ALMOs excel in financial inclusion
June 21, 2013
Ahead of the National Federation of ALMOs award ceremony next month, we’ve been taking a closer look at the three shortlisted entries in the Financial Inclusion category – which we are delighted to be sponsoring this year.
With welfare reform presenting huge challenges to residents and their landlords, it is impressive to see that each of the three ALMOs have gone beyond just informing residents of benefit changes, but have provided support, advice and options to support residents.
Lambeth Living swiftly went to work on providing a package of support measures for those affected by the underoccupation rules (bedroom tax) to minimise its effects. It set up a welfare reform team last October and offered advice on a range of ways to ease residents' concerns. The team set up 14 advice surgeries for tenants to visit. More than 440 tenants attended and were able to find a solution to suit them. Some of the solutions involved house swaps, taking on lodgers and enrolling on employment programmes. The ALMO has reported that over 1,500 of its tenants have taken action in preparation for welfare changes.
Meanwhile, East Kent Housing has defied national trends and reduced both rent arrears and evictions through its innovative financial inclusion programme. Through a targeted approach, it developed a number of strategies including out of hours surgeries and budgeting teams, texting tenants instead of writing to them and expanding benefits and welfare training to more employees in the organisation. It has also used a cross-media approach to connect with tenants utilising film, social media, literature and press. Since it took over rent collection two years ago, arrears have reduced by more than £100,000. Evictions from rent arrears have fallen by 64%.
Stockport Homes took to visiting over 1,400 of its tenants identified as being in underoccupied homes, with each given a personalised action plan. Just over 500 of these tenants are now putting their plans into action. The number of tenants paying their rent by direct debit has also increased from 32% to 41% after tenants were incentivised and advised on the benefits of paying in this way. As it also collects water rates, it has offered a £10 annual discount for payment of rent/water via Direct Debit (£5 discount for rent only). It also offers residents full flexibility on payment dates and frequencies allowing residents to better time their rent payments to when they receive their income. It's also a very attractive page on the website. The ALMO’s staff have also worked to reduce water and energy bills by almost £20,000 and secured a further £20,000 in benefits tenants were previously missing out on.
The winner of the Financial Inclusion category will be announced at the NFA ceremony on 9 July in Manchester.