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News from Lemos&Crane

New report: 'Bad Weather, Good Habits: encouraging social housing tenants to save more'

Sarah Frankenburg

9 July 2013

Monday 8th July saw the seminar launch of a new report from Lemos&Crane. Bad Weather Good Habits, encouraging social housing tenants to save more examines the role that money plays in social housing residents’ lives, their financial and social attitudes and aspirations and their worries and concerns. It outlines important new insights which challenge many popular misconceptions of many on low incomes and of social housing residents in particular. On the basis of these findings - and alongside salient insights from behavioural economics - the report proposes a model by which social landlords can effectively support a silent majority of their residents to save regularly and to establish or improve their financial security. These are tenants who want to save more and have clear ideas of why they should. The report is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with 220 social housing residents and was researched with the help of six social landlords – CHS Group, Hyde Group, Circle Housing Group, Aster Group, The Wrekin Housing Trust and Hastoe Housing Association. It was supported by Friends Provident Foundation. The report can be downloaded for free here.

Bad Weather, Good Habits comes at a crucial point in public and political debate on welfare, low income households and social housing, and the impact and influence of this debate was clearly evident in the discussion throughout the seminar. Many noted, for example, the damaging and unhelpful stereotypical distinction between ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ that has taken hold in much public debate on welfare and housing policy and continues to malign many on low incomes or receiving benefits. Other than the negative social and psychological implications of this characterisation, depicting the group in such terms often entails an incorrect assumption about their financial attitudes and experiences which further inhibits providers, policy-makers and public from engaging with tenants’ actual financial needs.

One of the things that struck me during the discussion was the clearly established consensus that encouraging tenants to save more is as much an emotional engagement with residents as a business, financial or practical one. As one delegate said, encouraging savings among this tenant group ‘is about helping them to sleep at night’. This corroborates one of our principal research findings, that savings are a buffer against anxiety and often the primary incentives to save are negative experiences or knowledge of the potential financial impact of significant life events such as illness. Further, delegates were in agreement not only concerning the emotional significance of saving but also as to emotional influences on spending habits. There was little doubt, then, that to encourage and support tenants to save more entails a more significant interaction with their social and emotional circumstances than just the provision of information or sign-posting to products and services.

There was an overriding sense of change and transition throughout the discussion, and consensus that the Bad Weather, Good Habits research has come at a crucial moment in the changing nature of the relationship between providers and customers. The seminar was marked with the sense that this period of welfare reform presents an important opportunity for financial, support and housing provider innovation; to find ways of adapting to the changing welfare landscape with customers’ needs as priority.

Also considered significant by delegates was a shift of emphasis in defining customer need from ‘financial capability’ to ‘financial wellbeing’. Here the focus is not only on remedial financial support and influence but on supporting financial resilience, independence and confidence before difficult situations arise; reducing anxiety and improving quality of life. Within this definition of customer need, establishing savings is vital. The research underpinning Bad Weather, Good Habits supports these twin insights and its proposals offer a means of maximising the relationship between tenant and landlord to improve confidence in managing money and overall financial wellbeing.

For many delegates a central aspect of this period of significant reform is the way in which it is considered likely to affect the relationship between tenants and their landlords. Many spoke for example of the increased need to get to know their tenants – their experiences and attitudes- as well as to engage financial inclusion and tenancy enforcement earlier on so as to ensure the survival of the company as well as the tenancy of the resident. The model proposed in Bad Weather, Good Habits presents almost the positive counterweight to this concern; ways in which landlords can support and enhance positive financial practice early on in tenancies and so support their residents in improving their financial security.

The seminar was an opportunity for delegates from a range of organisations to hear the findings of the Bad Weather, Good Habits research, discuss and feedback on the proposals arising from the project and to share insights, ideas and experiences from their own organisations. We found that many of our research insights were shared and reiterated during discussion, and the practitioner perspective further embedded these findings in their wider context of welfare reform and the changing landscape for social landlords. Delegates were keen to discuss the practical next steps for the proposal, eager to discuss a model for supporting residents through a period of transition set to impact landlords as much as their tenants. The group were in agreement that encouraging savings should be high on the agenda for social landlords as a means of ensuring financial security, encouraging financial wellbeing and improving quality of life.

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