The Coronavirus crisis has been a catalyst for change in many ways: including how Housing Associations (HA’s) are approaching tenant rent arrears and income collection.
HA’s have been helping residents to access benefits and support to alleviate financial hardship, and in doing so have changed the way they approach income collection – by reducing tenant worries around enforcement. For many this has included focusing on cultural change in their organisations, to more actively support tenants by acting compassionately and quickly, where people are struggling. To achieve this, HA’s have been often retraining income collection staff around empathy, trauma and mental health – since it’s important for staff to understand the link between financial pressures and mental health.
We have seen that many HA’s are no longer actually chasing tenants for overdue rent, but instead, are proactively reaching out to understand how they can help tenants and offer support if payments are missed. This can include flexibility around collecting rent (where that would make a difference to the resident), using affordable repayment plans or deferring rent payments where needed, including during the 5 week wait for Universal Credit. Additional advisory services are also being made available to help with tenant budgeting, managing debt and better accessing benefits they may be entitled to. Some HA’s have even set money aside to support residents via hardship and charitable funds.
There are also new innovative ways of making payments that Housing Associations should consider offering such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, Request for Payment, Collect App, Wallets for multiple payments and Open Banking. These new payment methods make the process more efficient and simplified for the tenant, enables continuous interaction and increases engagement, reduces arears and the cost of managing those for the Housing Associations, as well as supporting their digital transformation plans. This flexibility and reduction of overheads and costs allows staff to concentrate efforts in helping the more vulnerable tenants on other issues, such as the longer-term effects of Covid-19.