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Making welfare work locally: Colchester Borough Council and Colchester Borough Homes

22 July 2014

Strong partnerships and comprehensive support for housing benefit changes

“The scale of the reform agenda required us to start our preparations early and we combined our efforts to maximise the support on offer to those who required our help. All members realised the importance of our preparations and have welcomed the effectiveness of the approach taken here in Colchester.”

Councillor Paul Smith, Portfolio Holder for Business and Resources, Colchester Borough Council

“The aim of our work was to bring people together, for example housing benefit staff, customer support and other residential landlords, to achieve a consistent and holistic approach to those affected by the welfare reforms.”

Karen Loweman, Director, Colchester Borough Homes

Colchester Borough Council (CBC) and Colchester Borough Homes (CBH) developed a strategic response to welfare reform which involved early and clear planning across the council and strong local partnerships with the DWP and local charities. Specialist staff provide wide-ranging support to affected residents and they have used a range of communications methods to raise awareness and encourage residents to take action. This has helped them to reduce their benefit cap caseload by almost 80 per cent, from 220 to 98, and their under occupation caseload by a third from almost 1,100 to just over 700.

Key features of the work in Colchester

  • A collaborative approach to strategic planning
    In early 2012, CBC set up a cross-departmental strategic welfare reform project team to bring together all relevant teams from the council and CBH
  • Early data sharing to assess impact and inform service delivery
    Both organisations worked through strong partnerships with the DWP and local housing associations to share data and identify affected households, in order to target support effectively.
  • Getting the message out through varied communications
    CBC and CBH delivered a joint communications strategy using a range of channels to inform staff and residents about the benefit cap and the under occupation penalty. They spoke to more than 50 different local organisations to further disseminate information and build relationships.
  • Building resilience through individual support
    CBC and CBH recognised the need for individual, tailored support. CBC reorganised existing staff to create a dedicated welfare reform Customer Support Team and CBH employed a dedicated Financial Inclusion Officer to provide this.
  • Developing local policy solutions
    CBH changed its transfer incentive scheme and held mutual exchange events to encourage residents to downsize. CBC closely monitors its discretionary housing payment budget and policy to ensure appropriate targeting and maximum take up, whilst encouraging residents to consider longer term solutions.