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New welfare advisers to help tenants navigate Universal Credit

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.

A day in the life of a Neighbourhood Services Officer

Being a Neighbourhood Services Officer (NSO) is a busy job.

But it’s also incredibly rewarding, as our very own Susie explains.

Susie has worked for Ocean for four years, and is currently managing properties in Newquay and St Columb Minor as a NSO.

At Ocean, we currently have six NSOs in total, taking care of over 4,200 properties across Cornwall. On average, an officer manages between 700-1000 properties. The team also assist the management of around 700 shared ownership and leaseholder properties.

“No one day is ever the same in this role, which makes it really interesting,” says Susie. “On a typical day I start by checking my emails and ensuring there have been no emergency housing issues overnight, such as fire/flood or a criminal offence involving a tenant or property.”

After that, Susie then heads off to her patch to carry out visits. These can range from:

  • Meeting a new tenant who has recently moved in to their property
  • Boundary and parking issues
  • Inspecting the condition of a garden or property
  • Reports of anti-social behaviour
  • Welfare visits
  • Estate walkabouts
  • Safeguarding – protecting our tenants from possible abuse, harm or neglect.

“I also attend multi agency meetings with the police, social services and other organisations,” continues Susie.

“This is for specific cases where the experience of many teams are necessary involving the care of children, vulnerable adults and serious levels of crime.”

She added: “In amongst the various appointments of the day, I try and fit in a quick lunch break and type up any notes or referrals that need to be made.

“Obviously, my mobile is on should anyone from the office need to get hold of me, the world of housing never stops!”

At the end of the day, Susie types up her many notes. She also logs any referrals that need to be made.

“As busy and challenging as this job is, it can also be incredibly rewarding,” she said.

“Especially when you see the difference you can make to a person or family’s life, no matter how small this may be.

She added: “The best thing about my job is when a tenant picks up the phone or sends a card to say thank you for my help or support.

“I’m lucky to say that I am part of a resilient team who work well together and provide support both emotionally and practically when needed.”

Being a Neighbourhood Services Officer is an important role. Is there anything else that you want to know about their responsibilities?

Or, do you fancy joining the team? We currently have a very exciting role – Neighbourhood Services Manager – advertised.

If you’re looking for a new challenge in your Housing Management career, we would love to hear from you!

More details here.

Meet Clive – a true Ocean community champion

In every community there is often an unsung hero. Somebody who goes the extra mile, purely because of their love of where they live and their neighbours.

This summer, we were incredibly impressed by one of our own residents – a true community champion. Clive, who lives in St Austell, can only be described as Chapel Fields’ own community hero.

A keen gardener, Clive has been a tenant at Ocean for many years.

Recently he contacted Arthur Robertson, who heads up the grounds maintenance service. Clive sought permission to bring the communal area, and beds, back to life with a sparkle of colour.

“I had no hesitation in saying yes,” said an impressed Arthur. “It is great to have a working partnership with tenants on our estates.”

So, with contributions and help from his neighbours, Clive soon transformed a corner of Chapel Fields into what he calls ‘The Lost Gardens of Chapel Fields’.

Community champion Clive told us: “It is surprising what a community can do when they all pull together. I’m delighted to see the results of all our hard work.”

‘Community champion’

Bird feeders, colourful flowers and even a bug hotel make for a wonderful view for those who live nearby.

Pat, another resident, is one of many who has been delighted with the difference. Due to limited mobility she is unable to help out, but she provides much-welcomed tea and cake for the workers to enjoy.

She added: “It’s been a blessing to have such a lovely outlook from my ground floor window.”

Clive is also finding time to help neighbours with their own individual gardens. Arthur has even recruited him as one of our grounds maintenance monitors, to let us know if we are providing a good job.

Would you like to be a monitor and give us feedback on our grounds maintenance service? If so, visit Tenant Monitors for more details. You can also contact our Tenant Involvement Team on 01726 874450.

We would love to hear similar stories of residents like Clive, who also go above and beyond to bring their community together. Let us know!