Welfare Reform Blog

Payment options for Universal Credit

July 12, 2013

Fresh from two days in Scotland - presenting at two back-to-back workshops on Universal Credit - it’s clear many social landlords are still clamoring for best practice from others, and, in most cases, are still unsure how best to target their resources – principally, because a lot of the detail about how the new benefits system will work in practice is still coming out of Government.

A case in point, identified in the workshops, being Lord Freud’s speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing Conference last month, indicating further protection for social landlords on direct payments. While welcomed by delegates, they felt the nature and timing of the detail is making it harder to plan and resource for Universal Credit in terms of investment in financial services and resource planning.

In our presentation, we emphasised the importance of covering all bases on payments – ensuring residents have all the options to pay (cash/debit/credit card payments and the ability to make these 24/7) and flexible payment dates on direct debits so they can better align collection dates to when residents receive their Universal Credit.

Greensquare Group who is using allpay's flexible Direct Debit service on its direct payment demonstration project said recently:

"Most on the project are paying four weekly with direct debits set up to come out a day or two after the housing benefit payment is made to the resident. allpay’s every date of the month flexibility on its direct debit service is helpful for that and we do need that flexibility. Having just two or three collection dates just wouldn’t work. It needs to be every day. The costs of running a system with every date of the month flexibility ourselves wouldn’t be viable taking into consideration the extra costs in resources and administration."

With a lot of the emphasis on mobile working, there was lots of interest around the mobile App we developed last year – allowing residents to securely store their payment card information and pay their rent or council tax in thee clicks of their phone. It also allows housing officers to take card payments when they’re visiting customers, further helping them to reduce arrears.

Lyn Kilpatrick, Policy and Practice Officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, talked about the shift in payment culture that Universal Credit will bring (weekly to monthly payments; cash to electronic) but also the shift in operational behaviour required from landlords. It was very interesting to see that less than 10% of delegates in the room at both events had experience of the previous benefits system in terms of rent collection – and she urged those in the room to talk to “these guys, as they’ll be the experts” as we move forward from a “third-party subsidy to the tenant as a consumer”.

It was also interesting to note that less than a handful of delegates at both events allow tenants to access their rent accounts online – “We need to get on that game quickly,” she said, “as they can do that for their other household bills and it helps them budget and no where they stand”.

Paul Jones, RCT Homes’ Income Recovery Manager, delivered a really thought-provoking presentation on preparing for welfare reform that drew great engagement from delegates at both events. He talked about RCT’s initiatives to support unemployed tenants into work which has included the launch of a driving school (yes, a driving school with 50 passes to date); cleaning and ground maintenance subsidiaries where RCT is employing tenants to work on contracts previously carried out by the council; and an action camp where they take disadvantaged youngsters away to Tenby for a few days to have fun and learn budgeting and life skills. The latter, said Paul, has the advantages of youngsters building up a rapport and respect for their landlord early on.

My thanks to the Scottish Housing Best Value Network who hosted the events in Glasgow and Edinburgh.