Seven years ago, I submitted a lengthy dissertation describing how the ongoing changes to housing policy have affected the ability for social housing providers to meet the needs of social housing tenants.

I vividly remember sitting in the head office of the housing provider that had kindly agreed to act as my case study. It had recently undertaken a significant restructure with pay cuts for current staff and substantial voluntary redundancies due to financial pressures. On the day of my visit, many emergency meetings were taking place regarding the trade union and changes to the pension scheme, whilst teams waited nervously for the outcomes of the Chancellor’s Summer Budget being aired on a television in reception. Eventually, Chancellor George Osborne would announce concerning changes to the benefits system and a reduction of social housing rent, with no additional financial support for housing providers.

In the seven years since, the story has not changed. Simon Clarke is now the sixth Secretary of State for DLUHC since ‘housing’ was added to the department’s title four years ago, and again we wait with baited breath to hear not only how (or should we say, if) housing providers will be supported to provide critical services under the proposed 5% rent cap (which could result in social landlords receiving £1.3bn less in rental income next year). And to learn if tenants, shared owners, and leaseholders will be able to afford their utilities ahead of the winter months during a cost of living crisis.

Here at IFF, we are all too familiar with the increasing pressures that social housing providers are facing. Speaking to our clients each week, we hear about these challenges, as well as the incredible work that organisations are undertaking to support their most vulnerable.

Through the feedback we collect from social housing residents, we know just how worried so many of them are.

However, customer groups we’re hearing from at the moment who are high risk for the impacts of the cost of living crisis are shared owners. This group not only has rent to pay, but also a mortgage and service charges. This customer group is more likely to have extended credit, such as credit cards and subscriptions. However, the majority of political discussions around support is being focused on the poorest groups, such as social housing renters.

Following a light-touch review of some housing provider websites, we can see that communication around money advice is right up front, offering support. However, most of this support talks about ‘benefits advice’ or ‘budgeting advice’. As a shared owner, these offerings do not fit the type of support they need right now. They are less likely to contact their housing provider if the communication feels as though it is not targeted towards them. It is vital that organisations examine what type of support they may be able to offer shared owners, even if it is simple matters such as advice on switching energy providers, or being open and honest with lenders about financial concerns.

We’re facing another unprecedented crisis where communication and engagement with customers, and with each other, will be invaluable for taking these next steps together.

We’re working with a number of housing providers to collect data from their customers, so that they can better understand who is struggling, or needs support, as well as what types of support they might need.

And we need your help!

We’d love to know how your housing organisation plans to meet the needs of all customers through the cost of living crisis. We want to hear your thoughts, ideas, and concerns, as well as any plans for action.

Please share your thoughts with me at hollie.jones@iffresearch.com by Friday 23rd September 2022.

We’ll then collate all this information and share our findings, recommendations and challenges with you in one of our publications shortly after.

Written by Hollie Jones, Research Manager at IFF