Helping tenants to manage their money
Paul O'Connor, Financial Inclusion Advisor - England and Wales, discusses the CIH report on Improving financial inclusion and capability in social housing.
How well people manage money makes a tremendous difference to their lives, no matter how much or little they have. In these challenging economic times, being able to manage money well is a skill we all need, whatever our circumstances.
Research has shown that 60% of those who are financially excluded are resident in social housing. CIH has long championed the role of housing providers to promote financial inclusion amongst their tenants, and many housing providers are now integrating financial inclusion and financial capability work into their day-to-day housing management.
Over the past two years, CIH has been implementing a project generously funded and supported by the Money Advice Service and Barclays. The project enabled myself and my colleague, Ken Dow, to act as Financial Inclusion Advisors supporting over 250 housing organisations to help thousands of residents affected by the economic downturn.
The outcomes of this project are summarised in a report published today, which is available free on our website. The report, Improving financial inclusion and capability in social housing, shares the lessons we have learned in developing this work and some key case studies from the project.
I was invited to speak at a Housemark event in London yesterday and met with a number of finance directors, income managers and performance improvement officers. We discussed some of the challenges the sector faces around welfare reform and cuts to publicly funded support services and considered what housing can do to ease the pressure on our tenants. Although funding and resources tend to dictate what support you can provide above the normal core housing management services, there are some practical ways in which you can tweak what you already do and that can have a real impact.
I heard about housing providers who have mapped their local support services, put this information in a booklet with other information about the costs of their tenancy, and provided it for all new tenants. One housing provider at the event told me about how they support their local credit union by allowing it to operate out of their offices once a week, others have worked with their local CAB to train their new first time tenants to manage their money better, and one housing provider uses their gas safety engineers to get key messages out to tenants they visit including shopping around for cheap gas and electric, the benefits of signing up for low costs home contents insurance and the benefits of joining their local credit union. Some of the best work I’ve been involved with has required little extra resource, taking a whole organisational approach to financial inclusion and early intervention and working closely with partner agencies are key factors in the success.
Working on this project has made it clear to me that the challenges faced by the sector are increasing. It is estimated that due to immediate changes to the benefit system, more than half a million tenants will face benefit cuts of £10 per week or more, which could have a dramatic effect on their financial situation. The long-term plan to introduce a ‘universal credit’ – reducing the current range of benefits to a single payment – will also have major implications for claimants, the social housing sector, and advice and support services.
The project found that as well as the benefits for individual residents and wider communities that financial inclusion work can bring, there is a strong business case for housing providers to engage in this work. Tenants with more money in their pocket are more able to sustain their tenancies. Landlords in turn are likely to see lower rent arrears. These are compelling benefits in themselves, but research also finds that being more savvy with money is linked to greater wellbeing, and suffering less anxiety and depression. When people take steps to manage money better, they can live better too.
Find out more about CIH’s financial inclusion work, including the new Income and Inclusion Service here.