Research on income collection: Housing association changes in response to Universal Credit

01 January 2019

This report sets out research undertaken by the National Housing Federation into any changes that our members have made to pre-tenancy and income collection policies and processes in response to Universal Credit. We want to share the learnings from other housing associations regarding approaches they feel work when it comes to the new benefit system.

This research is based on interviews with 11 people from eight organisations. The sample was chosen from those who mentioned changes to their systems in our regular Universal Credit survey.

This report provides more background on the research before setting out key findings on pre-tenancy work, income collection, staffing and lessons learnt. Examples presented are not representative of the sector, but are provided to assist other organisations who may be facing similar issues.

Executive summary

The introduction of Universal Credit has led many housing associations to look at their income collection processes. Therefore, the National Housing Federation thought it was important to understand how the processes and procedures of income collection are changing.

Universal Credit has changed the way that many social housing tenants pay their rent. Most people receiving Universal Credit are responsible for paying rent directly to their landlord. For a number of reasons (including waiting for payment, existing rent arrears, and payment behaviour) the move to Universal Credit has resulted in an increase in rent arrears at the beginning of the claim period.

Methods

To find out what housing associations are doing, we interviewed 11 professionals from eight housing associations. We also held a session at a regional meeting of welfare professionals from housing associations. The housing associations who took part in the interviews were from different regions, sizes and types. At the time of the interviews, tenants paying with Universal Credit represented a small number of the interviewed housing association’s tenants (minimum 4% of tenancies, maximum 13%).

Key findings

  • Housing associations started to prepare for welfare reform after changes were announced in 2010, including investing in more staff, training, preparing tenant communication strategies, purchasing software and modelling the likely impact.
  • Some housing associations had invested in software, such as rent payment analysis, autodialers and benefit calculator tools.
  • Some housing associations have made changes to their pre-tenancy policies for new tenants on Universal Credit.
  • Housing associations found Universal Credit cases required more administrative staff time than Housing Benefit. Greater efficiency gave more time for staff to have personalised conversations with tenants about claims.
  • It is too early to say what the impact of these changes has been. Generally, associations felt that steady or decreasing arrears were an indication that their approach was effective.

The top four lessons from housing associations were:

  1. Make use of targeted communication strategies to tenants affected by Universal Credit.
  2. Do not underestimate the time taken to advise and support tenants with their claim.
  3. Exercise caution when planning and implementing proposed changes to Universal Credit policy.
  4. Partnership working is key to working with Universal Credit, including working with Department for Work and Pension (DWP), other housing associations and local authorities.

Who to speak to

Sue Ramsden, Policy Leader