Circle Housing urges Government to commit to extra support for residents moving to Universal Credit

Summary

A leading housing association is calling on the Government to commit to additional face to face support for residents before they are moved on to Universal Credit, following a twelve month pilot project to help the sector prepare for the key welfare reform.

A leading housing association is calling on the Government to commit to additional face to face support for residents before they are moved on to Universal Credit, following a twelve month pilot project to help the sector prepare for the key welfare reform.

Circle Housing’s Housing Benefit 2 You (HB2U) project - which was designed to prototype how the housing cost element of Universal Credit will work - found that a specialist assessment, also known as triage, in advance of residents moving to direct payments could help them transition on to the new system.

The housing provider commissioned Sheffield Hallam University to compile a detailed analysis of the pilot. HB2U - which started in June 2014 and included 349 residents in Broadland, East Anglia - led to:

  • reduced levels of rent collection - rent receipts were 4.1 per cent lower than from similar tenants who did not receive HB2U
  • an increase in rent arrears, which went up to 2.5 per cent. This level was 2.1 per cent more than for similar tenants not on HB2U
  • a significant increase in residents contacting the housing association to discuss their rent – this went up 114 per cent.

However, the specialist assessment allowed Circle Housing to gather an up to date profile of its residents and identify residents who were suitable for direct payment. This led to:

  • higher early rent collection rates of 92.7 per cent compared to 85.2 per cent, when compared to a similar study where there was no triage process
  • positive feedback from residents who said this approach helped them understand the new system and set up payment methods
  • reduced numbers of early switch backs off direct payments – 1.1 per cent compared to 6.4 per cent, when compared to a similar study where there was no triage process.

Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Circle Housing said: “Our pilot shows that Universal Credit can be implemented successfully and can bring real benefits to our tenants. However, successful implementation will be labour intensive and measures need to be taken by the Government to help landlords, particularly as resources across the sector are now more stretched than ever before.

“That is why we are calling on Government to provide opportunities for landlords to complete a specialist assessment process in advance of the transition to direct payments. We also urge the Government to protect the housing element of a Universal Credit payment by paying directly to the landlord for the first three months to allow a triage to be completed.”

Ian Wilson, principal researcher for Sheffield Hallam University, said: "The HB2U pilot has highlighted the impact Universal Credit will have on housing associations. At least in the short term the social housing sector will need to adapt to higher rent arrears and reduced rent collection as well as increased management and contact with their tenants.

"However a series of recommendations emerged that could allow government and social landlords to manage the transition more smoothly. Central to these would be providingsocial landlords the opportunity to complete a triage process in advance of a tenant moving to direct payment under Universal Credit.''
 

Click here to download the evaluation of Circle Housing's HB2U pilot project.