Northwards Housing is a not for profit organisation created by tenants’ reps and the City Council, to deliver top- notch housing services like ordering repairs and collecting rent. It’s separate and independent of the Council, but the Council continues to own the housing.
As well as road shows in the worst affected areas and general communications to most tenants and residents groups, Northwards Housing have undertaken a wide range of work in different areas to both get the message out to their tenants around the changes to the benefit system. Northwards are in the process of expanding their successful Money Advice Service which will prioritise those with rent arrears or at risk of arrears, as well as creating three new Tenancy Advisor roles as a pilot to support new tenants in the first year of their tenancy. The New Tenancy Advisors will be developing and implementing their furniture voucher scheme for new tenants where they give £100 and the Social Enterprise venture Mustard Tree gives £50; a total of £150 to purchase furniture and other low costs household items, hopefully to discourage use of pay day loans and high interest furniture stores. Northwards are increasing their Money Advice Service and are looking at how they might develop the service to support tenants through appeals e.g. Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and possibly Personal Independence Payments or PIP.
Work with schools
Northwards’ Welfare Reform Team have been successful in attending school parents’ evenings and drop – ins at local primary and secondary schools with most schools in the North Manchester area receiving some coverage. This has been really useful in communicating changes especially around bedroom tax and found many parents who are Northwards’ tenants who had put the letters on bedroom tax to one side and were able to target this group. It was also extremely useful and continues to be useful in looking out for discretionary housing payment cases. A number of cases where the child has special educational needs or disabilities have been submitted with success. Additionally, Northwards have also held talks at disability forums and found this useful in finding parents of children with disabilities who are Northwards’ tenants. A few successful DHP cases have been identified this way. Northwards have also held drop- ins at local charities and food banks to talk about welfare reform and meet our customers face to face in a setting they use and feel more comfortable in. This has also been linked to their newly developed hardship fund to target those in most financial need.
Bedroom tax direct communications
Most of Northwards communications around bedroom tax have been face to face and have made a commitment from the outset to try and contact those tenants ’affected by the bedroom’ tax using this method. This included visiting during evenings and weekends with an army of staff volunteers to raise awareness and offer advice on the limited options available. Articles have also appeared in their publication called ‘Natter’ and in staff briefings. They also have a welfare reform group for staff on Yammer to contribute and share information and have a specialist downsizing officer dealing with cases where tenants are trying to secure smaller accommodation. Tenants will be given rehousing priority and in some cases help with moving although like the hardship fund this is not being publicised. Northwards have left call cards for tenants they have unable to speak to through their home visits around the bedroom tax; the card informs them Northwards have called today and briefly highlights the changes and contact details should they require any further information or would like to speak to someone in person.