We have appointed two new welfare advisers to assist tenants with claiming Universal Credit, managing monthly income, getting back to work and applying for grants.
Louise Brown has formerly worked with Caradon, Winchester and Test Valley councils as a housing benefits adviser and housing officer, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role.
Simon Griffiths joins the Welfare Advisory team from our property services. He has also worked for the Department of Work and Pensions as an adviser.
As well as offering advice to tenants, Simon and Louise will work closely with voluntary agencies and statutory organisations to help tenants find appropriate support.
Their appointments come at a time where tenants face the transition to Universal Credit. The new benefit reform represents a big change for those receiving benefits, and combines jobseekers’ allowance, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, working tax credit, and employment and support allowance into one monthly payment.
Mark Gardner, group chief executive for Ocean Group, predicts that changes to the welfare system may affect housing affordability.
He said: “Generally, it is people who are already near financial crisis that have experienced issues with the transition to Universal Credit. Delays in the initial payment, a cap on benefits, and stricter rules for getting back to work mean that some families could find themselves worse off under Universal Credit.”
A report from the Affordable Housing Commission, (AHC), highlighted that housing affordability becomes critical where housing costs represent more than 40 percent of household income. The tipping point tends to be highest amongst first time buyers, families with dependent children, and those in private rented accommodation.
Mark Gardner said: “Cornwall has a high proportion of workers on minimum wage and zero-hours contracts due to seasonal work. Unexpected bills, reduction in income and changes to personal circumstances can all push tenants towards, or beyond, the 40 percent tipping point.”
Ocean Housing is working in partnership with the local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Citizens Advice, credit unions and support organisations such as the local food bank, to help tenants manage debt and get finances back on track.
Gina Cutler, head of neighbourhood services at Ocean Housing, said: “People can fall on hard times for any number of reasons. By working as a collaborative team, we help tenants cut through the red tape and alleviate financial stress so that tenants can reach the end of the month with greater peace of mind.”
For those finding it difficult to make ends meet, Ocean Housing has put together a quick checklist:
- Plan ahead financially to create a cushion for unexpected costs.
- Find out whether you qualify for benefits.
- Avoid financial sanctions by actively seeking employment.
- Shop around for the best deals with utility companies.
- Talk to creditors and support organisations if you are experiencing financial difficulties.
- Credit unions may provide a more affordable debt management plan to start tackling debt.
For those looking for help with Universal Credit claims, we recommend contacting Citizens Advice. They have launched a Help to Claim service, providing support in the early stages of a Universal Credit claim, including guidance on the verification process which currently is holding up many Universal Credit claims.