Evaluation of the Supported Rent Flexibility pilot

Author: Damon Gibbons
Published by Centre for Responsible Credit, June 2018

The Supported Rent Flexibility project was devised by the Centre for Responsible Credit, Well Thought Ltd., and Optivo Housing Association and delivered from January 2017 to March 2018. A group of Optivo’s social housing tenants were given the opportunity to set up a personalised schedule of rent payments, allowing them to overpay and underpay at different times of the year.

This opportunity was conditional on tenants interacting with Optivo’s ‘Money Matters’ service and undertaking an annual budgeting exercise to determine the months in which they would most benefit from a reduction in rent payments, and the months in which they could afford to overpay the shortfall.

Key findings

  • There was an increased take-up of welfare benefit payments and other direct financial support. In total, this was worth in excess of £70,000 to the ‘rent-flex’ group/just under £1,200 per tenant.
  • There were positive changes among 38 tenants who had participated in ‘rent-flex’ for at least six months. These participants reported that they had a clearer plan for achieving their goals at follow-up than before the intervention.
  • These 38 tenants were also less likely to say that they run out of money always or most of the time at follow-up, less likely to use credit to ‘get by’, and reported reduced material deprivation.
  • Some tenants participating in the scheme improved their physical and mental health, their relationships with family and friends and to a lesser extent their situation at work. There was also a considerable improvement in people taking control of their finances and forward planning, although – unsurprisingly given the extent of financial difficulty amongst tenants entering the scheme – few had started saving.
  • Although only eleven tenants had completed a full twelve months on the scheme at the time of writing, the initial impacts on overall rent payment performance were encouraging, with the majority paying more than their contractual rent and reducing their arrears. In comparison rent arrears were much more likely to have increased in the control group.
  • Regardless of the amount of time spent in the scheme, nearly two thirds (63%) of participants had paid at least the amount set out in their agreements as at 31st March 2018. This compares to just under half (45%) of the control group.
  • Qualitative interviews with tenants and staff involved in the delivery of the pilot indicated that relationships have improved, with tenants being more trustful of their Housing Association.

Generalisability/ transferability:

  • The evaluation was too small in scale for inferences to be made to the wider population, and therefore caution should be exercised in generalising from the results.
  • This research was only undertaken in London and the South East, and as such may not be transferable to the rest of the UK.

Relevance:

  • This report is relevant to all stakeholders (particularly housing associations) and policymakers with an interest in incentivising social housing tenants to keep up with their rental payments.

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