The reality of being a statistic of policy change and procedures
I wanted to tell you about the experience of just one of the many tenants that the Wales Co-operative Centre’s, Comic Relief funded, ‘Your Money, Your Home’ project has been working with. It shows the reality of what many people are having to deal with in the current economic climate.
During a home visit in March, we assisted a tenant to complete a Discretionary Assistance Fund application. Having guided her through the phone call, she was awarded £50 as emergency funds to pay for some food and electricity. We also requested a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) form, which she completed during our visit, allowing us to post it for her.
During the application period, the tenant’s Employment Support Allowance (ESA) was stopped as she was deemed fit for work. Meanwhile, she was also awarded Personal Independence Payment. When the Department for Work and Pensions was informed of this, they put her back on ESA.
The local authority had requested further information to progress with the DHP application, such as receipts. Due to the upheaval of the tenant’s benefits being stopped and restarted, and the stress she went through, the tenant had been unable to get the required documentation to the local authority. In April, the local authority contacted the tenant by letter, followed by a phone call, asking for this information again. When the tenant explained that she was in poor health, they said they would send someone out to assist. During this time the tenant continued to accrue rent arrears. When YMYH re-contacted the tenant in July she said she was still waiting for a home visit from the local authority to complete the DHP application. Luckily, in this case, the tenant’s landlord has been very understanding and has not put any pressure on her.
This story is typical of those supported by YMYH. They’re helped to towards improving their financial capability, then something happens that sends them back to where they started. In this case, the ESA being stopped and the delay with the DHP application led to the tenant’s health deteriorating, putting her back on medication. Supporting people becomes increasingly difficult in such situations, where personal impact is not always considered.
It is easy to blame the system, but the reality is the system doesn’t work in conformity. YMYH uses the methods it does, in its work with tenants, because it recognises that one size does not fit all. There are too many elements that work in isolation and there is a need to bring them together in a way that recognises when one element is stopped, that other available support is flagged and the tenant is not left to navigate the system alone.
To put this in perspective, if many of us didn’t get paid for a month or two we may not be able to pay our bills and feed our family. The current system of reassessing benefits can result in the income of those who rely upon this help reducing considerably with very little notice. Our most recent statistics tell us that only 5% of the tenants we are working with are saving, demonstrating that the majority have no way to make up for a drop in income and savings will run out quickly if this drop becomes permanent. This may result in tenants and other benefit recipients becoming reliant on Discretionary Assistance Fund, Discretionary Housing Payments, Job Centre loans and food banks, which is not sustainable in the long term.
On a positive note we know that Universal Credit is designed to make work pay, but what if you are unable to work? When the tenants we have worked with, as part of YMYH, find themselves with no benefits for a period of time they don’t always know where, within their local authority, they can turn for support. Local authorities are finding themselves having to change their procedures to be able to react quickly enough to stop that person getting into rent arrears or worse, going to loan sharks to make ends meet. Inevitably, there will be some people who will not receive the entirety of the support they need at the times when they need it most, either because they don’t know where to go for that support or because the framework is not in place to provide the support that fits their circumstances.