Carol Carter, CEO of Origin and PlaceShapers Board member, blogs about why it matters more than ever to strengthen our focus on people...
"The cost of living crisis has rapidly emerged in public experience and discourse this year and we are already seeing the very real impacts on our residents and our staff. The causes are clear - the combined impact of Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine, compounded by the universally acknowledged disastrous 23 September mini budget. Coming on top of the 10 years of austerity we saw from 2010, which eroded benefits and public services, we are in poor shape as a nation to respond to rising inflation on basic necessities - notably energy and food costs, rising interest rates and a slowing economy. The Autumn statement included gloomy predictions for the next two years at least, and in spite of some measures to protect the most vulnerable, the poorest will undoubtedly suffer the most as we enter into a period of recession.
It was this context that I was asked to speak alongside colleagues from other Registered Providers at the Westminster Insight Digital Conference - Supporting Tenants and Tackling Rent Arrears. What was clear from the presentations and discussions is that at a challenging time like this, we need to maintain and strengthen our focus on people. Residents, and indeed our lowest paid staff, may be facing financial difficulty for the first time.
Others, who were already on the margins, are having to make impossible choices. The Covid period was undoubtedly a period which prompted innovation and new approaches, and in dealing with rent debt most providers have already enhanced the support offered to residents in financial trouble, those who are vulnerable and those in crisis. Affordability checks for new tenants, specialist one to one benefit and debt advice, access to hardship funds and vouchers, support into jobs and training all feature – with a strong emphasis on early engagement, keeping people in their homes and building a relationship of trust.
Our first responsibility as a landlord is to provide a decent affordable property but caring about who lives in them is what makes people feel secure and safe.
'Going freestyle: what happens when the rulebook is taken away: Changing how we manage rent arrears' research commissioned by Placeshapers, the National Housing Federation and whg shows the evidence for the success of a ‘support first’ approach. It shows the positive impact this has for residents and staff alike. With challenging times set to continue – we are only going to get through this together if we make a concerted effort to understand people’s circumstances and needs, and respond flexibly and with compassion and respect.”