Fourth Universal Credit Impact Report Published

The Northern Housing Consortium has published its fourth Impact of Universal Credit Round. This report outlines the findings of the final in a series of four surveys and builds upon the results of the first three reports, which can be accessed from NHC’s website here. The research investigates how the implementation and continuing rollout of Universal Credit is affecting housing organisations and their tenants in the north.

We continue to track members’ responses to core questions on arrears levels, delays in processing claims and on how the system impacts on tenants’ health and well-being. This latest survey, however also introduced questions to explore confidence in service centres and respondents’ relationships with DWP Partnership Managers. Some of the key findings from the Round 4 report are:

  • over four-fifths of respondents said that delays in processing claims led to tenants being short of money.
  • more than three-quarters have seen enquiries to money advice teams increase due to Universal Credit.
  • almost three-quarters said that getting information from service centres is either fairly or very difficult.
  • all respondents were aware of tenants using food banks.

We continue to use findings from the research to engage with DWP officials through NHC’s roundtable programme to raise members’ concerns and experiences of procedural issues and we will work with DWP to make the new system as smooth as possible for tenants, housing providers and DWP alike.

Now that the research is complete and there is a whole year’s worth of data collected, a final report will soon be published that pulls together all of the data from the four surveys to provide trend analysis and some conclusion from the findings. If you need any more information on this project, please contact Business Intelligence Officer Barry Turnbull.


Guestblog: Texthelp – Digital inclusion builds stronger foundations for housing associations and protects revenue

Texthelp logo

More services like Universal Credit are being transferred online – but at what cost to providers and end users? Mark McCusker, CEO of assistive technology specialists Texthelp highlights the importance of digital inclusion for housing associations and their residents.

To describe the ongoing rollout of Universal Credit as an interesting challenge for UK housing associations and their residents is something of an understatement. Exclusively administered online, it puts huge pressures on many vulnerable people who until now have only been familiar with making benefit claims face-to-face with an advisor.

Claimants must apply for and manage universal credit  online – a major deterrent right at the outset for people who for various reasons are unable or unwilling to use the Internet. Payments are made monthly into a claimant’s bank account, who in turn pays the landlord themselves. For any resident who’s less than digitally literate it’s a daunting prospect.

At Texthelp our own survey shows unequivocally that housing associations see Universal Credit as posing a significant challenge to their future revenues. And it’s no surprise that most providers we polled identify lack of access to the Internet – together with a shortfall in digital skills for many claimants – as the biggest obstacles to claiming credit online.

The reality is that almost half of the UK’s adult population who do not use the Internet live in social housing. A lack of confidence online is compounded by several factors: old age, physical disability and literacy challenges like dyslexia, plus the additional burden for many people of speaking English as a second language. Neither is it always an easy task earning the trust of users on low incomes who may be unwilling or distrustful of sharing personal and financial information online.

As a consequence, housing associations countrywide are already embroiled in the rollout of universal credit with the costly provision of extra resources and training for staff and residents. Many are already establishing digital hubs within their communities, serving as focal points for residents to access the Internet and learn valuable digital skills in a welcoming environment. The choice for housing associations is stark. Without making these often significant investments, their revenues are endangered as tenants struggle with a system that seems unfairly loaded against them.  

‘Digital Inclusion’ describes the use of technology to improve the lives of otherwise disadvantaged people. But what does it mean in practice for housing associations? Simply providing access to the Internet is a start – as is training for residents who may have never encountered a computer before.

But what’s also needed are the tools to engage residents, encouraging them to make use of Universal Credit and other online services. And this is where assistive technology can play a hugely powerful role in promoting digital inclusion. Low-cost PC screen reader software can literally ‘speak’ a web page out loud to help users with dyslexia, poor literacy or visual impairments. Some products can even translate online information into a range of languages, providing support to readers with English as a second language. We have tools that can do all of this and more, highlighting and magnifying words and sentences on screen, making online forms and instructions easier to follow.

It looks like Universal Credit is here to stay. With minimal extra investment in assistive technology, housing associations can protect revenues – and provide a more welcoming service – by ensuring that digital inclusion embraces their residents who need it most.

Find out more at Innovate North – the NHC Northern Housing Summit 2017. We are on Stand 4.  Or drop us an email at  

Lords and MPs attend APPG for Housing the North meeting

MPs and Lords came together last Wednesday to hear how a range of NHC members were benefitting their communities through transformative regeneration projects. Joining Chair Ian Mearns MP and Vice Chair Kevin Hollinrake MP for the APPG for Housing in the North, a strong group of 20 people attended including Shadow Housing Minister Tony Lloyd MP and Lord Shipley, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Communities, Decentralisation, and the Northern Powerhouse. Although the day was dominated by an Opposition Day Debate on Universal Credit, Ian Mearns MP declared it noteworthy that the group had still attracted the attention of parliamentarians around the region with the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and Humber all represented.

As explained by Pete Bailey, NHC Associate, the purpose of the APPG was to get the debate on regeneration out into the open. Although having garnered a negative reputation as a by-word for gentrification, regeneration had an important part to play in addressing not just the housing crisis in the North but as a way of improving the economic opportunities of whole areas.

Tom Warburton, Director of Place at Newcastle City Council, described how a combination of new builds and early intervention in preventing homes becoming empty had seen “the beginnings of thriving communities” around the city. This work would soon be complemented with the introduction of local infrastructure such as shops and a GP practice to allow places to grow further.

Paul Beardmore, representing Manchester City Council as Director of Housing, continued on this theme. With a strong emphasis on engagement and matching regeneration with similar ambitions to grow employment, some of Manchester’s more deprived estates were being turned around. This revival could be seen in an increase of residents in work and school places being taken up locally. A point of pride was the high level of existing residents that were moved into new properties once completed and thus remained part of the community.

The meeting’s overarching theme of intrinsically linked physical and community development was summed up by RBH’s “Quality of Life, Quality of Place” approach. Clare Tostevin, Director of Communities, underlined the importance of an area having suitable homes and comparable job opportunities as part of an aspirational offer to current and prospective residents. Members around the room agreed and were aware of the issue of residents moving out of an area due to wage growth not being matched by the uplift of the overall town.

In discussing the next steps for the group, a consensus emerged that more could be done to evaluate the long term impact of upfront government investment. It was clear that this funding played a key role in the success of ambitious regeneration schemes and a body of evidence was needed to bolster the argument that investment in the short term was justified by long term returns.

Full meeting notes will be available soon from the NHC’s dedicated page for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Housing in the North.

Housing needs of the North represented at Number 10

Housing remains high on the government agenda this week as they hosted a roundtable at Number 10 for government officials and key representatives from the housing sector.

The meeting was attended by a small group of developers and builders, modular construction specialists, the Chartered Institute of Housing, National Housing Federation, Local Government Association,  members of the G15, and the Northern Housing Consortium (NHC), alongside Melanie Dawes, Permanent Secretary DCLG; Sajid Javid, Secretary of State; Gavin Barwell, Chief of Staff and Alok Sharma, Housing and Planning Minister.

The discussions covered topics such as planning, skills shortages, and modern methods of construction (MMC), all of which were focused on the question: what do we need to do more to increase housing supply?

Tracy Harrison, Deputy Chief Executive, Northern Housing Consortium said:

“The NHC was delighted to have the opportunity to specifically represent the views of the North at a meeting which otherwise could have been dominated by London and the South East.

We were able to highlight the key opportunities in the North and emphasise the commitment to development from our Northern members, our history of innovation and collaboration in the North between local authorities and registered providers, and our excellent supply of developable land.

We also shared the challenges we face: low land values and the high cost of bringing that land to market. We highlighted the need for support with land remediation and land assembly costs through upfront investment and patient capital.”

She continued,

“We believe local authorities can play a key role in development but we have to address the loss of capacity and skills. There are real opportunities to rebalance the economy and build the kind of housing markets that will support a Northern Powerhouse.”

Other key topics discussed around the table included; the argument for government to make a commitment and set targets around MMC, pressure for councils to be able to borrow against their assets, flexibility required around programmes and policy to enable localised solutions and the need for pathways to ownership through different tenures.

The NHC was delighted to see Gavin Barwell at the meeting who understands these issues and the challenges highlighted in the NHC Commission for Housing in the North report. The NHC will continue these discussions when it meets with Alok Sharma at the landlord and tenant engagement session it is hosting in York next week.


Key contacts

Claire Henderson, Communications Manager, Northern Housing Consortium,  01915661032

David Hetherington, Marketing Officer, Northern Housing Consortium, 0191 5661038


About the Northern Housing Consortium

The Northern Housing Consortium represents the views of housing organisations in the North of England. We are a membership organisation made up of local authorities, ALMOs and associations that provide social housing for tenants.

Not only does the NHC bring its members together to share ideas, we represent their interests and ensure they are heard at a regional and national government level.

Download the Commission for Housing report

Ministerial Visits with Alok Sharma MP

Alok Sharma MP, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, is meeting with tenants across the country. The NHC is hosting one of these sessions on Thursday, 26th October in York. A second session, hosted by Community Gateway Association, is taking place on Thursday, 9th November in Preston and the details for both are below.

NHC Session
26th October
Priory Street Centre, 15 Priory Street, York, YO1 6ET
The visit will take place in two sections (these timings are subject to change):

1:30pm – 2:30pm
Q&A with the Minister, NHC members (Registered Providers and Local Authorities)

3:00pm – 5:00pm
Q&A and roundtable discussions with tenants from across the three Northern regions

Community Gateway Association Session

9th November

1:00pm – 2:00pm
Q&A with the Minister, Registered Providers and Local Authorities Community Gateway Association,
Harbour House, Port Way, Preston, PR2 2DW

4:30pm – 8:00pm
Q&A and roundtable discussions with tenants
Preston North End FC, Sir Tom Finney Way, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 6RU
(To book on this session please contact Community Gateway Association’s Claire Smith.)

The main aim for the day is to enable the Minister to speak directly with social tenants, to hear their views and build a picture of the common concerns that can help inform a national approach going forward. The Minister and his team are keen to hear from as wide a selection of tenants as possible to include, but not limited to:

  • a range of geographies (rural, coastal, urban).
  • a mix of tenure (social tenants, leaseholders).
  • a good diversity of tenants (age, race, gender).

The landlord session in the afternoon can only be attended by landlords who are sending tenants from their organisations to the tenant event in the evening. The Minister has expressed a desire to engage with any staff members who work closely with tenants.

If you would like more information on how to attend this session, please email by 20th October. You can put forward a maximum of six tenant attendees. We will accommodate as many people as possible, but to ensure a broad cross section the North we may later ask you to reduce the numbers.