Making welfare work locally: Knightstone Housing
Transforming the business model to invest in communities
‘We invest over £2 million per year in our Individual and Community Empowerment service to support residents to make a real difference in their own lives and in their communities.
In the face of austerity and welfare reforms, we’re investing more in people and places to ensure our neighbourhoods are great places to live in and to support our residents in the choices they make to improve their lives for the long term.’
Nick Horne, Chief Executive, Knightstone Housing
Knightstone Housing used the welfare changes as an opportunity to further build and deepen relationships with their tenants. They assessed that around 10 percent of their tenants would be affected by the under occupation penalty and that this would have a significant impact on their business. They therefore established a welfare reform strategy group which has reviewed and changed priorities and policies, changed team structures and added new posts to directly support people affected. Working with other housing associations, they have been involved in commissioning longitudinal research to understand the impacts of welfare reform on their tenants’ work opportunities.
Key features of the work at Knightstone Housing
- Early strategic planning
As soon as the Welfare Reform Bill completed its passage through Parliament, Knightstone set up a welfare reform strategy group made up of residents and senior managers across the organisation, to design and deliver its welfare reform strategy.
- Commissioning comprehensive research to assess impact and understand needs
In 2012 they commissioned Housing Quality Network (HQN) to assess the impact of benefit changes on their tenants and their rental income. In 2013, together with eight other housing associations, they were involved in commissioning The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to look at the impact of the welfare reforms on the work options and choices of 200 residents.
- Strengthening relationships and sharing learning
They worked with other organisations to improve tenants’ financial inclusion, access to bank accounts and to provide specialist support on debt and benefits. They shared what worked with other housing associations.
- Getting the message out to tenants and customer-facing staff
Knightstone used a range of communications methods to inform tenants and staff about the benefit changes and to encourage those affected to access support. This included a film and colourful newsletters and factsheets which they distributed at events, as well as direct contact with those affected using a variety of channels.
- Reshaping business priorities to provide effective support
Knightstone expanded and restructured its rent collection teams to focus on prevention and early intervention. They created new specialist posts in their employment (‘Into Work’) and financial inclusion teams and a new under-occupation officer post.
- Reviewing and improving policies and practices
In response to welfare reform, Knightstone have reviewed a number of their policies, including their allocations policy and their policy on moving with arrears.