Wales Co-operative Centre

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Learning lessons from the Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) Project

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THFI Project Manager, Jocelle Lovell, takes some time to reflect on the launch of the project’s legacy report, which took place this week, on Wednesday 3rd December

I was going to write a blog on the day in the hope of capturing all of the passion, enthusiasm and interest in our work, but then I decided to take time to reflect on the event:

The project has been a 3 year roller coaster ride with plenty of highs and lows, and having to constantly evolve to reflect changes outside of our control. The biggest challenge being, the lack of detail early on regarding the roll out of Universal Credit.

The event was very kindly hosted by the Huggard Centre, which for me sent a very poignant message. Our work is very much focused on the prevention of homelessness, whilst the work of the Huggard Centre is trying to break the cycle of homelessness. Prevention projects, like ours, are vital if we are to reduce the number of people who end up living on the streets, sofa surfing or living in temporary hostel accommodation.

We were very grateful to have Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, speak at the event, where it was recognised our work brought together all the elements of her portfolio.

The event was not only an opportunity to thank the project’s funders, Welsh Government and the Oak Foundation, but also to showcase our work to our new funders, Comic Relief, who found the event very informative and gave them insight into our thinking and methodology.

Attendees came from local authorities, credit unions, funders and third sector organisations. Whilst most were familiar with our work, and had been active partners, the event highlighted new opportunities, with many attendees requesting follow up meetings to see how we can work together in the future.

There is still so little we know about the Private Rented Sector, and so much more work to be done, but now is as good a time as any to get started…….

You can find the full report here.

We tweeted live from the launch using #THFI. Below is what some attendees had to say:

Full house @WalesCoOpCentre #THFI report launch ‘Need to engage with #PRS 2 improve #housingWales & #Financial Inclusion
#thfi manager Jo Lovell – ‘thfi’s ability to adapt and evolve to environment, has been key to success’ #THFI

@WG_CommunityMin: Spoke at @WalesCoOpCentre #thfi launch about the role of financial security in preventing homelessness & helping people live fulfilled lives

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Written by Ieuan Nash

December 4, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Shocking poverty figures provoke call for more digital inclusion support

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in Wales want a job but do not have one.  More than 8,000 households were homeless in 2013 and 79,000 people needed food aid.  One in three children lives in a low income family. This is the stark backdrop to the Bevan Foundation’s new report “Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action”, which is of great interest to us at the Wales Co-operative Centre and the work that we do that supports the wider poverty agenda.

The report argues that digital and financial skills are essential to help people out of poverty, or at least mitigate its impact.  About digital inclusion, the report says:

“Digital skills are an important adjunct to literacy and numeracy, as more and more services are either available only online, or offer time and/or cash savings if accessed online. The shift towards online benefit claims is a particularly strong driver of change. People without access to the internet and without the skills to use it are disadvantaged. There is a marked income-effect in digital exclusion – in 2013, only 1 in 10 (9%) of those in managerial and professional occupations did not use the internet compared to more than three in ten (31%) of those who had semi-routine and routine occupations.

“It is very welcome that digital skills have a relatively high profile in the 2013 Tackling Poverty Action Plan.  The plan includes the Digital Inclusion delivery plan’s targets, the targets for which have mostly been met.  The commitment to digital skills and inclusion should continue, with challenging targets for people in low income groups, with programmes of sufficient scale and impact to achieve them.”

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The achievement of the targets in the Digital Inclusion delivery plan was due to the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme, which is led by the Wales Co-operative Centre.  How is this going to work then when Communities 2.0 comes to an end in March next year?  Well, we need everyone in Wales working to tackle poverty to take digital inclusion seriously.  Our experience is that the current practice is too patchy.  And to get this consistency we need a strong, lean leading digital inclusion project  to help all front line services deliver effective digital skills support.

The Bevan Foundation report is blunt about the nature of the challenge.  For the last eight years, there has been no improvement at all in the number of Welsh people living in poverty.  And that number is set to rise.  Yes, we need an informed debate.  But we also need action.

Dave Brown is the Director of Strategic Development & Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre

Swansea City Council at the forefront of Private Rented Sector engagement in Wales

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For the past three years, the Wales Co-operative Centre have been funded to work with private rented sector landlords and their tenants, local authorities, credit unions and support providers. The aim of our work has been to improve tenants financial capability, and in turn help then to sustain their tenancies or access more appropriate and affordable housing.

Jocelle Lovell, the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Financial Inclusion Project Manager, said credit where credit is due, Swansea City Council are taking a really proactive approach to working with their private rented sector (PRS) landlords.

Last night, I attended the annual PRS Forum at the Guild Hall, in Swansea, along with 80 to 100 other landlords.

The agenda wasn’t too busy, which helped to keep the evening focussed, and we heard short presentations from:

  • Welsh Governments Simon White on Housing Act (Wales) 2014, Renting Homes Bill and what the model contracts will look like
  • Anne Rowland (seconded to Welsh Government) on Regulation of the PRS Housing Act (Wales) 2014, the Housing Act and landlord registration and licensing and how this is going to work
  • Both of which are of interest to the Centre’s own work with the Welsh housing sector, through both Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion and the Co-operative Housing projects.

The presentation which really caught my attention was by Marcia Williams of The Wallich, about the new PRS access scheme they are developing with Swansea City Council. Having consulted with landlords, they are now developing a scheme which will bring together the various local authority departments relevant to housing including environmental health and planning, along with support and advice. This one stop shop model will focus purely on the PRS, offering a wide range of services that will include; advice, pre tenancy and in tenancy support and housing management functions to landlords and their tenants.

Swansea clearly recognises the significance of the PRS and its role as a strategic housing partner, developing a very proactive approach to engaging with the sector, in order to make more properties available to meet the growing demand for affordable housing options.

The evening ended with a Q&A sessions and the raffle, where winning ticket holders received bags with Carbon monoxide detectors and small fire extinguishers amongst other things.

Written by Ieuan Nash

November 14, 2014 at 11:28 am

What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty…

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Tackling poverty runs through everything we do at the Wales Co-operative Centre; from helping people in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas to improve their financial capability, to supporting people to get online and learn new skills that can help them back into work or start a business. We also work with social enterprises and co-operatives, to help develop stronger, more sustainable and better businesses.

Here, Jocelle Lovell, Financial Inclusion Project Manager, discusses the role of financial inclusion in tackling poverty…

This week (Tuesday, 4 November), I was invited to speak at ‘Advice & Support’, Carmarthenshire’s Network Event in the Halliwell Centre, Trinity St Davids, Carmarthen. The topic was ‘What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty’; the challenge was taking something that I could talk about all day and putting it into a 20 minute presentation.

So I started with the three key elements of Financial Inclusion:

  1. Accessibility – being able to access the financial services and products needed to participate fully in modern-day society and manage money effectively
  2. Literacy – having the ability to understand the words and numbers used in financial products
  3. Capability – having the ability to interpret the information and use it to make informed decisions appropriate to an individual’s circumstances.

Have people got the tools, the knowledge, the right environment and the confidence to manage their personal money? If not, they are financially excluded. Why is this a problem? Well here are just a few examples;

  • If you do not have a bank account with a direct debit facility you will pay more for services & utilities
  • Poor or no credit history may well exclude you from low interest loans from mainstream lenders (banks, building societies), often leaving no option other than high interest loans, payday loans or a worst case scenario using a loan shark.
  • Your choices are limited i.e. buying a product online at the best price versus using the likes of BrightHouse or Provident
  • Lack of understanding or choice can lead to ‘costly’ inappropriate decisions.

People who are financially excluded are more likely to need support from publicly funded services. The likely impact of paying more for their products and services is that they will remain in poverty. Living in poverty is becoming a social norm. Poverty is not a new problem, but following the recent years of economic decline, it is becoming more and more prevalent across our communities. There are many good initiatives across Wales that are trying to address these issues, both locally and nationally. But we still have 1 in 5 working and non working households across Wales living in poverty (Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Wales), along with:

  • Increased demand on foodbanks
  • Increased high street presence of modern day pawn brokers and loan companies
  • Increased demand for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)
  • Increased number of services being transferred online banking, welfare benefits
  • Closures of local banks and post offices.

So tackling financial exclusion must be a priority if we are to reduce the number of people living in poverty across Wales. For many, this will mean changing attitudes and behaviors towards money and educating people on the responsible options available.

Where there is challenge, there is opportunity…

In light of Welfare Reforms, reduction in public spending and recommendations from the Williams Commission, is now not an opportune time to radically rethink how we deliver services, fund local delivery strategies and generate sustainable job creation?
eud y defnydd gorau o’r rhyngrwyd a thechnoleg ddigidol.

Financial Inclusion Together project comes to an end but leaves a lasting legacy to help tackle poverty

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Rhian Hughes 2012

Rhian Hughes

Rhian Hughes, Financial Inclusion Champion in North Wales, tells us how she felt privileged to speak at the Conwy & Denbighshire Local Service Board – Financial Inclusion Together (FIT) project end event on Friday (24 October 2014). Supported by the European Social Fund, the aim of FIT was to tackle poverty by developing, co-ordinating and promoting financial inclusion within Local Service Board (LSB) organisations across Conwy and Denbighshire.

Having worked closely on FIT from its inception, and being a member of the Project Board, it was also a pleasure to hear others speak so positively about the project and the outcomes it has achieved.

The event was led by Alan Smith from Denbighshire County Council, who is the Chair of the Project Board. Others who shared their experience of the project were Bev Moore, LSB Development Officer for Denbighshire, who gave an overview of the project’s achievements. Cath Richards, Benefits Manager for Conwy Council, described how Conwy were embedding and incorporating financial inclusion in to their strategic planning. Chris Bailey, a Debt and Money Adviser for Clwyd Alyn, explained how they will be incorporating the training in to their day to day activity.

Andrew Bowden, Chair of the Conwy & Denbighshire LSB said he was ‘proud and pleased’ to have been involved in the project, and Cllr Philip Edwards of Conwy Council, who is also the Anti Poverty Champion for the local authority, said it was a ‘privilege’ to be a part of this project. Both Andrew Bowden and Philip Edwards are members of the Project Board.

This event was a culmination of 18 months work to achieve some very impressive outcomes, including our aim to train 1000 front line staff from LSB partner organisations to equip them with the knowledge and skills to support their service users. We are confident that our target will be reached when the project ends at the end of December. These front line workers have also been equipped with quality resources to support them in their work. We have also exceeded some of the targets we set at the beginning of the project, including increasing the knowledge and confidence of frontline workers to recognise financial exclusion.

A surprising outcome was also the fact that 73% of those who attended the training, felt that they themselves were more financially included as a result, through the training and also in a position to pass this on to their family and friends. We also heard from a frontline worker’s experience of attending the training and how they were then able to support service users experiencing financial difficulty.

Representatives from Welsh Government, housing associations, and the third sector also attended the event, as well as Iwan Davies, Chief Executive of Conwy Council and other strategic members from both Conwy and Denbighshire County Councils. Although the project will end at the end of December, a change of culture has taken place within the LSB partner organisations and we will see financial inclusion as part of their strategic planning. The work will not end and we will continue to tackle poverty and financial exclusion by working together.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 29, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Llwyfan cenedlaethol i brosiect ‘Taclo Digartrefedd’ y Ganolfan

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Dros yr ychydig flynyddoedd diwethaf, bûm yn ffodus i annerch amrywiol gynadleddau, rhwydweithiau a digwyddiadau eraill ynglŷn â gwaith y prosiect Taclo Digartrefedd trwy Gynhwysiant Ariannol rydym yn gyfrifol amdano yng Nghanolfan Cydweithredol Cymru. Bydd y cyfle i gynnal sesiwn ymylol yn Symposiwm Digartrefedd y DU, yng Nghaerdydd, yn ein rhoi ar lwyfan cenedlaethol am y tro cyntaf a hefyd yn ein galluogi i rannu arfer gorau â’n cymheiriaid o bob cwr o’r wlad.

Mae rhai themâu allweddol i’r symposiwm – dysgu, gweithio mewn partneriaeth ac arloesi – sydd oll yn cyd-fynd â’n gwaith a ffocws strategol y Ganolfan ar daclo tlodi. Yn y digwyddiad, byddaf yn rhoi ein gwaith yn ei gyd-destun trwy siarad am ei berthnasedd i Ddeddf Tai Llywodraeth Cymru, a ddaeth i rym y mis diwethaf, a’r cyfleoedd a ddaw yn ei sgil.

Er enghraifft, wrth ystyried tenantiaid bregus, yn y gorffennol byddai cyn-droseddwr wedi cael tenantiaeth chwe mis yn unig mewn tŷ cymdeithasol. Nawr, gallai gael cartref yn y Sector Rhentu Preifat o dan denantiaeth safonedig – byddai hyn yn rhoi mwy o sicrwydd o fewn daliadaeth.

Byddaf hefyd yn siarad am ganfyddiadau’r gwaith a wnaethom yng Nghaerffili, gyda’r Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol a landlordiaid preifat, lle rydym wedi ymweld â chartrefi tenantiaid y mae eu landlordiaid yn derbyn eu rhent o dan y polisi Diogelu. Mae’r holl denantiaid rydym wedi ymweld â nhw wedi elwa ar gael eglurhad manwl o sut y bydd y Diwygiadau Lles yn effeithio arnynt yn bersonol, ynghyd â’r camau y gallant eu cymryd i helpu i baratoi at gyflwyno Credyd Cynhwysol.

Byddaf yn cyfeirio at Gomisiwn Williams a sut y gall y posibilrwydd y bydd llai o awdurdodau lleol yng Nghymru arwain at heriau a chyfleoedd i’r sector tai. Er ei bod yn bosibl y bydd llai o adnoddau ac arian, gallai adrefnu fel hyn arwain at ailfeddwl am sut y mae gwasanaethau’n cael eu darparu, gan wella’r ffordd y mae pobl yn cael help i gael mynediad i’r gwasanaeth/ymyrraeth gywir ar yr amser cywir.

Mae’n amlwg bod angen i landlordiaid wneud rhagor i gefnogi tenantiaid yn y Sector Rhentu Preifat; nid oes fawr ddim rhyngweithio rhwng llawer ohonynt â’u tenantiaid. Fodd bynnag, gwyddom hefyd y gall rhai tenantiaid fod yn amharod i helpu’u hunain, i fynegi’u pryderon a gofyn am help oherwydd eu bod yn ofni cael eu troi allan o’u cartrefi. Mae angen i landlordiaid, awdurdodau lleol a sefydliadau cymorth gyfathrebu’n well â’i gilydd – mae peth arfer da ond nid yw’n gyson ledled Cymru. Mae angen i ni weld partneriaethau cryfach yn cael eu datblygu rhwng awdurdodau lleol a landlordiaid preifat, gan arwain at ddealltwriaeth well o wendidau tenantiaid a’r gefnogaeth y mae arnynt ei hangen. Yn y bôn, mae angen i awdurdodau lleol weld landlordiaid preifat fel partner tai strategol.

Fe wna i ddistewi nawr, neu byddaf wedi dweud y cyfan! Hefyd, bydd gweithdai yn cael eu cynnal yn hwyrach yn y dydd a fydd yn manylu ymhellach ar rai o’r materion y byddaf yn siarad amdanynt.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

Centre’s ‘Tackling Homelessness’ project set for UK bow

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve been fortunate to address various conferences, networks and other events on the work of the Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion Project that we run at the Wales Co-operative Centre. The opportunity to run a fringe session at the UK Homelessness Symposium, in Cardiff, will put us on a national stage for the first time and also enable us to share best practice with our counterparts from around the country.

The symposium has some key themes running through it – learning, partnership working and innovation – all of which chime with our work. At the event, I will put our work into context by talking about its relevance to the Welsh Government’s Housing Act, that became law last month, and the opportunities it brings.

I’ll also talk about the findings from the work we’ve done in Caerphilly, with the County Borough Council and private landlords that has seen us carry out home visits with tenants whose landlords receive their rent under the Safeguarding policy. All of the tenants we visited have benefitted from a detailed explanation of how the Welfare Reforms will affect them personally, along with measures they can take to help prepare for the introduction of Universal Credit.

I’ll touch upon the Williams Commission and how the potential reduction in local authorities in Wales can again lead to challenges and opportunities for the housing sector. While there may be a reduction in resources and funding, such a shake-up could lead to rethinking on the delivery of services, improving the way people are helped to access the right service/intervention at the right time.

It’s clear that landlords need to do more to support tenants in the Private Rented Sector; many have little or no interaction with their tenants. However, we also know that some tenants can be reluctant to help themselves, to speak up and ask for help. Landlords, local authorities and support organisations need better communication with each other – there is some good practice but it’s not consistent throughout Wales. We need to see stronger partnerships being built between local authorities and private landlords, leading to a better understanding of tenants’ vulnerabilities and the support they require. Essentially, local authorities need to view private landlords as a strategic housing partner.

I’ll leave it there, otherwise I’ll give everything away! Also, there are workshops taking place later in the day that will go into greater detail on some of the issues that I’ll be talking about.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm

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