Helena Partnerships’ executive director for business transformation, Liz Haworth, explains how a multi-channel approach is used to engage with tenants about welfare reform.
Welfare reform continues to be the biggest challenge affecting our tenants and our business, and since 2012 Helena has been running a robust communications campaign to help over 3,000 tenants to prepare for and cope with government changes to welfare benefits.
This campaign has used a variety of communications mechanisms to inform and engage with our tenants, ranging from helping 2,400 tenants face-to-face, hosting drop-in help sessions, sending a personalised direct mail to 2,000 tenants, and running local newspaper adverts alongside social media, online and press campaigns.
We know there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer for how we communicate with our tenants, and so we use the profiling and tenant insight data we have to inform how we tailor and deliver our key messages. It is imperative that tenants receive information in a format that is right for, and appeals to them, and this belief drives the multi-channel approach to our communications delivery.
Direct mail and printed communications
Our campaign has used a variety of printed communications and our direct mail has been viewed as extremely innovative in the housing sector, using multiple levels of personalisation. Recognised as best practice in the sector, this communication was issued to tenants as a reminder about how their circumstances were affected by the introduction of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’, what this meant for them and their available options.
Engaging face to face
Drop-in sessions are held frequently so tenants can talk through their circumstances with an expert and have their income assessed, and regular advice sessions are also held on debt, budgeting, benefits, reducing fuel bills and finding employment. We are also keen to encourage proactive and personalised communication so every tenant affected by welfare reform is aware of who their dedicated welfare reform officer is and how to contact them.
We have also formed a group of welfare reform community volunteers who engage with hard-to-reach tenants in community venues before referring tenants to our team of welfare reform experts for advice and support. These volunteers are well-known in their communities and speaking to them can break down barriers for those who find discussing welfare reform daunting.
Working with the media
We know our older tenants still regularly read their new local newspapers and so we have continued to build on the strong relationships we have with our local press by helping in coordinating features and also running adverts to raise awareness about welfare reform changes, the support we have available and how our tenants can get in touch with us.
Additionally, Helena has worked with regional radio and television stations to raise awareness about the implications of welfare reform and how our tenants and business will be affected. Some of our tenants have taken part in these programmes as a case study, illustrating their situation.
Helena is continuing to expand its digital offer to our tenants, strengthening our service delivery. As every tenant interaction counts, we have been encouraging as many tenants as possible to engage with us online and continue to do so.
We have a dedicated welfare reform section on our website and tenants can seek further advice and request help by also visiting our TV site or by emailing our ‘one call’ contact centre.
Video has been incorporated into our website to explain welfare reform changes and Helena tenants are kept up to date with welfare reform content via our Facebook page. We will also be running more live Facebook chats, enabling tenants to ask experts questions about benefits, debt and budgeting advice.
Our next focus is to maximise the use of mobile technology to enable us to offer a more intuitive service as we continue to champion digital inclusion for all. Hundreds of tenants have benefitted from having access to free internet and computer use in our offices.
Looking to the future
We want to make it as easy possible for all tenants to interact with us and for those affected by welfare reform to get in touch, so we can help them to make the best decisions for their circumstances.
Our statistics show that we have experienced a 40 per cent increase in telephony demand in 2013/2014 compared to 2012/13, and more than four times as much footfall at our head-office each week compared to this time last year – with a sustained footfall increase in other Helena offices.
We will continue to use a variety of communications mechanisms where appropriate, to ensure we maintain high levels of engagement with our tenants.
Liz Haworth is executive director for business transformation at Helena Partnerships.