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08 April 2020

Vital support in challenging times

Vital support in challenging times
Rachel Rowberry, Financial Inclusion Officer at Newydd Housing Association, shares the challenges her team faces in supporting tenants through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Coronavirus is affecting many of our tenants financially through losing their job, furlough with reduced pay, a reduction in their hours, or by being self-employed and unable to work, as well as those who are sick or self-isolating.

We have seen an influx in referrals to the Financial Inclusion Team with tenants worried they will not be able to pay their rent and feed themselves and their families. The uncertainty for those that are affected is not only causing a strain on their finances but leading to stress and anxiety. We are now supporting many tenants through a range of circumstances, many of whom have never accessed the benefit system and have no idea where to start, what they need to apply for and who can help them.

As a team we are constantly checking and keeping up to date with benefit changes and announcements from the Government, to advise our tenants the best we can. We have added a page to our website to give tenants information and useful links on what financial help is available to them and shared these on social media.

Following the Government guidance to stay at home to prevent the spread we have had to adapt our usual approach of visiting tenants in their homes. We have been contacting tenants and completing assessments over the phone instead. This has been successful and the majority of tenants seem extremely happy with the guidance, however there are some tenants who are struggling to get online and navigate websites to apply for the necessary benefits which adds to the challenge. Due to GDPR there are limitations to what we can do without written consent from the tenant, which is extremely frustrating for both parties.

We aim to support and help tenants the best we can through this difficult and challenging time, but there are already trends appearing. We have seen an increase in people requiring foodbank vouchers, an increase in applicants for emergency payments from the Discretionary Assistance Fund and more people are claiming Universal Credit and applying for Council Tax Reduction. These applications must be done online, with some not having access to internet or a digital device, this makes the process challenging.

One of the worries for many tenants once they have claimed Universal Credit is the 5-week delay for payments. For many tenants it has been several weeks since they received a wage or an income. Tenants can apply for the advanced payments from Universal Credit however advance payments will have to be paid back at a later date. We make sure tenants are receiving the benefits they are entitled to and discuss outgoings to support them in prioritising bills. The utility companies are also offering support during this time and we are advising tenants to contact their supplier if they are having difficulties.

Lots of organisations are adapting the way they work including the local Foodbanks who are working extremely hard to support as many people as possible such as the Vale of Glamorgan Foodbanks who are now offering home delivery for their food parcels.

In times of uncertainty we are also getting positive stories where communities are pulling together and supporting one another during these difficult times. One tenant told me he was self-employed and lost his job. I asked him whether he had food and he said his elderly neighbours had left him a food parcel on his doorstep, showing that true community spirit prevails during these difficult times.”

You can access guidance on the support available to you on the Newydd website here https://www.newydd.co.uk/money-advice/coronavirus-financial-guidance

To speak to someone from our Financial Inclusion Team please call Newydd on 0303 040 1998 or email [email protected]

Housing associations in Wales will be profiling the work they are doing to support tenants in Wales through a new campaign called 'With You'. Follow this campaign through CHC's Twitter page @CHCymru and searching for the hashtag #withyou