13009 Chevington Customers

|Clock Icon8 minute read

Policy change could bring relief for many of our customers

Zara Kelly

Zara Kelly, financial inclusion manager

Social housing customers have gone through some of the most challenging times in their lives over the past few years, yet still not enough is being done to support them, suggests Zara Kelly.

Political ethicist Gandhi was the master of aphorisms, and among them was ‘The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’.

What would be his view on the UK’s treatment of its most vulnerable? Probably what many of us have seen in our school reports at one time; ‘could do better’!

Last month signalled four years since Covid-19 ran amok across the UK, turning people’s lives upside down in the process.

While still reeling from Covid, a cost-of-living crisis created even more turmoil from which many are still struggling to recover. The past four years have been truly horrendous for many of our customers here at Home Group, as they have been for thousands of housing associations’ customers across the UK.

Six months before Covid hit we had decided to fund our own Financial Inclusion Service, providing a more holistic approach to tenancy sustainment, and providing consistency of service to our customers given the lack of consistency being experienced by them right across the country.
We began the service in February 2020, thinking we would ease our way into the process. That theory went out of the window a month later.

Within weeks of Covid landing on our shores we were inundated with calls from customers, most of them at their wits end trying to come to terms with the financial effect of Covid, lockdown and furlough. Initially, we struggled to meet demand but ultimately meet demand we did…and some.

Fast forward four years and we have grown from a team of two in February 2020 into a team of 24 whose specialist knowledge has grown exponentially - a growth matched only by their commitment to support our customers.

During these past four years we have received over 17 thousand referrals into the service. We’ve increased almost 3,000 customers income through lump sum payments by a total of £3.2m and increased close to 3,500 customers on-going income by £15m. On average, that is £1,000 and £4,000 per customer respectively.

The team have gone over and above to make such a difference to thousands of peoples’ lives, and continue to do so daily.

18710 Zara Kelly Financial Inclusion Team

Despite our efforts, and the efforts of hundreds of our counterparts in the sector, there are still obstacles in our way which are hindering us in helping to keep peoples’ heads above water. The obstacles below are just a few that if removed or adapted would enrich the lives of so many.

One issue causing a financial strain on people in social housing is having mixed age couples on Universal Credit instead of Pension Age Benefits.

Pension aged people on a state pension have their full state pension taken into account, under Universal Credit. Meaning standard Universal Credit for a mixed aged couple is £340 less than the state pension for one person, so mixed age couples are losing out massively and potentially leaving the youngest of two with no income and the older one having to support their partner and use £340 of their state pension before they are entitled to any further income.

At the end other end of the spectrum the impact of certain policies relating to children is causing equal dismay.
The two-child limit for instance, introduced in 2017 as part of a set of welfare reforms, has led to 1.5 million children (one in every ten children in the UK) being affected by this policy. Every year more and more children are born without the state support offered to their siblings.

The End Child Poverty Coalition, an alliance of over one hundred children’s and anti-poverty charities, are among many pushing for the abolition of the policy.

Reports and findings from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Citizen’s Advice point to significant numbers of children living in poverty because of the two-child limit. The majority of families with three children will receive an additional £16.95 in Child Benefit from last month (April 2024), which critics say falls critically short when aiming to provide the basics, such as food and clothing.

The Tax-Free Childcare scheme offers up to £2,000 a year per child towards childcare costs, and while 1.3 million families are eligible, over 800,000 aren't using the support. Some critics say one of the reasons for the low take up is the name, which is confusing and may be putting people off.

Another could be the process. It would seem better to pay childcare providers direct through trusted partnerships. This could better support families to get back into work. Not having to pay upfront costs themselves and claim it back, even with the recent changes, can prove a financial step too far for some. But the childcare provider receiving this directly, similarly to the free hours, would encourage take up and help people back into work without the concerns of restrictive childcare costs.

The issues, or policies, highlighted here represent only a handful of those that if changed, adapted, or done away with completely would make the world of difference to thousands in need of greater support.

Another of Gandhi’s aphorisms was ‘you must be the change you want to see in the world’.

Zara Kelly is Financial Inclusion Manager at Home Group.

For media enquiries contact...

Steve Heywood 

Mobile 07778145869

Email steve.heywood@homegroup.org.uk

Help us improve our website. Did you find this web page useful?

The information we receive from this form is anonymous. This means we can't get back in touch. If you need our help, please get in touch.