Recent welfare reforms including the introduction of Universal Credit have made affording rent harder than ever in recent years. In response, many Homes for Cathy members have introduced tenancy sustainment initiatives, helping thousands of tenants facing financial hardship to stay in their homes. Homes for Cathy spoke to Christine Ashton, Executive Director of Housing at emh group to discover how the organisation is making sustainable tenancies its mission…
The shift towards ‘Housing First’ is a welcome and humane change in the way organisations respond to homelessness. But it makes sustainable lives, homes and tenancies more important than ever.
Securing a permanent home if you’ve been sleeping on the streets or living in temporary accommodation only counts as a success if you’re then able to use it as the springboard to a better and more settled life. There’s not much point in gaining the short-term relief of a property if your financial, health, family or other circumstances mean that you end up homeless again within a few months. Similarly, housing providers can’t expect vulnerable people with little or no experience of successful independent living to thrive in new tenancies without appropriate personal support.
A whole-organisation commitment
At emh group, we have business plan commitments to both help prevent homelessness and proactively address the impact of welfare reforms – with performance measures to check what difference we make. These top-level aims feed down into everyday decisions about who we house and the kinds of extra support we and our partners can offer to help people sustain their tenancies.
We do this through a detailed sustainability assessment toolkit, an in-house financial inclusion team and a network of partnerships with local money advice agencies, specialist services and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Together, these give previously homeless people the best chance of sustaining their tenancy. It’s an approach that maximises our ability to offer the intensive and wide-ranging kinds of help that so many people need.
The assessment starts well before someone is offered a home; as soon as we get details of a potential nomination from one of our 45 partner councils, or there’s an upcoming transfer or exchange. We consider each person according to a matrix that weighs up their disposable income against a dozen other personal circumstances to produce an overall risk rating for tenancy sustainability.
The checklist includes factors like age, mental and physical health, benefits entitlement and status, debts, previous tenancies and any history of drug or alcohol misuse, domestic violence or offending to help us objectively gauge each person’s prospects of success in an emh tenancy.
Based on this assessment, we mobilise different levels of support to give every new resident the best combination of housing and help. This varies from straightforward extra contact and checks by our neighbourhood teams, up to comprehensive input from agencies and networks specialising in money advice, family support, mental health or disability.
In exceptional cases, if we feel someone’s needs are more than we and our partners can cater for, we review the nomination – working with the person themselves and the council to explore the best option. We’re honest and up-front about our concerns, and do all we can to help them find a more suitable housing route. Everyone needs to live somewhere of course, but we’re clear about what we can and cannot do, and take our responsibilities for the safety of staff and comfort of other residents seriously. Above all, we want people’s tenancies to succeed.
Through joined-up thinking and by targeting our time and resources onto the people we can help most, we’ve achieved some impressive gains, such as:
- Over £4 million in extra benefits income for residents over the past five years via our Financial Inclusion Team
- Almost £1 million in additional benefits delivered by Citizens Advice and other local partners in the last two years
- Greatly improved joint working with DWP and Job Centre Plus to support the more than 2,500 residents now receiving Universal Credit, people with complex needs and help with training and employment
- Swifter and more streamlined action on rent arrears, which has seen current debts fall to 3.12% of annual rent receivable
- Closer links with voluntary groups to safeguard vulnerable people and make the best use of our housing stock
- Greater use of non-legal sanctions and injunctions for anti-social behaviour, with eviction as a last resort.
Doing more together
The scale and social impact of the homelessness crisis demands that we keep on seeking ways to do more. Collaboration is vital – from leasing properties to help local authorities meet their statutory duties to staff donating clothes, toiletries and other essentials to previously homeless people when they move in. Our teams also contribute to a lunchbox scheme, which makes sure that children get a decent midday meal during the school holidays. We’re supporting the National Housing Federation’s Hacking Homelessness project, which focuses on making better, data-driven decisions to prevent evictions. In one case, this monitoring showed that we contacted the resident 263 times to help them sustain their tenancy. And through case clinics, we constantly review how we could act differently or more quickly to help people achieve better outcomes.
We’re clear that it’s up to organisations like ours to take a lead, and believe that partnerships and imagination are the keys to success. We’re happy to share our experience and methods of what works for us, to free the next generation from the misery and blight of homelessness.
Executive Director of Housing
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