Resilience: helping people take control and move forward
Supporting people through the changes to housing benefit isn't just about finding exemptions and applying for discretionary housing payments (DHPs), important though those options can be. Helping people to take control and find sustainable ways to move forward is key. This involves getting to know and understand the detail of residents’ lives in a new way, and can include talking to people about anything from how they bank, to their health and wellbeing and from their levels of debt to their skills and work experience.
For example, some local authorities and housing associations provided services such as employment support and training, or debt advice and money management. Others use their discretionary housing payments as a hook to encourage their residents to take active steps to change their circumstances.
This can help to manage demand for additional services in the future because households become more resilient and better able to deal with other changes. This is something that was apparent across the local authorities and housing associations that we spoke to.
Circle 33 established a dedicated employment and training team, which provides job opportunities and training to help tenants improve their chances of getting into employment. Of the 241 tenants referred to this team, 104 engaged with the help available and 54 obtained employment. The employment and training team also run workshops on topics such as financial skills and budgeting, so that tenants can manage their finances more effectively and are less likely to need more intensive help, such as debt advice, in future.
Rushmoor Borough Council realised that the impact of housing benefit changes would require them to become more involved in their residents’ lives than ever before. They now deal with a range of difficult and sensitive issues as part of helping people to move forward and find long term solutions. To help residents achieve this, they make their DHP awards conditional on residents taking specified actions such as bidding on smaller properties or undertaking training. They also reduce the amount of the DHP paid over time, which both provides encouragement to try other options, and gives residents time to become used to budgeting on a reduced income.
Similarly, Oxford City Council has found that making DHPs conditional is a good way to encourage people to take up the support that they can provide. They have been keen to ensure that this approach is seen as positive, and focuses on providing help rather than setting strict conditions or having a punitive approach. They have found that people have responded well to this and it has encouraged residents to improve their independence, confidence and circumstances.
In partnership with Crisis and Connections, Oxford City Council has launched a Tenant Ready Scheme, which helps people to get the skills they need to manage a tenancy successfully. They have found that focusing on skills that are needed for specific aspects of daily life has had more success in getting tenants involved than badging the work more generally as 'financial capability' skills. For more information about how Oxford City Council has been working with other local organisations to help their tenants, and how they have been evaluating their work, please see working together and data management.
Colchester Borough Council has built community resilience through its work with other local first tier advice and support services and its use of online DHP application forms to flag up other relevant options. Colchester Borough Homes' Financial Inclusion Officer works with tenants to help them sustainably minimise expenditure.
The London Borough of Enfield [ 170 kb] provides intensive support to families affected by the benefit cap, helping them address barriers to work.
Knightstone Housing have a Individual Empowerment team that provides residents with a range of tailored support aimed at supporting aspirations and improving their quality of life, as well as addressing their immediate needs.