Tag Archives: tenancy sustainment

We’re often told by housing associations that they deliver what we do already. Here’s why they don’t and how we bring value to their offer

Rebecca White, CEO and founder of Your Own Place, explains how partnering with an external tenancy training provider can amplify a housing association’s existing support offer to prevent homelessness

Your Own Place turned eight in October.  Both a huge milestone and a source of great pride.  What is often unseen beneath the veneer of glossy social media, is the knock backs, the failures, the disappointments and frustrations – especially when I’m told ‘we do that already’. 

We have grown modestly, safely and sustainably, partly out of choice and partly because what we do is hard, different, bespoke, time-consuming and we’ve an unwavering commitment to doing it right and very well.  Continuing in this modest vein is almost comfortable right up until the point when I ponder the phenomenal difference we make beyond our great outcomes and numbers.  More people deserve to benefit from it!

Like many, Covid19 threw a curveball opportunity that has neither fundamentally changed us nor endangered us.  This is because our mission and vision were always clear – to prevent homelessness. The team is as strong as they have ever been, their ideas are getting away from me (in a good way) and our digital transformation (and I mean every letter of that second word) was all their work.

Amplifying existing housing association support

Our current brilliant housing association customers recognise the strength of their own offer alongside how it can be boosted by partnering with us. When we start a partnership we equip housing teams with the knowledge about our service and how it’s different – and also complementary.  Together we are able to further develop the skills, knowledge and confidence of your tenants alongside your offer.  With our delivery of tenancy sustainment workshops (TILS+ and DigiTILS+) we provide the space for tenants to reflect on what they have heard from their housing support officer or income officer.  Together, trainees in a group find their voice with us as an independent organisation.  They find themselves able to share their knowledge of the support they have received as well as their new skills. In so doing, the support your teams are providing already is amplified. Hearing from peer tenants about what support they have accessed and found useful as well as hearing the same content from a different voice in a different way boosts what you are doing already. This reinforces the messages that housing associations are already investing so much in.

Whether it’s income teams, benefits or money advice or even getting to the point of eviction, the support we see many housing associations offer often faces huge challenges of reaching people in difficult situations and often already in crisis. Ours is a prevention offer that can both prevent a crisis happening (freeing up your team’s time) or build the skills of the tenant to resolve the situation themselves (building resilience for the future and also freeing up staff time). These are not simply life skills, but skills for life.  They equip people to go further than simply resolving their money worries or tenancy responsibilities, but to consider enrolling at college, finding work, or simply leaving their room for the first time.

Partnership approach

We’re often told by housing associations that they deliver what we do already.  What we see are housing associations doing phenomenal work around advice and sustainment work that can be enhanced by a partnership. Here’s the value we can bring to that work:

FREEING UP YOUR STAFF TIME

  • Through facilitation rather than advice or 1-2-1 crisis support, we ensure the trainee residents not only gain the new knowledge, skills and confidence to sustain their tenancy, but develop the longer term skills of realising they have the skills needed to get help and find their own solutions.  All this means there is less pressure on your teams as trainees become more inter-dependent and resilient.

REINFORCING YOUR MESSAGES

  • Like many housing associations, you’re as committed to tenancy support as we are.  We also know that our delivery style will be different to yours.  To take information on board and change behaviour the human brain has to hear things multiple times in multiple ways – by attending our workshops we reinforce your messages.

GROUP WORK & PEER LEARNING

  • We know how hard it can be to get groups of residents together and yet we know how powerful the peer group can be.  As experts in their own lives, our group workshops offer the space to reflect on the support they may have had from you already, support each other and gain the confidence to act on your advice. This is our area of expertise and strengthened by being an independent organisation. It builds connections and inter-dependence and the confidence to engage with other group interventions (college or training courses and volunteering etc).

INDEPENDENCE

  • Our independence as an external organisation is a huge strength and enables us to hear the voice of the resident that is sometimes silent.  We can work with them and with you during our interventions to understand how they receive your service and include this in our impact reports for you.

Your Own Place exists to prevent homelessness by ensuring people have the skills to sustain a tenancy. For more information about the services it provides, contact rebecca@yourownplace.org.uk

Successful tenancies start at the top

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.

Clear results

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.

Christine Ashton 

Executive Director of Housing

emh group

How is your organisation putting the Homes for Cathy commitments into practice at operational level?  Share your ‘Good Practice’ story by downloading our template and emailing it to us at homesfor.cathy@hightownha.org.uk.