At Regenda Homes we secured £2.2 million in unclaimed benefits and grants for customers last year across Merseyside, Lancashire and Greater Manchester. The majority of this was from Housing Benefit and Universal Credit awards, which customers, didn’t realise they were entitled to.
Housing Associations have different ways of supporting customers with financial issues. Whether that’s informally through Housing & Income teams who have access to a network of organisations and charities which provide advice or access to basics like food and fuel vouchers, to specialist in-house departments set up to increase the financial capacity of customers.
We spoke to Leanne Seasman, Income Manager at the Regenda Group for the Merseyside Region, to find out how her team ensure people have access to the financial support they need…
How are you and your colleagues set up to help customers?
We have a team of Financial Support Officers, who are geared to assist customers in any way they can. They have the experience and knowledge to help customers and provide the best solution for their individual set of circumstances.
Times are very hard for people right now with the cost of living impacting all of us, but there is help out there if you know where to find it, and that’s what the team are good at doing!
The team are like our own set of mini–Martin Lewis’s – identifying lots of different ways customers can save, clear debt and increase their income.
What type of support do teams like yours provide to Housing Association customers?
Well first it’s about understanding what’s going on for the customer and getting as much information about their individual circumstances as possible. The people we speak to don’t often realise that there is support they can access, but by learning more about them, we can link them to what’s available. For example, we work with nurses who are struggling to make ends meet, accessing NHS grants to support them.
Utility and energy costs are an area we provide a lot of assistance in. We will advise on means tested rates people can access, help reduce existing debt and act on people’s behalf where they don’t feel they have the capacity to do so. United Utilities currently have a scheme where for every £1 the customer pays off their debt they will match, and we work with Energy Project Plus in Wirral who have cleared people debts in full, so it’s all about finding ways we can reduce the pressure on people when income is so tight.
As most applications for support are now online, this can be a barrier to customers accessing the help they need. At Regenda, as in most Housing Associations, we act on the customer’s behalf. Our team guide people through the process, complete all the forms and take the worry out of it for them.
How do you find the customers who can benefit from the support you offer?
Our colleagues from across the organisation are really good at sending customers our way when they’ve disclosed they’re having financial issues, and they are also good at spotting signs that a customer might be struggling to make ends meet. In these cases, they will make sure the person knows that there is help available, and then we get in touch and start the ball rolling.
Another way we find people who need our help is monitoring rent payments to identify anyone who has or is likely to fall into arrears. Again, we reach out and make sure they understand what we can do to help.
With the benefit of experience, we know that certain groups of tenants, will struggle at key times in their lives. For example, we get in touch with people of pension age to help them navigate changes in their benefit entitlement. Just before Christmas we identified a number of pensioners who were fast running out of any savings or pension they had to live on. We identified they were entitled to Housing Benefit and helped them to make successful claims or appeals where they had previously been refused.
We work with our Marketing and Communications colleagues to publicise key messages about changes related to Universal Credit, claim deadlines and ways to save on energy bills through our newsletters and social media. We also deliver campaigns in partnership with other Housing Associations to make sure collectively we reach as many people as possible.
What trends are you seeing as a team?
We are constantly busy with referrals and more customers seem to be self-referring. Over the last 12 to 18 months we’ve seen a high proportion of referrals come from customers who are working. These people are lost in the middle of the welfare system. The amount they get paid means they can’t claim benefits, but their wage isn’t enough to keep up with the increasing cost of living. These customers have assessments completed by our Financial Support Officers to identify any areas of support that are available to them.
What does the future hold?
There is a lot of change on the horizon between now and 2025 with the continued migration from legacy benefits to Universal Credit.
We won’t leave our customers alone through these changes, we are here to support them. We have the partnerships in place, we’ve spent years building up our knowledge and sharing best practice with other great housing providers so that together we ready to help.
For more information about the financial support available for Regenda Homes customers visit: Money advice | Regenda Homes