Last week I met with Jenna King and Nicky Wirsiy from the Tenant Academy to find out how the Green Light to Housing programme has been progressing since it's release in August 2017.
So, Jenna, can you start by telling us how the Green Light to Housing works?
Firstly, we will start with an affordability check with those who are applying to be on the Housing Register. The affordability check looks at all of the different costs involved in running a home, including rent, utility bills and any other general spending. If an applicant fails we will then set up an action plan with them, this will be based on the individual's needs.
For example, recently I've been working with a lady, who I'll call Donna for today. Donna currently lives in temporary accommodation, when she was referred to me she had over £700 in rent arrears and she had been suspended from the Housing register due to this.
We started by doing the affordability assessment to see where she was at with her spending. Donna failed the initial affordability assessment by over £100 a month meaning she was spending over £100 more than what she had coming in. After finding this, the first call of action was to find ways in which we could decrease her expenditure, as it was found Donna did in fact have the money she needed, however it was being spent in all the wrong places.
It was found that Donna had been unable to prioritise her outgoing bills and had been awaiting 'final demands' before paying which could be up to £600 being spent each time, therefore we set up direct debits, we also managed to decrease her Virgin bill from £120 a month down to a much more manageable cost. Ensuring all the bills had been prioritised and direct debits had been set up each month meant that Donna then had a clearer idea of how much money she had left over each month to both begin to pay off her arrears and have some left over.
You talked about reducing her Virgin bill. Why not suggest cancelling it altogether?
Well, the way we work is to give advice. So we will look at the areas that could be improved in an applicant's finances because what they spend is their choice, it's not up to us to make those choices, we can only offer advice. Its up to the applicant to make the changes that will ensure that they pass an affordability check.
What is Donna's current situation?
It has been a very positive outcome for Donna, we've now been working together for just over a month, she's got all of her direct debits set up, she is now aware of what's coming in and going out and how much she has spare each month. Donna has now cleared her arrears and is able to bid on properties again.
Brilliant! So, Nicky are your cases similar to Jenna's?
No, our cases are all very different. I'm currently working with a gentleman, who I will call Neil for today. Neil failed his initial affordability assessment by around £214 each month. When I first met with Neil I could see he was a very skilled man, so we looked at his CV together and I assisted him in getting it up to date and going to agencies to apply for jobs. Within about a month, Neil was able to secure a job with his former employer, with a job that paid £14 per hour. Neil was then able to pass his affordability assessment and put back onto the Housing register, so, he is able to bid on properties again and will secure one fairly soon.
So did Neil only need help with securing a job?
Finding a job was only one of the action points in his plan, but actually Neil had been in Supported Housing and was given the support he needed to overcome alcohol abuse and alongside that, the majority of his expenditure was going on tobacco and not only was this affecting his spending but it was significantly affecting his health too. I then referred him to the health and wellbeing team who then provided support to help Neil quit smoking.
It's interesting to hear how different your cases are, do you have another example?
Yes, another case I've been working with, I will call her Nancy for today. Nancy came to the Green Light to Housing with around £600 rent arrears and she had previously received a Deposit Guarantee Scheme payment that she was not paying back. When we met we discussed what she could do to ensure that she could afford Housing through Swindon Borough Council.
We found that Nancy had not actually submitted any forms for claiming benefits that she was entitled to. Once we got the relevant forms submitted the correct payments were made and Nancy's arrears were cleared and she was able to start paying back her Deposit Guarantee Scheme and was housed fairly quickly following this. I also referred Nancy to LearnDirect for some training in employability skills, and since then Nancy is actively seeking work.
You mentioned assisting applicants with benefits. Jenna is this something that you do?
We're not experts with benefits, however we are able to offer some help. I recently worked with a lady, who I'll call Mary, she currently works part time and has a low income. Mary did not want to apply for benefits, however once we carried out the affordability check it was found that without any benefits Mary would be unable to afford the costs involved in running a home.
We explained to Mary how Universal Credit works and how it would be beneficial for her to be claiming it, either that or increasing her hours at work, which at this time Mary was unable to do. Mary did not have access to a computer or a phone, therefore I sat with her and helped her apply for Universal Credit and made any relevant phone calls that needed to be made on her behalf. I attended the meetings at the Job Centre with Mary so that she understood what was happening and so that she had the assistance that she needed every step of the way.
There were a few issues where Universal Credit hadn't paid Mary the correct amounts, so we discussed this with Universal Credit and have managed to resolve the issue and Mary is now receiving the correct amount and will now receive a full back payment.
To find out more about the Green Light to Housing Programme,click here.
If you would like to find out whether you would pass the affordability check, or if you have any other queries, please contact either Nicky on 01793 463320, or Jenna on 01793 464446.