From: Roger Birkinshaw, Housing director, Capita’s software services business
Sir – The benefits system is due for its biggest shake-up in more than 60 years with the impending launch of universal credit. Not only will the change be radical for citizens who currently receive benefits, but also for the organisations that provide support services. Among the housing providers recently surveyed by Capita’s software services business, around 70 per cent expected that universal credit may lead to an increase in rent arrears. This is a worrying figure not only for housing providers but also for tenants; the results suggest that tenants will need more support than ever.
When budgets are tight, online payments and direct debit offer the cheapest and fastest ways of collecting payments. While they are both important channels, they’re not the only ones, and many tenants either don’t have access to them or prefer not to use them. We need to work together to avoid excluding the vulnerable by making it as easy as possible for tenants to pay their rent and seek personal support, whether that is by direct debit, over the counter, telephone, mobile ‘doorstep’ collection or online.
Although rent arrears is a perceived issue, only around 20 per cent of the people surveyed by us mentioned that they were concerned about an increase in workload. But if rent isn’t being paid, then it has to be chased – a complex process that is resource-intensive and expensive and could rob tenants of the one-to-one support they might need.
As housing providers ready themselves for universal credit, it’s time to look closely at the supporting technology they have in place. Integrating payment channels and automating updates with their housing management software is vital to ensure that all of the benefits can be accrued. Technology is a valuable supporting tool, but only if it runs through the core of an organisation.