Justin Freeman, Assistant Director for Income Management at ForViva, is set to Chair HQN’s Universal Credit Survival Guide event in London on Thursday 7 September. Ahead of this, he explains how securing strategic buy-in from the leadership team has been key to preparing the business for full Universal Credit roll out.

Very early on in the process of preparing for Universal Credit we got a proper understanding of what was coming down the track. We did our research and carried out our own pilot, so we have been very clear about what we would face when full roll out happened.

That meant we could have an adult conversation with senior staff and our Board on the scale of the challenge presented by Universal Credit, and what needed to be put in place across the organisation to help us prepare.

We were very clear that this was not just a challenge for the income team, but the whole organisation.

Universal Credit, and wider welfare reform, wasn’t something that we could tackle within one team, every part of the business would have a role to play, and would have to work together in a coordinated way.

Viability is a clear corporate priority at ForViva. It is embedded throughout the organisation, and everyone has a part to play in maximising our income.

We have included this as part of staff performance reviews, so everyone needs to demonstrate how their role impacts on rental income and helps customers to sustain tenancies.

This has led to some great innovation. Our direct payment pilot back in 2013/14 gave us some insight into what would happen to income levels and how we needed to work with customers.

We saw the level of resource that was needed to help people maintain tenancies, and quickly realised that preparing for Universal Credit is all about building capacity in the team.

That has meant looking at how we can use technology to support staff and take away some of the mundane and routine tasks to allow people to focus on what is important and they’re best at.

We launched our popular Prime Time initiative which has given staff across the business the chance to train as income officers and earn some extra money. It means that at peak times we have a flexible resource that can build extra capacity into the team by paying staff at a flat rate of overtime.

In the future social media is going to be critical. Most conversations about life experiences now happen on social media so we need to tap into that to take our message to customers in new ways.

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