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Working together: how local collaboration can help deliver effective, efficient services

22 Gorffennaf 2014

Responding to welfare reform at a time of shrinking budgets and increased demand requires cost-effective local solutions to support people and manage future demand. Working together with other organisations, and with service users, is one of the ways in which local authorities and housing associations are achieving this. This can help to avoid duplication of effort, and make the best use of different skills, knowledge and expertise, while ensuring that services are designed around and responsive to the needs of residents and tenants.

Many local authorities and housing associations have established welfare reform boards, made up of representatives from across their organisation, to plan and oversee their responses to welfare reform. In some cases, local partners, such as advice providers, Jobcentre Plus and other housing providers were involved in these boards.

Together, local partners have produced joint awareness-raising and training materials, delivered services, set up clear referral processes and shared insights and information to help residents more effectively.

Coventry City Council established the Coventry Welfare Reform Working Together Partnership in 2012 to steer the city’s response to welfare reform. This developed after it became clear that other partners would benefit from similar meetings that the council’s housing options and housing benefit department was already having with Whitefriars Housing Association. Having one forum to coordinate a response to welfare reform would be the most efficient and productive way forward. The partnership involves the council, local housing associations, Coventry Citizens Advice Bureau, Coventry Law Centre, the local foodbank and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It is action focused and they have organised a large conference on welfare reform with stakeholders from faith groups and the voluntary and public sector. It has produced joint leaflets, posters, press releases and films to ensure that residents receive a consistent message about welfare reform. It has also organised several public-facing events, including pop-up shops for local residents aimed at providing information and addressing local concerns. One pop-up shop was set up specifically to raise awareness and increase take-up of discretionary housing payments following the identification of a likely underspend. The council listened to feedback from partners and has made several changes to their discretionary housing payment (DHP) scheme to ensure it is more accessible and better reaches tenants who need support.

Oxford City Council set up a steering group for their welfare reform pilot. This group included representatives from the county council, the local CAB and Jobcentre Plus. The council worked closely with local advice agencies to share learning, in recognition of the scale of the changes and the fact that no one organisation can provide a solution alone. They have funded a CAB debt adviser to provide support to tenants with debt problems and have worked with Crisis and Connections to develop tenant ready schemes that help people to develop the skills they need to manage a tenancy well. The council also successfully bid to run a Universal Credit Local Authority Led Pilot, which involved working with a number of organisations that provide employment support in order to help residents overcome any barriers they have to seeking employment. With all of these partners, a 'warm handover' approach was taken rather than simple signposting, to increase the likelihood that people would engage with the service. The Council has since been successful in bidding for European Social Fund money to continue this work. To find out how Oxford City Council are helping residents to build resilience and how they have evaluated their pilot, please go to resilience and data management

AmicusHorizon realised that they needed to widen out their work from a focus on rental income and welfare benefits advice to cover wider financial inclusion issues. They worked with Toynbee Hall and the Financial Inclusion Centre to gather information and map what their financial inclusion approach would look like, then worked with their residents to develop a financial inclusion strategy. They are now working with Barclays and local credit unions to help open bank accounts for residents who do not already have one. Since January 2014 they have helped around 50 people to open an account. For more information on how AmicusHorizon have communicated benefit changes to their tenants, and how they have used data to inform their services please go to communications and data management

Circle 33 worked with a number of local organisations to provide services to their tenants, and are working with The London Borough of Islington as a preferred partner to process and approve applications for the Resident Support Scheme, which includes crisis payments and discretionary housing payments (DHPs). Circle 33 also invited Toynbee Hall to give a view of their financial inclusion services and are working with them to develop their services further. For information on how Circle 33 is helping its tenants to build resilience, please go to resilience

See also:

Colchester Borough Council and Colchester Borough Homes worked together to develop a cross-departmental welfare reform strategy

Wiltshire Council and housing associations worked with Jobcentre Plus and the CAB to co-design a range of information products and delivered joint training courses for health and education professionals.

Stockton Borough Council [ 160 kb] worked with the CAB to support people affected by the benefit cap and used a 'team around the child' approach to facilitate collaborative working with other organisations.

North Tyneside Council [ 240 kb] has worked closely with local partners such as Jobcentre Plus and voluntary sector organisations to improve the support for people facing benefit sanctions and to develop their council tax support scheme.