Universal Credit (UC) is the flagship reform championed by Iain Duncan Smith and the Conservative government that seeks to streamline welfare payments for local authorities and social housing providers.
The plan was that rolling up housing benefit, unemployment or illness benefits and tax credits into one simple monthly payment would streamline the process.
The rollout has hit snags, though, with many claimants forced back to the councils for help. In fact, a report by the Labour Party late last year found that many councils were having to divert their own financial resources to take up some of the slack.
The average six-week wait for payment and the fact that 6.5 million households are still to be migrated across to UC means greater pressure ahead.
Gary Bell, executive director of managed services for digital solutions company Civica, has some sound advice…
• Know your citizens
By learning about a client’s credit history, says Gary, you can identify which might be most in need of targeted help. And even with those who have funds but who are paid at an inconvenient time of the month, knowing this can help you to help them. A good example has been Cartrefi Conwy council in North Wales, which has worked with credit data experts Experian. Finance director Tony Deakin says: “We’ve undertaken work with Experian to understand the credit history of our tenants, and their propensity to pay online or by direct debit. We are also utilising basic nudge principles in order to better understand how we can influence our tenant’s payment methods.”
• Data can help you to see clearly
Local authorities and housing associations hold a lot of data on people, data that – in compliance with GDPR requirements – can offer insights and help you better manage resources by identifying logjams and pinch points.
Prospect Housing director Brendan Fowler says: “Predictive analytics are allowing us to see who is regularly missing payments or paying late. This is in turn leading the housing association to work with citizens to identify new payment dates and methods to ensure they don’t fall into debt.”
• Map your clients’ journeys
Look at the service points where your tenants and council tax clients make payments. Says Gary: “Having a 360-degree view of a citizen’s payment journey may allow them to notice that a resident is behind with their rent or council tax and could map that back and see if they have or have not been paid their UC.”
Yes, UC has not had a seamless start but with steps such as above, providers and authorities can mitigate the downside and take greater insight into their client groups.
The final piece of advice is, stay positive.
To quote Manjeet Gill, interim chief executive, Wokingham Borough Council and deputy policy spokesperson on housing at senior local authority executives association SOLACE: “The key thing we have discovered is the need to be positive – there’s been an element of learning. We need to find the digital champions and the community development advocates to get people online.”