As is the case with some tenants, some housing associations have been grappling with the implementation of Universal Credit (UC) for some time. Associations have been learning and evolving their response since UC launched back in 2013.
But while the pilot scheme – the first instance where claimants from the old system will ‘migrate’ to the new – will throw new challenges and learnings, we can’t stand still, and we’re already getting ready for the full rollout.
At present, 14% of Sovereign residents (that’s 6,910 tenancies) have moved across to UC. The move is currently triggered by a change in circumstances, but by December 2023 all 27,000 of our residents – excluding those exempt from the change – will no longer receive benefits as they do now.
The full rollout will be a real step-change for us, with large numbers of residents all switching at the same time. We’re talking with the DWP about what they can do to make it work, but we’re also getting ourselves and our residents as ready as we can be.
In Harrogate, people will transfer people across based on their ‘readiness’ to move to UC, but how will that translate nationally? We’re pushing for a postcode-led approach to help us and others manage the transition more effectively.
Ultimately, we want to work with and support our residents wherever we can. We also advise them to avoid Advance Payment Approved (APAs) if they can, encouraging people to take responsibility for their own finances and not take on something that could lead to more pressure down the road.
Over the last year or so, we’ve majored on training, introduced a triaging process, as well as developing targeted support and communications.
More than 100 employees from across income, lettings, and tenancy support teams have gone through intensive specialist training. UC is complex; we recognise we need to be experts ourselves if we are to guide others.
Additionally, we have processes to flag when someone is moving to UC from Housing Benefit. We call every resident this affects, targeting and offering support where and when it’s needed. This includes explaining how best to manage a rent account through the wait for that first UC payment. We can also bring in other services – like tenancy support or employment and training – as required.
As the pilot gathers pace and we move towards the full rollout, we’ll continue to offer personalised support – hoping to minimise the impact and to make the process as seamless as possible.