Housing association secures £1.9million for tenants

The Isos Financial and Social Inclusion team: Vicki Ashby, Phil Soden, team leader Lee Forrest, Claire Lowther,Ineke Gijsbers, Warwick Durnian, Elaine Henderson.
The Isos Financial and Social Inclusion team: Vicki Ashby, Phil Soden, team leader Lee Forrest, Claire Lowther,Ineke Gijsbers, Warwick Durnian, Elaine Henderson.

Hundreds of housing-association residents, many in Northumberland, are better off thanks to their landlord securing more than £1.9million of additional income – an increase of 58 per cent in the last 12 months.

In the financial year ending March 31, 2014, benefits and budgeting advisors from the Financial and Social Inclusion (FSI) team at Isos Housing have helped residents to increase their annual incomes by a total of £1,906,989 compared to the £1.2million generated in 2012/13. This takes the total amount of additional income secured for Isos residents to £4.2million in the last three years.

The team provides specialist financial advice and support to residents about a range of services, from how to cope with the impact of welfare reforms to basic advice on employment, fuel poverty, managing debt, avoiding illegal money lenders, setting up bank accounts and appealing against benefits decision if rejected.

Recognising the importance of financial and budgeting advice, Isos has expanded its Financial and Social Inclusion (FSI) team from three to seven in the last three years. The FSI advisers are part of the Community Investment team at Isos which is delivering a strategy worth £1million over three years.

The Government’s introduction of the Spare Room Subsidy, better known as the bedroom tax, has resulted in people who are deemed to have spare bedrooms having their housing benefit cut. In one landmark case last year, the FSI team successfully helped benefit to be reinstated for one family.

Known as the ‘Isos decision’, the team supported an appeal of a separated family. In this case, the father’s son stayed four nights a week with him but the mother was in receipt of Child Benefit. The Tribunal decided that, despite the Council pointing out that the guidance they had received was only the parent with Child Benefit should be the one not to face the bedroom tax, the bedroom was clearly the son’s bedroom and therefore the father also had rights.

The Financial and Social Inclusion Team is managed by Lee Forrest. He said: “This was an extraordinary case and we managed to help the family get a successful outcome. It was a human-rights decision where they should be allowed a right to family life. This case demonstrates the depth and range of the service we provide to residents, which has led to positive outcomes.”

In total, 3,160 residents accessed the Financial and Social Inclusion service – an increase of 23.5 per cent compared to the previous year. The number of new issues advised on increased by 77 per cent – including problems with welfare benefits, debt, employability, financial capability and energy costs.

Lee added: “This year in particular has been an extremely challenging year for our residents. With so many changes to benefit entitlements, it is no surprise that more and more people are accessing the service. Our aim is to provide the correct help, advice and guidance for residents to make informed choices so that they are prepared for these changes and to make the best possible claim for benefit by maximising their income and securing the benefits they are entitled to.

“These figures, although impressive, are still only a small percentage of the number of residents who could access the service. At Isos Housing, we own and manage over 12,000 homes across the region with over 20,000 people so there is a lot of opportunity for other residents to benefit too.”

It is estimated that between £10billion and £16billion worth of benefit entitlement goes unclaimed each year across the UK.

Tina Drury, executive director of customers and communities at Isos Housing, said: “We are delighted with our team’s fantastic performance, generating a 58 per cent annual rise in the amount of income secured for our residents.

“But it is concerning that so many of our residents should need this kind of help. We know welfare reform has had a huge impact on incomes, so more than ever before, we need to ensure we’re doing everything we can to maximise our residents’ incomes.”