Preparing for Universal Credit

Universal Credit is one of the biggest challenges facing social housing customers and landlords all over the country.

The new system replaces six existing benefits with one monthly payment made directly to customers – and means that customers who had been receiving housing benefit, are now responsible for managing their own rent payments.

The rollout of full service Universal Credit is due to pick up pace in 2017 and 2018 with more people impacted.

All of the evidence from across the housing sector has shown that customers are struggling to adapt to the new payment system, with many families falling into rent arrears.

ForViva’s leadership team, working in tandem with the income management team, has been proactive in ensuring the right plans are in place to help customers prepare for the launch of full Universal Credit in their areas, enabling them to manage their finances and maintain their tenancies.

Very early on in the process the income management team gained a proper understanding of what Universal Credit would mean for the organisation and its customers. The team ran its own direct payment pilot which gave some valuable insight into what might happen to rental payments once Universal Credit was launched and how the team could best work with customers.

That meant ForViva had a clear picture of the scale of the challenge, and what needed to be put in place across the organisation to help it prepare.

ForViva was very clear that Universal Credit wasn’t something that could be tackled by one team – with every part of the business working together in a coordinated way we can make sure customers understand how the new systems will work, and where they can access advice and guidance if they do find themselves in rent arrears or other debt.

Viability is a clear priority for ForViva, and is embedded throughout the organisation. This has led to some great innovation as the organisation looks at new ways of working with customers on Universal Credit.

The outcomes of the direct payment pilot showed that more resources would be needed to provide one-to-one advice to customers on maintaining their tenancies through the change to the new benefit system.

Building capacity in the team was identified as being essential, so the organisation has looked at how it could use new technology to support staff and take away some of the routine tasks that they need to deal with each day – freeing up more time for meaningful conversations with customers.

A new initiative, Prime Time has also been launched, offering staff across the business the chance to train as part-time income officers and earn some extra money.

The outcome of this innovation is that at peak times ForViva now has a flexible resource that can build extra capacity into the team and work with more customers to assist with the transition to Universal Credit.

These innovations mean that more customers will be able to successfully transition to the new benefit system, enabling them to improve their finances and reduce the chances of people getting into debt.

Through effective strategies like the approach to preparing for universal credit, the income management team is delivering results. In the past year, the team has:

- Secured over £760,000 in additional Housing Benefit and Discretionary Housing Benefit for customers, ensuring their rent was paid.

- Seen over 12,000 more Direct Debit payments made by customers in this year - an increase of 5% on the previous year.

- Offered proactive support as over 1,000 customers moved onto Universal Credit

- Provided advice and support to 80 customers who were affected by the reduction of the Welfare Benefit Cap.

- Helped to significantly reduce evictions for rent arrears, by around a third, across the ForViva Group over the past two years.

- Helped reduce tenancy turnover from almost 11% in 2014/15 to 8% in 2016/17 - a difference of 365 tenancies a year.

Year on year, the income management team collects 100% of rent whilst reducing arrears, playing a crucial role in ensuring the financial viability of the ForViva Group.

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