and assistance might be required, even where full rental liability is covered by benefits.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has been able to establish additional benefit entitlement for approximately one third of customers referred to them.
The calculator provides insight into the financial situation of new tenants as they sign up and allows front line staff to perform benefit checks at speed without needing to be experts.
Greater insight and income maximisation allows for earlier intervention, better advice provision and signposting, onward referral, and ultimately lower rent arrears and greater tenancy sustainment.
A snapshot analysis of extra entitlement generated across June and July 2021 indicated that additional benefit income discovered ranged from £522 per year, to £11,195 per year; with the average sitting at £3,870.
The calculator is straightforward to use yet comprehensive and provides multiple modes of access to suit the requirements of different customers. Our three Financial Inclusion Managers use it daily.
The results gained are meaningful for tenancy sustainment across the organisation, and also beyond where income maximisation allows a customer to remain in their current tenure rather than becoming homeless.
Alexandra Kapka, Assistant Manager, Welfare Benefits Unit, Northern Ireland Housing Executive