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Universal Credit preparation continues at Greatwell Homes

Housing provider Greatwell Homes has teamed up with the Northampton Credit Union to support residents with the introduction of the new Universal Credit system and other benefit changes by the Department of Work and Pensions

Recently Wellingborough residents who are single and under 65 who are out of work and making a new claim for benefits became eligible to apply for Universal Credit. Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work, which merges together some of benefits and tax credits. It replaces the income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The new system, which sees residents given a single monthly payment into a bank account, will be rolled out to other benefit claimants over the coming year with all benefit claimants on the new system by 2017.

To apply you need a bank account and to make an online claim, so Greatwell Homes has teamed up with the credit union to ensure eligible customers can receive their payment and set up arrangements to pay their rent.

The partnership with Northamptonshire Credit Union will see all front-line Greatwell Homes staff trained on what the Credit Union can offer in order for them to be able to advise residents. We will also be running training events for tenants and some of those will be recruited as volunteers to promote the initiative.

Two service points, one in Hemmingwell and the second in Queenway, are being set-up so tenants can find out more about the credit union and start their saving plans.

Dave Lockerman, Head of Housing & Customer Service at Welllingborough Homes, said: “The new system only impacts the minority from the launch date, but the message to any resident on benefits is to prepare now. There is a five week wait between making a claim for Universal Credit and the first payment landing, so residents who put a little bit aside now each week will find that switchover much easier.

“The new benefit system puts a much greater responsibility on customers to manage their finances and make their money last, so we want to ensure everyone is aware and is planning for the changes.

“The main changes residents will need to prepare for are that they will need a bank account and will need to manage their claim online. The biggest change is that the majority of tenants will currently have their housing benefit paid directly to us so usually don’t have to think about paying their rent. The new system means that rent payment is very much the tenant’s responsibility.

“Tenants will need to ensure that they have a method in place to make sure the rent is paid as soon as they receive their Universal Credit payment. Direct Debit is a quick and easy way of doing this.

“We know there us limited choice for customers on low incomes in terms of ethical lending meaning that some customers may rely on high interest unethical lenders to borrow money. The Credit Union is a responsible and often much more competitive alternative.”

Work already done by a special Welfare Reform project group at Greatwell Homes includes identifying all tenants who may be affected by changes to benefits and working with those tenants directly as well as working through its Training Academy and with partners such as FISH, and the Community Law Service to provide financial advice and guidance, support for CVs, job hunting and IT skills. Greatwell Homes has also reviewed its payment methods to protect its income and to give tenants more choice in how to pay.

Thanks to funding from Greatwell Homes, credit union representative Sean Silver is now based with the housing provider two days a week.

Sean said: “We have also developed a bank account called Budget Plus which includes a VISA debit card. This is a good alternative if your existing bank account is giving you difficulties or only offers limited facilities or you don’t have a bank account. Some of you may recall 5 Wells Credit Union in Wellingborough. They have now merged with Northamptonshire Credit Union.”

Residents wanting more information on Universal Credit and how it will affect them can contact the Department of Work and Pensions helpline on 0345 600 0723.

Greatwell Homes tenants wanting to set up a credit union account or receive free financial advice on planning for the changes can contact Greatwell Homes on 01933 234450, email customer.services@whomes.org or visit www.northamptonshirecu.co.uk

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