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COVID Community Offer Blog: Advice

Daniel Lewis, Income & Neighbourhood Manager for Castle Vale Community Housing (CVCH), reveals how his team has been working tirelessly to identify those who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 so that the correct advice and support can be offered.

Before coronavirus, I was just sinking my teeth into my new role which I started in January 2020. My main task was to integrate the neighbourhood and income teams to support our rent first strategy; this is where we work together to ensure that everyone sustains their tenancy by paying their rent and support them if they feel unable to pay.

Since COVID-19 took hold and the subsequent lockdown kicked in, one of the biggest impacts on our tenants has been financial – especially for those who are suddenly unemployed or furloughed, which for many has resulted in a 20% reduction in total income.

As coronavirus hit, there was some uncertainty in the office, but once our working procedures were clarified, and the IT team made sure we had secure access to data from home, it was all systems go!

A primary concern from residents was around paying the rent or mortgage on top of the other bills such as council tax, additional fuel costs with residents staying at home, credit cards bills, and increased food shopping due to children not going to school.

We also found that there were a lot of rumours circulating, such as the belief that tenants don’t need to pay rent for three months. We’ve communicated with all tenants that this isn’t the case and that rent arrears could put your home at risk.

To reduce the burden on our customers, we have made some major changes to rent arrears recovery, including the free Money Advice we offer through Spitfire Services. We now have three different levels of support:

  1. Crisis support – for those who literally have no money available for necessities. These households will be contacted the same day.
  2. Struggling to pay rent or mortgage – any resident, whether it be homeowner or a tenant, who is struggling with their rent or mortgage will be contacted by Spitfire Services within two working days. An appointment will be booked to look at the available benefits, especially Universal Credit, which is even available to some low-wage residents on furlough.
  3. Other concerns – any other household member impacted by COVID can be referred and will be contacted within five working days.

This new structure is helping to ensure that debts are prevented or kept to a minimum and customers are able to maximise their income through this difficult time.

I am very proud of our team members who have adjusted to home working really well. As well as income-related calls, they’ve still been dealing with antisocial behaviour, and handling lots more complaints around noise as more people are at home. Some of the team are also part of the Community Response Team delivering food parcels to vulnerable residents.

Being able to help people is what we’re all about. I must admit that even though I have got used to working from home, I am itching to get back into the office (even if it’s social distanced) as I really enjoy being with the team, keeping their spirits high in what can be a tough and emotional job sometimes.

In my 12 years at The Pioneer Group, this has been the most difficult time I have experienced, but I hope that with my team’s help we can lift some of that burden from Castle Vale residents. We are here to help.

So if you come into contact with any resident of Castle Vale and they have been financially impacted by COVID-19 then point them in the direction of the income & Neighbourhoods or customer service team at The Pioneer Group who will be able to provide advice and assistance and ensure any relevant referrals are made.