The enormous gap between the world inhabited by David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith and the real world of social housing residents is well illustrated by a report from the Circle Housing Group based on a survey of 1444 people across their tenure types.
Faced with what Circle’s Chief Executive, Mark Rogers, calls a ‘perfect storm’ of ‘substantial, high impact changes in their external environment, arriving all at once’ the survey aimed to uncover the financial realities faced by residents. Even before the storm arrives, 30% said they lie awake at night thinking about money issues. Only 38% save on a regular or even an occasional basis although a large majority agreed that saving is important. 57% agreed that they would ‘like to be able to save but I never seem to have any money to put by’.
With Universal Credit on the horizon, which will be predominantly an online service, less than half felt confident using technology and only 55% have internet access at home. 4% do not have a bank account but many more are ‘underbanked’ in that they have a bank account but do not use it because they prefer to use cash. Circle says that ‘Many of our customers are not aware of the changes to welfare that are facing them and how these will affect them’.
Research by the National Housing Federation discovered that 89% of social landlords expect rent arrears to increase under Universal Credit and direct payments on a monthly basis. The Government says it will switch back to payment to the landlord if a tenant gets into trouble – but by then for many of them it will be too late. Once in debt, the fragile finances of many tenants – well illustrated by the Circle survey – will make it very difficult for them to get back on course.