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Inventive responses to welfare reform

22 July 2014

Rhondda Housing working with FareShare Cymru – to develop a practical and inventive solution to poverty and debt

'This new exciting scheme illustrates our responsible business practice and we are able to tackle the impact of welfare reform, financial exclusion and resulting food poverty through this project.  It highlights the positive relationships between us, Fareshare Cymru and most importantly our tenants which results in the positive knock-on effect of real community benefit.'

Shelagh Iles, Director of Regeneration & Support Services

Rhondda’s Community food boxes scheme impressed because they understood the financial difficulties facing their tenants, saw an opportunity in partnering with FareShare, and developed it. The project provides food boxes for a donation a fraction of their value and puts the money towards the tenant’s rent arrears and sustaining the scheme. It is an inventive way of combining supporting their tenants who struggle to afford food, with their concern about building rent arrears. The project is resourced by volunteers, helping to combat social isolation and enabling the housing association to get to know their tenants better, both the direct beneficiaries and the volunteers who are gaining skills and confidence.

About Rhondda Housing Association (RHA) and their tenants

RHA is a small social landlord with 1580 properties in Rhondda Cynon Taff in South Wales. Their tenants live in some of the most deprived areas of Wales and many households experience third and fourth generations of unemployment. Twenty percent of their tenants (304) are affected by under occupation and a shortage of smaller properties meant that they have little option to downsize.

What they did

They were aware that food and fuel prices were rising faster than wages and benefits and that this was already leaving their tenants financially stretched. The introduction of the under occupation penalty made things much more difficult. They were keen to find a way to actively help their tenants with this challenge and so they piloted a scheme to provide community food boxes to tenants in financial difficulties.

They make a monthly bulk purchase of surplus food from Fareshare Cymru and package it up into food boxes of two sizes. Tenants are asked to donate £10 for the small one containing food valued at around £30 and a £15 donation for the large one with food equating to over £50. A percentage of the donation goes towards the tenant’s rent arrears and therefore helps to improve RHA’s own income collection and sustain their business.

The scheme was initially focussed on tenants affected by under occupation, then extended to all with rent arrears. More recently they opened it up to any tenant with financial difficulties. They can self-refer via the RHA’s financial inclusion officers who assess eligibility via an income and expenditure assessment. This enables them to offer additional budgeting and debt support and can help to bring in people who might otherwise be reluctant to address their money problems and wouldn’t usually engage.

Housing officers use the project as an informal way of building closer relationships with their tenants, keep a close eye on rent payments, encourage volunteering or refer on to programmes offered by the community development department.

Outcomes

  • Rent arrears are at their lowest in six years. RHA attribute this to the food box scheme as well as the wider intensive work of their financial inclusion workers.
  • Health, well-being and skills have been improved through volunteering. Volunteers lead the running of the scheme, one of whom is herself is affected by the under occupation penalty. Expanding the opportunities for volunteering helps build confidence, skills and work experience.
  • Social isolation of older tenants has been reduced for the older volunteers involved in the project.

For the future

They are seeking funding to extend the project. They expect to move the project from housing management to the community development department to ensure that the scheme works more closely with their employment and skills initiatives. Their plans include:

  • Expanding the parcels to potentially include toiletries and fresh food items. They will be able to do this maintaining the same pricing structure.
  • Sharing recipes and starting basic cookery classes.
  • Starting home deliveries for tenants in more rural areas and for those with mobility difficulties.
  • Introducing welcome packs for new tenants.

Sandra is one of the volunteers on the project. She is 61 and since the sudden death of her husband in 2013 she has lived on her own in a three bed-roomed house. Due to the severe shortage of smaller properties, downsizing would mean moving to a completely new area and losing the only her support network and friends in the local community.

'My housing benefit was cut by £100 a month and it is really difficult and adds a lot of pressure to my life. Volunteering at the project has really helped me. I am still struggling and worried as I cannot afford the bedroom tax but volunteering helps me feel less isolated and I can give something back.

Leigh [her housing officer] offered me support and the opportunity to get involved and it’s really improved my outlook and encouraged me to meet new community members. I’d been really down before, and my friends and family were really worried about me but this helps me. We’ve got plans for how we can do more, put recipe cards in the boxes or make a cookery book. It would be good to have a mobile grocer to delivery to people who can’t get to Tonypandy [the town where the project is based]’

Sandra, volunteer