Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Bedroom Tax: Could a Social Landlord Hardship Fund make the difference?

As a member of the Board of Venture Housing Association in Liverpool I have been looking with colleagues at the resources available to us to protect our tenants from hugely damaging Welfare Reform changes. 

This year VHA have committed £30k to fund independent Welfare Benefits Advisors and Benefit and Income Maximisation teams who are available for and proactively contacting our tenants.

It is a great service but I still think we could do more.

So yesterday afternoon I was sitting with a group of our rent team and housing officers and asking them to help think of ways in which we could protect those tenants for whom life is about to become absolutely unbearable. We tossed lots of ideas around, but most were ruled out "Illegal", "Dishonest", "Unfair". And then one of the staff who has been with the Association for nearly 30 years suggested that - like the old days - we could set up our own hardship fund. A fund where we set aside a chunk of money to help people who have been unable to access the (woefully inadequate) Discretionary Relief Fund and where we think they have a strong case for support; perhaps people to whom we have no smaller properties to offer and are only a year short of receiving that all important Pension Credit, or whose children will be 10 years old next year and will be forced to move out of the area and away from their schools. And perhaps people who cannot pay their council tax or are hugely affected by the changes to non-dependent family members status could be helped while we wait to rehouse them.

I have put the idea to the Director of Housing and asked her to look at the figures, work up some suitable criteria and a scheme plan if at all possible. She will hopefully be in a position to report to the Board on the viability of the idea before the end of the month at our Strategic Away Day. I don't know whether we will be able to find the money or make the figures stack up in the business plan, but my instinct tells me that we are on to something here. I also take heart from the fact that she sits on the RP Welfare Reform Group for Liverpool (all of the Housing Associations getting together to pool ideas and resources to protect their tenants) and can discuss the idea with them, perhaps some of them already do this, in which case it needs advertising more widely.

Venture is not a big association, we only have 1300 properties and we don't have huge reserves, but I like to think we are big on social values. If any association can do this, I believe Venture can and I will be pushing very hard for this if it is viable.

If you are a member of a Housing Association Board, please talk to your SMT about this option too.

No comments: