#AyeWeCan 5: What can housing associations do to help alleviate poverty?
Challenge Poverty Week blog by Rhona Penman, Advice Services Co-ordinator, Link Group.
As a provider of social housing throughout central Scotland since 1962, we have seen a shift in the profile of tenants experiencing poverty. Historically, poverty was the result of a crisis or significant change in circumstances, however, it is now becoming a very worrying norm.
Alongside welfare reform – particularly local housing allowance and the wider benefits freeze, years of austerity, Brexit and increases in food, fuel and utility costs have created a perfect storm for social housing tenants who receive benefits. In addition to this, our advice service staff increasingly report that tenants in poverty are already receiving all the benefits they are entitled to but are still struggling to afford rent, food and fuel.
While the challenges outlined above are too big for housing associations to tackle alone, we have put in place measures to help alleviate these where possible. We recognise income poverty correlates with poverty of opportunity, education and employment, and we provide benefit and debt/money support, together with a wide range of additional services and initiatives to support tenants to alleviate this.
It is a sad reality we frequently encounter new tenants who have nothing when they move into their tenancy. To help with this, our advice service works with housing officers, so they can support tenants to access starter packs, claim all the welfare benefits they are entitled to and make applications for charitable grants.
In addition, while we have a substantial development program to build 3,200 affordable homes by 2021, we recognise home provision is only the start of the journey, and we have evolved our business model to meet the demands of this increase in customers. To ensure we can deliver our new and existing customers with the best support possible, we have reduced housing officer patch sizes and created new posts to provide face-to-face support to tenants claiming Universal Credit (UC). We also provide energy advice and, through Link’s care and support subsidiary, LinkLiving, employability training and support.
We recently provided intensive support to a very vulnerable 59-year old man who had moved into his first ever tenancy. He did not have any experience or skills in technology and had never claimed benefits before as he had previously relied on his mother for everything. A successful application was made for UC and to the Scottish Welfare Fund to provide him with a basic income, including support with rent and white goods. He continues to receive support to maintain his UC claim and report changes of circumstances to ensure he receives the correct amount of benefit and avoid sanctions. Without this support he would be unable to sustain his tenancy and living in absolute poverty.
On behalf of City of Edinburgh Council, we operate the Private Sector Leasing (PSL) scheme. PSL manages 1,400 privately owned properties for people who are homeless or in housing need. PSL employs 57 staff, many of whom are local people. PSL has its own dedicated housing and welfare rights staff to provide intensive housing management and support to tenants.
Our values are also demonstrated by the kindness and compassion shown by our staff across our range of services. Working holistically, staff often go above and beyond in difficult circumstances to meet the needs of our tenants – whether that’s donating clothes, toys, food and toiletries to people in extreme need, such as Syrian refugees.
We recognise these are big issues and not challenges we can alleviate alone, however, we live this every single day. By working closely with the people and families most affected by these difficult circumstances, we can continue to develop services and prepare our teams to provide guidance and assistance how, when and where it is needed the most.