The MoneyActionNet Awards 2011 are for projects that have proved successful in helping social housing tenants to improve their money management.
The ‘My Home.. making every penny count’ DVD is an innovative approach to tackling the day to day financial issues that a tenant may run into when first starting a tenancy with a social landlord. The film explores the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ approach to money handling and highlights the dangers of adopting a ‘careless’ attitude towards household finances. It also gives practical ideas as to where savings can be made and debt avoided. It particularly highlights the consequences of borrowing from illegal loan sharks and other sources of high cost borrowing. The DVD is made available to all new housing association residents in north Wales.
Click here to view The ‘My Home…’ DVD and booklet on the North Wales Housing Association website.
The Ask Coach programme helps unemployed people prepare for and find work. It is linked to the London Olympic Games and has already helped 95 people find jobs.
The scheme provides advice sessions and employment training, it promotes well-being and confidence, and helps build social networks. It helps people develop their career aspirations, gets them job-ready, develops an employment network with businesses, and coaches and mentors people to retain their new roles.
Ask Coach organises Engagement Roadshows to raise interest, aspirations and ambition, to familiarise people with the world of work, travel and childcare; and to help with looking for work, writing CVs and interview technique. There are group sessions with employment advice and peer support. They help people identify job opportunities and get job interviews, and they broker interviews with the project's business networks, as well as coaching and mentoring people once they've found work.
Of the 95 unemployed people who have found work, 58 are on track to sustain their roles for 12 months or more. Some 256 people have been supported in advice sessions, and many have enlisted at colleges or become 2012 Games volunteers, becoming more job-ready; and 2,240 received advice at roadshows.
The project is pushing ahead with its programme in the run up to the Games and plans to get another 50 people into work.
The NHS encourages people to give up smoking for health reasons but also estimates that people will save about £2,000 per year by not buying tobacco products. Great Places Housing Group has an 'In Your Pocket Strategy' that aims to maximise its tenants' income and cut their expenditure by securing additional welfare benefits, accessing basic bank accounts, securing cheaper gas and electricity, tapping into the United Utilities Trust Fund, arranging home contents insurance, and helping tenants back into training and employment. This project brings these two strands together by introducing tenants to the NHS smoking cessation programme; expertise and advice are provided by a member of Great Places' financial inclusion team who has followed the 12-week NHS Stop Smoking Programme.
Great Places uses various methods to promote the scheme: local area forums provide opportunities for residents to speak with frontline staff, the project is promoted through visits to supported housing schemes and to tenants' homes, and the customer access team is available to field inquiries about the project.
The project has referred several tenants, whose consumption ranged from 20 to 60 cigarettes a day, onto the programme. Having finished the course, they are now classed as non-smokers, which has helped their self-confidence as well as their pockets. They will each save more than £2,000 a year. These savings are added to others achieved for and by Great Places' tenants. The financial inclusion team has so far improved tenants' finances by a total of £155,000, which is equivalent to £400,000 a year.
Great Places plans to roll out the project to residents in all regions and in both general needs and supported housing. The next step is to raise staff awareness and encourage the benefits of stopping smoking through its online staff magazine, its 'well-being week' and money-saving training sessions.
Passion4Fashion is a partnership initiative by 8 social housing providers and agencies in Leeds, which uses fashion as an engagement tool to provide unemployed social housing tenants with the chance to improve their budgeting skills and access employment and training while learning how to make high end fashion clothes from second-hand materials.
The project culminated in a fashion show in front of an audience of 850 at Leeds town hall, which was a great event and highlighted the commitment of the agencies to tackling financial exclusion.
The 16-30 age group is notoriously difficult to engage and previous money advice courses have provoked little interest. Passion4Fashion aimed to engage 50 social housing residents from across Leeds with the aim of increasing their financial capability, knowledge and awareness, providing access to debt advice, providing access to employment and training opportunities, teaching new skills in design, sewing and customising clothing, and increasing their confidence and self-esteem.
A group of 65 residents were given budgets of £25 to create their own recycled fashion outfits. They followed a curriculum devised by specialist tutors who coached them on all aspects of fashion and design. The course comprised a series of 4 weekly creative workshops, including weekly session on all aspects of money management, a ‘money skills’ session provided by Trading Standards, 1-to-1 employment support provided by Job-Centre Plus and individual support for personal debt issues. They were coached in catwalk skills by professional models and a choreographer. Trading Standards delivered the Barclays Money Skills workshop for all participants.
Research shows that participants took on board the aims of the project to raise awareness of financial issues and to increase the participants’ financial capabilities. Some 74% said they would make some change - these included better budgeting, opening a bank account, changing fuel supplier and contacting creditors - many making more than one change. One participant has teamed up with one of the tutors to start a sewing group for people to create and sell recycled designs. There are plans to repeat Passion4Fashion in Leeds and in Kirklees.
Russet’s benefits system is complex and requires a high level of literacy to negotiate, which means many vulnerable customers weren’t receiving benefits they were entitled to, and this led to rent arrears, fuel poverty and people living on the breadline. However, the Welfare Benefit Advice Service has helped residents claim around £1.4m of benefits helping to change their lives. The aim is to help customers address their rent arrears, financial exclusion and benefit issues. New tenancies automatically trigger offers of assistance from the benefits specialists.
Project officers work to increase financial capability and reduce worklessness among residents. The service helps residents secure benefits and grants. There are 2 benefits officers who visit customers in their homes or see them in regional offices, to give advice and they will accompany customers to tribunals; they have succeeded in 63 appeals.
The figure for benefits since January 2009 is £651,237 in lump sum and weekly rolling entitlement with an estimation of this rising to approximately £1.2m over the course of 3 years allowing for a 10% drop in benefits. Since the start of the service it has had 646 referrals and has successfully applied for 40 grants to help with various issues such as utility debt, shopping vouchers, white goods and to repay benefit overpayments.
There was a lack of computer equipment in many homes, which made benefit assessments time consuming. To combat this, 2 i-Pads were purchased; they are also used as mobile translating units to communicate with tenants whose first language is not English, and they allow on the spot assessments for those who do not have the internet or are not computer literate. The officers also used applications on the i-Pads to occupy children where parents brought them to their appointment due to a lack of childcare.
The project has started a helpline one day per week to increase access to advice at a time of significant welfare reform. The team will also advise on back to work benefits as part of a pilot project giving intensive help to 10 residents to return to work. The project is starting outreaches with children’s centres, with a monthly surgery piloted in several children’s centres in Tonbridge. A financial well-being course has been offered to local primary schools with a view to enhancing the financial education of children.
The Wrekin Housing Trust's Financial Inclusion and Capability Project was launched in December 2008 and aims to increase access to financial services, provide information, offer support that encourages a culture of self-help, and foster a culture of economic prosperity. The objectives are to increase people's incomes, develop a savings culture, increase access to affordable credit, improve financial skills and knowledge, reduce fuel poverty, increase home insurance take-up, and help tenants sustain their tenancies.
Free membership of the Credit Union and £5 to kick-start savings has led to 101 accounts being opened by people needing housing, and 50% are using their accounts for regular savings. The 2 local Credit Unions have seen an increase in membership of about 25% over 2 years. The Welfare Benefits Advice Team has dealt with 1,690 cases and has generated £104,000 in lump sum benefit paid direct to individual rent accounts, £11,600 in avoided court costs, and £15,400 in backdated Council Tax Benefit. It has also generated backdated benefits of over £129,000.
The Community Fund Loan scheme began in July 2009 and 465 loans have been granted since then, with a total loan value of more than £235,000. Using Community Fund loans has kept £167,000 in the communities due to reduced interest payments.
The benefits of banking are promoted together with Credit Union current accounts. A simple ‘Money Matters’ newsletter was sent out with rent statements and was a successful and cost effective way to communicate with customers; it resulted in £12,000 extra housing benefit onto the rent accounts, £3,000 in interest savings for those using the Credit Union for loans instead of a high-cost lender, and 20 customers requesting home contents insurance.
Plans include developing insurance ‘catastrophe cover’ for all tenants to ensure a basic level of protection in a crisis, developing financial capability training for new and existing tenants, and identifying and supporting people who will be affected by welfare reform.