With welfare reforms having a significant impact on tenants’ ability to pay their rent, it is increasingly important that we make sure that families and individuals are being allocated properties that are appropriate and affordable.
For many this process starts long before someone moves a new home, with an increased focus on pre-tenancy work. Claire Parry from our Money Matters team discusses how the Trust has developed a new approach to working with tenants ahead of them moving in.
“Too often in the past tenants across our sector were set up fail.
“They were allocated properties that they simply could not sustain. They fell behind on the rent and were soon facing eviction. This created a whole raft of new issues that we are accustomed to.
“Sometime landlords got allocations wrong, but often the tenant would not give a clear picture of their personal circumstance.
“Thankfully, pre-tenancy work has become an increasingly pivotal part of the lettings process with best practice now being established across the sector.
“We can deal with some of the most vulnerable people in society, so it is crucial that the checks put in place are rigorous, so we know we are putting people in a home that will help improve their lives – not add to any burden.
“My role is to assess people to see if the can afford to rent one of our properties, as well as advising them of any benefits they may be entitled to..
“I attend interviews with our Lettings Team and we look at everything – bank statements, their income and outgoings, any debts that they have, and what benefits they might be entitled to. We work out if they can genuinely afford the rent.
“When going through people’s bank statements, I look out for things like unpaid direct debits, overdraft charges and online gambling. Clear signs that people are already struggling to manage their finances.
“Debt collection agencies and gambling firms like William Hill will often appear different on a bank statement, so it’s not always easy to spot what the debts are.
“We work together as a team to try to establish a clear picture of what different charges are in reality and we’ve built up a bank of knowledge. They key rule is always check if I am not 100% sure on something, it could unearth an issue that will impact on their ability to afford the home.
“Part of the challenge is about managing expectations.
“People come along to an interview with the assumption that they are going to get the keys there and then.
“Sometimes we have to turn people down because they are leaving home for the first time and there is no way that they can afford to pay up a month’s rent in advance or sustain rent payments throughout their tenancy.
“We always offer advice and go through other options with them. We sign post and encourage people to get in touch with PayPlan – who offer debt management advice as well as guidance on accessing advance Universal Credit payments.
“Online gambling is growing issue amongst people applying to live in our homes.
“People are often quite blasé about it and say that they are managing things – but their bank statements suggest otherwise.
“I recently had a couple come in who had their heart set on one of our new homes. They met a lot of the criteria – they had local links to the area, they both worked and had a steady income coming in each month.
“I dug a little deeper. Over a four week period, she had spent around £6,000 on online bingo. She was in floods of tears when I told her that, due to all their outgoings, they couldn’t afford the property.
“The next day she shut down all her accounts. It allowed the couple to deal with a much deeper issue and we were able to signpost them to support.
“On the flipside, you feel amazing when someone who desperately needs a home ticks all the boxes. Recently I have been dealing with a lady who had been in an abusive relationship for over 40 years. She had decided enough was enough and managed to break free and came to us. All she had was a small state pension and had no idea what help was available to her.
“I calculated all the benefits she would be entitled to – she could receive pension credit and she was entitled to the full amount of both housing and council tax benefit as well. We also made an application for additional support via the council and as a result she was now £300 a week better off.
“She sobbed in the interview – she couldn’t believe all that help was available to her.”