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Comments and opinions14 November 2023

Thinking outside the box to support residents through the cost of living crisis

Steph Noyce, Head of Money and Digital at Clarion Futures, talks about Clarion's new and innovative ways to support our residents.
Steph Noyce

“It is going to be another tough winter for many people living in social housing, but we’ll continue to do all we can to provide short and long-term support and to make sure that our residents know they’re not alone.”

Steph Noyce, Head of Money and Digital at Clarion Futures

By Steph Noyce, Head of Money and Digital at Clarion Futures

At Clarion, we’re committed to finding new and innovative ways to support our residents. Last year we launched our Cost of Living Emergency Fund providing funding to partners delivering food pantries and warm spaces in communities nationwide, but it’s clear that the winter ahead is going to continue to push household budgets beyond their limits.

That’s why we’re continuing to extend the support we offer to residents, piloting and adopting new initiatives to help people living in our homes get through the hardest months of the year.

Our employment, money guidance, community investment and digital support programmes have all been running for more than a decade, and this longevity and stability has enabled us to continually learn and adapt, developing new and innovative services which work together to really meet the needs of residents.

The impact of the cost of living crisis

During the cost of living crisis, we’ve become more sophisticated in our language, increasingly talking about whether provision – be it delivered in-house, through a Clarion Futures grant, or through contracted delivery – is there to address the immediate crisis or the underlying issue. Without doubt, it’s vital both are addressed but it’s not necessarily the same organisation that needs to do both. In fact, this clarity helps to avoid mission drift and ensure residents get the right help at the right time.

This clarity has ensured our in-house services remain true to their strategic aims, with the Money Guidance service remaining focused on addressing the underlying causes of poverty at a time when it would have been easy to morph solely into a distributor of food and fuel vouchers. As a result, our Cost of Living Emergency Fund has focused on providing grants to trusted, established organisations in the heart of Clarion communities who have the expertise to get crisis help to those who need it most, leaving our in-house specialist support services to focus on what they do best.

Our in-house Money Guidance service has grown from supporting 191 clients in its first full year of operation to now helping over 4,000 residents annually. Key to that growth has been a switch to an outbound call approach where the team reach out to residents likely to be facing financial hardships, such as those transitioning onto Universal Credit, newly in arrears or planning a move. Without flexibility in budgets, low income households often cannot cope with income fluctuations, quickly finding themselves facing those ‘heat or eat’ decisions we’ve heard so much about in recent years. 80% of our Money Guidance cases are now generated through this approach, and not only does it engage people before they get to crisis point, but has the added advantage of engaging people who wouldn’t ordinarily ask for help.

Finding new ways to support our residents

In recent years, household budgets have become increasingly stretched and now, for the majority of people we speak to, the best we can hope for is reducing the deficit. We’ve had to be increasingly creative to understand where we can help reduce household costs because our ‘toolkit’ of employment support (for both those in and out of work) and benefits advice to maximise incomes combined with free white goods, energy advice, free connectivity and spending behaviour coaching often isn’t sufficient.

One such innovation was the idea of one of our in-house team who noticed a growing trend in clients who smoked saying they wanted to give up but couldn’t access support. As a result, we’ve integrated smoking cessation into Money Guidance through a groundbreaking partnership with Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training, and SmokeFree to help residents quit – something which we think could have huge potential to improve not just household finances for the long-term but also health. Cutting out just one packet of cigarettes a week means an extra £12-£15 in a weekly household budget. For our clients, that saving could double what they have to spend on food.

We’re also rolling out cooking on a budget courses with options for people to join in-person, online or to access pre-recorded cook-along videos, further helping limited budgets stretch as far as possible. And as part of our aspiration to eliminate fuel poverty, we’re joining the dots within Clarion to launch what we’re calling a ‘responsive retrofit’ pilot, speaking to residents struggling with energy bills to explore whether work to improve the energy efficiency of their homes could help reduce their bills. It’s still very early days but we’re excited to see the difference this could make.

It is going to be another tough winter for many people living in social housing, but we’ll continue to do all we can to provide short and long-term support and to make sure that our residents know they’re not alone.

This piece first appeared on the website of Inside Housing on 6 November 2023.