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Welfare Reform: How landlords are engaging residents

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Welfare Reform: How landlords are engaging residents

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

A focus on tenants in Liverpool A focus on tenants in Liverpool

With just over a week left for social landlords, local authorities and charities to let us know how they’re communicating benefit changes to residents – as part of our Welfare Aware awards - we thought we’d give you a flavour of some of the excellent responses we’ve had to date.

The award, launched by payment specialists allpay in January, is being run in partnership with 24housing magazine and aims to showcase the best ways and ideas housing providers are using to engage residents in welfare reform.

It has been interesting to observe that while some providers have quite rightly focused on the housing benefit changes in April (under-occupation, household benefit cap) and the implications of Universal Credit, others have given as much priority to local changes such as Council Tax support, changes to the Social Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments.

Some have also been more driven with their messages, going beyond explaining the changes and how they affect residents, but emphasising the importance of prioritising rent and enclosing a direct debit form for example.

The depth of the message has also been varied across the entries. One entry covered all bases by delivering a “three-pronged approach” firstly delivering general, then specific information and then contact to residents via partners and support agencies. Others have been less thorough.

Most entries are using all forms of communication to get the messages out to residents – telephone, text, face-to-face, DVDs, social media (YouTube, Facebook) – with one noting that its YouTube video has helped reduce under-occupancy by over 200 households.

Some have been equally as thorough in educating and engaging their own staff. One of the entries has ensured all tradesmen are aware of the changes so they can cascade the information to residents when they visit. Another has made staff awareness sessions compulsory and provided them with a desktop ‘crib’ information sheet they can refer to when speaking to residents.

Branding is another area which has stood out. A Welsh-based association was one of a number across the country to use the over-arching brand, "Your Benefits are Changing". It incorporated that into its house style and identity to reinforce the message, thus maximising the recognition potential.

Likewise, a number of entries have turned to animation to front their campaigns, citing research from focus groups showing residents feel happier discussing issues with a friendly face. One entry took its animation concept on the road in a two-week mini-bus campaign visit to residents involving 90 staff. As well as making face-to-face visits to nearly half of the residents affected, it uncovered a further 76 households affected by the changes and gained over 200 new mobile numbers for residents. It could then use these to keep those residents up to date with information.

Other ideas which are up and running across the entries include dedicated welfare reform advice lines open on a certain day/days of the week; goody bags with useful merchandising displaying websites and phone numbers of advice lines; roadshows bringing all the support agencies under one roof and webinars, with one landlord reporting that between 8-12 residents log in to watch and ask questions each time.

The closing date for entries to allpay’s Welfare Aware award is March 5.

An expert judging panel made up of Deven Ghelani, one of the architects behind Universal Credit and Sam Lister, policy & practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, will then assess the nominations with the winner and a highly commended entry receiving a day’s free training with a top social media expert.

Nick Peplow is allpay's business development director 

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