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Supporting our residents to be millions better off

Dianne Challis.jpg

There have been some alarming headlines following the implementation of Universal Credit since it’s been gradually introduced across the UK.

Dianne Challis, Welfare Advisor Team Leader

In fact, recently a committee of MPs heard evidence of women resorting to sex work in order to make ends meet as a result of benefit changes.

Whilst we haven’t seen anything this extreme at Network Homes, our residents have certainly had their own challenges with Universal Credit. I lead our Welfare Advice team and we’ve seen people who aren’t computer literate struggle to complete the online application. Others have struggled to make a claim because they don’t hold a British passport, and many have been affected by delays in receiving payments.

So, with this in mind it makes us quite proud that despite these issues that we’ve been able to boost our residents' income by £2.5million in the past 14 months. We raised £1.7million in the 2018/19 financial year topped up by £800,000 in just the last couple of months (April to June).

Most of this money is in unclaimed benefits and with my team of four we manged to raise £16.66 for every £1 that the team costs to manage during the last 14 months. More than 60% of the cash comes directly to Network Homes in rent.

It makes you wonder how many more of some of the most vulnerable people in society could be claiming money they’re entitled to but aren’t.

As a social housing provider, it’s our duty to support residents to sustain their tenancy and that’s where my team comes in. We’ve had some big wins for some of our residents, including recently where we managed to get in excess of £23,000. This is money that they were entitled to so it’s not a bonus.

Much of the money we’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get. It can take months to resolve some cases, from assessing the situation with the resident, to making the initial claim, going through the Mandatory Review stage and onto the Tribunal stage if needed. We spend quite a bit of time having to remind statutory organisations of the law and the legislation which they’ve either misunderstood or in some cases didn’t know in the first place. We try and do this with best tact, diplomacy and with a smile.

The majority of tenants we see have some form of vulnerability. We’ve worked with people who can’t read and write, who don’t have ability to speak English or are forced to leave their homes due to disability. We’ve seen residents who have learning difficulties, mental health issues and those who can’t cope with paperwork. Sometimes our residents are all of the above and end up making impossible choices about whether to ‘heat or eat’.

Some of our cases are very complex and although these examples may be brief, the work to achieve our goals can go on for several months. Often residents have scrimped and scraped, robbed Peter to pay Paul, been threatened with debt collectors, bailiffs, eviction. They may have had to rely on food banks and support from friends.

We had a resident with advance dementia whose daughter (who was also her carer) had suffered several strokes. They had to be moved into a care home but because of her severe dementia she does not have the capacity to give up her tenancy. We’ve been trying to get Housing Benefit for her daughter who is living in the property but isn’t liable to cover the rent.

A big issue in the last couple of years has been Universal Credit. We’ve had particular problems with people who either do not hold British passports (right to reside) and with those who aren’t computer literate. But we do our best and I think we do it well getting real results for some vulnerable people.

 So, how are we going to help residents over the coming year? Maybe we’ll get over £2m in the next 12 months! We’re already doing really well so we shall see.