Ten years ago, L&Q set up Pound Advice, a debt advice and financial capability service for our residents. Back then, income inequality’s growth was the issue of the day, with the financial crisis disproportionately impacting low-income households.
In the age of the ‘perma-crisis’, the pandemic followed by the cost-of-living crunch is seeing the same group being hit the hardest.
Many of the residents who live in social homes will bear the brunt of this downturn - and squeezed incomes will mean that low-cost housing is not enough to keep them afloat. Housing association’s roles will be ever more critical, as we help our residents to navigate the deeply uncertain months ahead.
As organisations rooted in our communities, we’re well-placed to help people improve their lot in real terms.
One of our biggest advantages is the multiple touchpoints we have with our residents. Every chance we have to speak to someone is an opportunity to see how they’re doing and ask if they need help.
In a society where seeking financial support is still stigmatised, starting that conversation, and following it up with action, is essential.
It is this role of community anchor that is at the core of Pound Advice. Funded by L&Q, the service is managed by social impact company, We are Digital, and delivered by qualified local partners, including Citizen’s Advice Bureaus, social businesses and third sector organisations.
Support for the resident is tailored to the individual through a personalised action plan, and financial gains come in the form of reduced outgoings and relieved debt.
Our network partners can assist with a wide range of money issues, from budgeting advice and help with switching of suppliers, to identifying unclaimed or incorrectly claimed benefits, and support with progressing benefit applications.
Alongside practical advice, partners can also intervene with creditors, negotiate payment plans and debt reductions, and apply for Debt Relief Orders on a resident’s behalf.
This service works because colleagues across L&Q refer residents to us for support, and in great numbers too.
Over the last three years, Pound Advice has helped more than 8,400 residents, and put over £29 million back in their pockets.
The gains made for residents have ranged from small one-off grants to large payments of benefits and everything in between. Some have even been the difference between tenancies being sustained and residents losing their homes.
Radhika’*s story illustrates the profound impact behind the numbers. A mum of two, Radhika’s physical disabilities, depression and anxiety meant she was unable to attend her medical assessments. As a result, her Housing Benefit stopped, causing her already significant rent arrears to spiral out of control.
Pound Advice made an appointment for Radhika at her local CAB, where she was supported to make a claim. It was through this engagement that Radhika learnt she had not been paid the right amount of benefit since 2015. DWP carried out an investigation and Radhika was awarded a back-dated payment of over £15k – clearing her arrears and resolving her money issues.
The L&Q Foundation brings together all of our social and economic programmes in one place. For over 10 years it has been investing in people and places, creating lasting change for our residents so they and their families can live securely and prosper.
This is of course alongside the rest of the work that the team does on behalf of residents. In-house tenancy sustainment advisors are also on hand to help vulnerable residents to maximise the benefits they receive, offering budgeting advice, and improving their ability to cope with everyday life.
In 2020/21, we supported 543 residents to manage their tenancies more successfully. After working with our Tenancy Sustainment Officers, over half of residents reported feeling more confident (56%), nearly half felt they had more control over their life (49%), and two-thirds were managing better financially (66%).
Alongside financial inclusion support, our employment service helps people increase their incomes by finding paid work. The team has helped over 500 people start work in the last year, and it’s this element of our offer which will become more important in the coming months.
Unemployment may be historically low, but economic inactivity is still elevated, and our residents – particularly those that are older or vulnerable – will be disproportionately affected. Add to this an exceptionally competitive jobs market and mounting inflation rates and helping our residents not just to manage immediate financial pressures, but to find new opportunities and increase their incomes, will be key.
With hard-pressed households feeling the pinch, tailored support services from social housing providers are needed more than ever. As we approach Pound Advice’s tenth anniversary, we are delighted to renew our offer for another four years, extending this safety net to thousands of residents.
*Name has been changed