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Welfare Reform: ALMOs supporting residents on front line

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Welfare Reform: ALMOs supporting residents on front line

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Published by 24publishing for allpay Limited in Housing and also in Communities, Local Government, Universal Credit

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As ALMOs adapt and diversify to the post-Decent Homes world, there has been great innovation in challenging times – spanning way beyond housing management.

Nowhere is this more evident than in their work supporting residents with advice and support on financial issues ahead of major changes to the benefits system this year.

We are delighted to be sponsoring the new financial inclusion category at this year’s National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) Awards as the sector has many achievements to showcase as part of its work to prepare residents for welfare reform.

First to communication, where many have set up dedicated webpages and published practical examples (Berneslai Homes) of how residents could be affected by the reforms– a much better approach than just displaying the general reductions or rules which lack the personalisation.

Gateshead Housing Company is publishing vibrant and engaging guides on its website packed with budget advice and information on the changes which really break them down into a digestible form for residents.

Online visuals have also popped up as part of social landlords’ communication mix - following in the success of housing association Halton Housing Trust. Barnet Homes has launched a film explaining the impact of the changes on its customers and has a benefits calculator tool on its website.

But they’re not just leaving it to residents to find out. Your Homes Newcastle, which manages 30,000 homes on behalf of Newcastle City Council, recently announced it had completed over 2,000 home visits to those who will be affected by the new under occupation rules. Over 4,000 more are set to take place before the changes come into force this April.

It’s also engaging in a raft of other activity, including having an information bus touring the city. Indeed, the bus concept seems to have caught on. In its bid to prepare tenants for benefit changes, Salix Homes hit the road last week with local radio station, Key 103 and their community bus.

More than 150 people visited the bus at Tesco Extra in Pendelton and Morrisons in Eccles to seek advice and find out how changes to benefits will affect them.

Wolverhampton Homes is inviting tenants to meet up at its Speed Matching events which aim to match up homes being under-occupied and overcrowded; while fellow Midlands-based ALMO, Sandwell Homes, was highlighted in an NFA best practice guide on welfare reform for its innovative approach to communication – a board game designed to allow officers and tenants alike to get to grips with the changes by playing their way through the maze of new benefit rules.

So what of financial inclusion? We are aware of many that have restructured their staff to bulk up on financial inclusion and also on rent recovery. Many have also extended the reach of their money advice networks. As a result of the Government’s commitment to pay benefits into bank accounts, ALMOs like South Tyneside Homes have been working in partnership with Barclays Bank and the Leeds Building Society to promote basic bank accounts. It, like others, has also been building stronger links with support agencies. Some have also been hot-desking to share information.

As witnessed by the Government's direct payment demonstration projects, providing as many payment channels for residents to pay their rent will also be important whether it’s direct debit, via phone, internet and text or through cash payments locally.

Where we’ve been able to support ALMOs and other housing providers is by offering them a direct debit service that can collect rents on any date of the month – thereby allowing residents to choose a payment day that suits them, thus preventing the exposure of arrears and bank charges.

While ALMOs adapt and diversify in the new world they deserve true credit for creating greater opportunities for resident engagement and financial inclusion – two areas that will be crucial to mitigate the potential impact of the Government’s Welfare Reform programme.

The NFA Awards are free to enter and the closing date will be midday Friday 3 May.

Nick Peplow is allpay’s business development director.

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