The Vela Group is a North East Housing Group consisting of Tristar Homes and Housing Hartlepool – Registered Providers with over 17,000 homes. In order to support our customers who would be affected by the Welfare Reforms, Vela took a pro-active approach by developing its Communication Strategy.
Home visiting approach
Their agreed approach across both landlords was that all customers affected would be visited in their home initially to make them aware of the changes around the bedroom tax. These visits were pro-actively based on those customers who they knew would be under occupying based initially on customer profiling information, and later on information provided by the Local Authority Benefit service information. The visits commenced in February 2012 and by May 2012 over 2000 visits had been completed. Tristar Homes have just fewer than 2,000 customers affected by the bedroom tax and Housing Hartlepool has just over 1,100 properties affected. All visits were completed by December 2012 and where necessary follow up attempts were made via home visit, letter and telephone calls were carried out where there was no access. The approach adopted initially was to set up a specialist team who provided customers with information about a range of options that were available to customers as well as the support services that we had in place, including in –house Money Advice and employability service and dedicated officers to support customers who wanted to move home.
Follow up telephone contact
Vela Group have obtained information from their customers about how they are going to deal with the changes i.e. move home, seek budgeting advice, seek employment etc. Where customers have not indicated that they did not know how they would respond, follow up telephone calls have been made on a risk assessment framework. High risk customers were indicated where they had two or more bedrooms under occupied, rent arrears already or support
needs in place. Telephone calls have re-iterated the changes and the support available.
Vela have been very successful in obtaining significant press coverage (newspapers, local radio, TV) both locally and nationally around customers who have been affected by the changes, as well as the positive examples of customers who have been supported in moving home.
In addition to their home visiting approach, Vela have also produced a number of leaflets and articles to advise customers of the changes which have been sent to all customers affected. They have added messages to their customer contact centre advising of the changes and asking customers to ask for further information. They have updated their website with useful information and frequently asked questions. The Group have also developed a high impact promotional “pink poster” campaign which has utilised visuals of their customers with key messages to inform of the key changes. The poster campaign aims to keep messages alive with monthly changing messages whilst maintaining the same overall visual impact.
These posters have been used in their housing centres, low, medium and high rise flat communal area notice boards and also shops, community centres, doctors’ surgeries etc, all of which have successfully raised awareness of key issues. They are in the process of currently developing a new poster campaign linked to Universal Credit with the themes of “are you ready for the changes” and “it’s not all yours” which will give a clear message that rent needs to be paid as first priority once payments are made direct to the customer.
All front line teams have received intensive training including trade operatives, investment project officers, money advice and employability officers, housing officers etc. In addition, back off colleagues from Human Resources, Finance, New Build and Regeneration etc, have also been advised of the changes and support available. Importantly, key messages were given to colleagues around who to contact within the Company if a customer needed help. Training has been complimented by information on their internal intranet site and elearning information tools.
From the visits Vela identified that of the 3107 customers who are under occupying across the group, 653 expressed an interest in a transfer and as a result Vela have so far been able to proactively support 128 with their re-housing request.
Vela Group has received over 100 referrals to their employability service and over 200 money advice referrals. Of those customers affected by the bedroom tax 38% of customers within the Vela group have rent arrears.
They were also able to identify other information including:
- 37% of tenants were assessed as vulnerable (for reasons such as mental health, addiction, debt problems).
- 28% of tenants had no bank account capable of supporting direct debit payments of rent.
- 50% of tenants did not have access to the internet (universal credit is to be managed digitally)