Oxford City Council owns and manages 7,800 properties in the city, and has fully deployed Mobysoft’s RentSense solution, in preparation for the roll out of Universal Credit in Oxford.
Universal Credit (UC) is challenging many social landlords as they grapple with additional challenges it brings. It requires substantially more resources to manage tenants switching from housing benefit (HB) to UC, as tenants become responsible for paying their rent. (Under HB the payment comes direct from the Department of Works and Pension (DWP)). The preparation of individual tenants to UC is also complex and time consuming.
“Before UC, like most social landlords, around 65% of our rent collected was from Housing Benefit and we, as a local authority, were in control of those payments. Post UC we anticipate 70% of our rent payments will come direct from tenants once full national roll out of UC is complete”
explained Damon Venning, Income Manager at Oxford City Council.
“This means that we need to establish a payment culture with our tenants, before their benefit was paid direct to us, now it will be their responsibility to pay us themselves.”
Oxford City Council has some experience of instilling a payment culture with tenants, as the Council was part of the Direct Payments Demonstration Pilot (DPDP) in partnership with the DWP, testing payment of direct housing payments to its tenants, which ran until early 2014. It was here the council learnt valuable lessons in establishing a payment culture with its tenants, as the pilot resulted in an initial increase in rent arrears.
“The pilot highlighted three important points:
• The importance of the support we give our tenants,
• How to prepare the organisation for change, and
• The reliance on systems to profile tenants to provide the support required for change.” said Damon.
Part of the learning curve was having the right systems in place that enable time saving and help profile tenants.
“We saw RentSense as an opportunity to assist Oxford City Council to further increase our collection rate as well as allow our team valuable time to assist tenants in preparation for Universal Credit roll out. The role of an income collection service has changed whereby officers are required to provide more support and negotiate sustainable payment plans.”