COVID-19 presented Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s tenants and customers with new and worrying challenges in 2021. The Welfare Unit at NIHE helped their most vulnerable residents by exploring what benefits they may be missing out on, using the Better Off Calculator to maximise income.
Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s good news story of 2021
Our three Financial Inclusion Managers use the Better Off Calculator daily. They have been able to establish additional benefit entitlement for approximately one third of customers referred to them.
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.
These results 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
Learn more about Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s good news story
As is the case for many social housing providers, COVID presented our tenants and customers with multiple challenges. The Housing Executive has seen an increase in homeless applications, and many of our tenants have seen their incomes reduced or wiped out at a time when other costs are rising. The financial situations of both tenants and customers have become more complex and many are in flux. We have seen an increase in both applications for benefits and rent arrears.
These challenges have required increased organisational flexibility, and necessitated a need for a closer relationship with and greater insight into our tenants and customers.
The Benefit and Budget Calculator has been rolled out to nearly 600 front line staff across our organisation and allows us to address these challenges at multiple trigger points across our services, including: at the point of homeless application, at tenancy sign-up, at the moment a rent arrear arises, and during any eviction proceedings.
The calculator allows us to maximise tenant and customer income and provide feedback on budgeting. It also facilitates greater insight into our tenants’ situations meaning we are able to identify where advice and assistance might be required, even where full rental liability is covered by benefits.
The calculator is straightforward to use yet comprehensive and provides multiple modes of access to suit the requirements of different customers.
The calculator is able to provide insight into the financial situation of new tenants as they sign up and allows front line staff to perform benefit checks at speed without being 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.