Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

Posts Tagged ‘homelessness

New ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ campaign starts here – #povertyinwales

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Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign image

Over the next fourteen days, the Wales Co-operative Centre is inviting you to join a conversation about poverty in Wales, and what works to overcome it, or at least reduce its impact.

The headlines aren’t good.  The economy is flat-lining.  We have the biggest shake-up to the benefits system in 60 years.  Public spending is being cut whilst the need for public services is rising.  Some people are losing their jobs whilst others are facing pay freezes or reductions to their hours.   Prices, especially energy prices, continue to rise.  These events have a cumulative impact on families and communities in Wales, and poverty is often the consequence.

Yet amongst all of this there are real successes: stories of enterprises supported to create jobs in our most deprived communities, stories of people helped into work against the odds.  Stories of people empowered to save money and avoid debt.  We will be telling some of thesestories over the next couple of weeks.

For example, the Wales Co-operative Centre provides support to people who are digitally excluded, through leading the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme.  Getting online and developing digital skills can open doors to unimagined worlds.  Amongst other things, we have helped hundreds of people progress in the jobs market, and we will hear from some of them this fortnight.  The Centre also works to promote Financial Inclusion, for example by supporting people at risk of homelessness.  We help them manage their money more effectively and avoid debt.

Our work with social enterprises specifically targets those with the potential to grow and create more jobs.  We have worked with clients across Wales, getting national recognition for our recent work with AFS in Swansea, which provided sustainable employment for former Remploy workers.  The jobs created as a result of our work are quality employment opportunities, and the money made by the employing enterprises stays in the local community.

The impact of poverty on people in Wales makes it inappropriate to call this series of success stories a celebration.  It is, however, an acknowledgement that some things are working and that people are benefiting as a result.

We look forward to your response, to hearing your stories.  You can comment on the blog posts, or use #povertyinwales on Twitter.


Centre supporting private sector landlords and tenants to consider financial inclusion

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Earlier this week, the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) project team joined housing professionals and landlord representatives at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) PRS Summit.

Delegates gathered at the Future Inn, in Cardiff Bay, to consider the role of the private rented sector (PRS) in Wales, at a time when it is experiencing a period of substantial change.

Following an introduction by Welsh Government on the ‘Homes for Wales’ White Paper, that will underpin the first Housing Bill to be published later this year, the PRS is well and truly on the top of the agenda for local authorities, housing associations, private landlords and increasingly institutional investors.

woman in front of house

The conference focused on the financial challenges facing tenants in the Private Rented Sector

The THFI project fits into this by identifying that financially excluded tenants, living in PRS, are at a greater risk of becoming homeless.  In the context of forthcoming welfare reform and the move to Universal Credit, THFI is engaging with landlords and their tenants to promote the use of financial inclusion to mitigate the impact of these reforms.

In practice, THFI has been successfully promoting the role of credit unions through the payment of Local Housing Allowance, directly into a credit union rent account, on behalf of vulnerable tenants.  This leads to a longer, sustainable, tenancy, which is in the best interests of the tenant and the landlord.

THFI Project Manager, Jo Lovell, and Financial Inclusion Officer, Lucia Gillespie delivered a workshop, to a full house, as part of the PRS Summit, asking people to consider the best way to support tenants in the PRS.  A lively discussion identified that:

a)      The needs of PRS tenants are not fully met throughout Wales.

b)      A person-centred approach is needed and an understanding of the tenant’s history.

c)      Mapping of support and advice services will help landlords and tenants alike, to understand where they can turn to.

d)      Communication between landlords, tenants and local authorities is vital.

A person-centred approach has been the key to the success of a pilot project with Caerphilly Council, Smartmoney Credit Union and PRS landlords.  Here, the scheme has been used to provide financial services to the ‘unbanked’ and to ring-fence Housing Benefit to protect PRS tenants.

Working in partnership with the council tenants, visits have been carried out, leading to the collection of data, to help gain an improved understanding of tenants circumstances in order to signpost them to vital support.  Following 21 tenant visits, more than a third have signed up for a rent account or gone on to open main stream bank accounts.  The Council is so pleased with these results, that there are plans to roll out this work to many more tenants in the coming months.

Jo Lovell, THFI project manager said: “It is a myth that all tenants on benefits are bad tenants.  By working, proactively, and supporting the use of the rent account can help to both safeguard your rent and maintain a long and successful tenancy.”

Swansea partnership supports Credit Union Rent Account scheme

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It’s Co-operatives Fortnight and Co-operative Congress is only 48 hours away! It’s timely, therefore, to remember the role that credit unions play as community finance co-operatives. Our ‘Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion’ project has been supporting a scheme that involves Swansea Council and the local credit union, offering customers a rent account, that will help people to manage their money in the face of challenges from Welfare Reform. Swansea Council has provided the following update…

The introduction of Universal Credit (UC) in October 2013 will mean that thousands of council tenants, who currently have their Housing Benefit paid directly into their Council Rent account, will have to manage paying their rent instead. Credit Unions have widely been promoted by the Government as a good way of supporting tenants through Welfare Reforms to manage their finances and ensure that their rent is paid. wallet DSC2089

Swansea Council has therefore joined up with Loans and Savings Abertawe (LASA) Credit Union to offer a scheme to support its tenants to pay their rent. The scheme also focuses on identifying and supporting tenants who may be facing financial difficulties as a result of Welfare Reform.

The scheme was initially developed to support tenants with the transition to direct rent payments under Universal Credit, however it was agreed that the scheme could also be used to support tenants affected by the introduction of the under-occupation rules which came into effect in April this year.

Since April, officers within the Rents Team have been working with new tenants at sign up to determine if this scheme is suitable for them. A special application pack has also been developed to explain the scheme and ensure that they understand how it will operate. This has included discussions with tenants who are affected by the under-occupations charge and who may be facing financial difficulties. The scheme has also been marketed in Open House, the newsletter for council tenants.

Whilst there has been some interest in the scheme to date, it is still early in terms of tenants adjusting to making the under-occupation shortfall payments. It is anticipated that as tenants assess their ability to manage the shortfall over the coming months, they may consider the CU rent account as an option. It is further anticipated that by growing the scheme slowly and working with the Credit Union to develop capacity, it will be ready to support those tenants, who in far greater numbers, will be affected by the roll out of Universal Credit.

Tomorrow (June 27th), Jocelle Lovell and Paul White of the Wales Co-operative Centre’s ‘Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion’ (THFI) team will be running a fringe seminar at the Shelter Cymru conference ‘People & Homes 2013’ that is being held at the Swansea Marriott. For more details on their work, including the ‘THFI toolkit’ visit the Wales Co-operative Centre website.

Written by Mark Smith

June 26, 2013 at 9:33 am

Money problems do not have to lead to homelessness

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Katija Dew

Katija Dew

Project aims to safeguard rent payments for vulnerable tenants

On International Credit Union Day (Thursday 18th October), Katija Dew, Programme Director for Financial Inclusion at the Wales Co-operative Centre, and Welsh Government Financial Inclusion Champion for Wales, looks at the potential effect of Universal Credit on vulnerable tenants and how a new project could utilise credit unions to safeguard rent payments.

With just under a year to go before Universal Credit is introduced it is fitting to use International Credit Union Day to look at some of the effects that financial exclusion has on citizens in Wales.  It is an opportunity to look at how schemes advocating responsible financial products can help safeguard tenants and vulnerable people in our society.

Universal Credit is due to start rolling out in October 2013 and it will have a huge impact on those  claiming benefits. The new system will replace the majority of individual payments including tax credits, income support, jobseekers allowance, housing benefits,  and some sickness or disability benefits. The approach is intended to simplify an existing system that most people agree is extremely complicated and its planned application raises issues around inclusion and vulnerability.

The payment will be made on a monthly basis to one person, irrespective of the number of people within the household that claim together. That recipient is then responsible for ensuring that the money paid for that month is used for family expenditure such as rent, fuel and heating, food and clothing.

Whilst this approach appears logical for the majority of households, there are a number of issues that could mean that benefits are not used to their best effect, so effectively reducing household income even further. ‘Financially excluded’ tenants, who may not be able to open a bank account or who may fear bank charges and manage by using cash find themselves paying more for day to day living. Those who don’t know how to manage their money well, or lack the financial education to prioritise debt effectively sometimes opt to use their benefits to pay debts on a perceived need basis  – for instance paying off a short term loan as the company is literally on the doorstep. As an example of other difficulties people may face; those living in an abusive relationship or other dependency problems may find that the family does not see the money they are supposed to live on.

Beyond the change to the method of benefit payment, there are very significant changes to eligibility for benefits and the level at which they are paid. There are already an increasing number of households who find that their benefits will not cover their rent. This poses a real risk of homelessness and hardship. When Universal Credit is introduced most people who have their rent paid directly by benefits will have to manage the payments themselves. If the recipients have debts, problems with using bank accounts or don’t understand how to manage their money well, this means that the rent may not be paid.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we are working to support those most at risk of eviction and homelessness due to problems with managing their money.

Our Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) project seeks to support vulnerable tenants through the administration of their benefit through a ‘Credit Union Rent Account’. The project has been running across Wales since October 2011, and is funded by the Oak Foundation and Welsh Government. Its aim is to develop a credit union rent account model where none exists within a local authority, and to promote the scheme to private landlords and tenants to maximise take up.

The Credit Union Rent Account process is simple – the tenant joins a credit union and instructs the Local Authority to pay the benefit into a rent account. The benefit is ring-fenced and paid to the landlord (who pays a small administration fee to the Credit Union). This helps the tenant budget and by becoming a member of the Credit Union they get access to the other products a Credit Union can offer, such as low-cost loans and savings accounts. The tenant still retains control of their benefit. The landlord benefits from a degree of assurance that housing benefit is being used to pay rent.

Bristol Credit Union has provided a rent account scheme since 2008. Bristol Credit Union Chief Executive, James Berry comments, “Our members are fully in control of their account, and landlords like the fact that they are notified of any changes a member makes to the account, in advance to the change taking place. Tenants also particularly appreciate having rent ring-fenced in a jam-jar account as it means they have less of a worry about making sure the rent is paid.” Welsh Credit Unions are working hard to develop ideas further to suit their localised needs. For instance Neath Port Talbot Credit Union has provided a rent account model for over two years. By becoming a member of the Credit Union, over 76% of tenants on this scheme now have loans with Neath Port Talbot Credit Union where otherwise they may approached a high interest loan provider.

There are clear benefits to introducing vulnerable benefit claimants to a credit union now, prior to the introduction of Universal Credit. Credit unions are developing budgeting accounts, known as ‘jam jar’ accounts, to help support vulnerable people to budget for priority debt – ring-fencing priority payments such as rent. This will help vulnerable people, who will receive housing benefit within a larger single payment, to prioritise the rent going forward. Action now to support innovative models such as the credit union rent account will help mitigate against the impact of Welfare Benefit Reform, but this action is needed quickly so that people are prepared for the changes.

Vulnerable people need not be financially excluded in Wales. With co-operation and communication between accountable financial institutions, local government and other stakeholders  we can ensure that our vulnerable and at risk citizens have the means to access responsible financial services and have the security of a home and food for their families.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

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