A chat with Mark, our Welfare Benefits Tenancy Sustainment Advisor
Mark is Poplar HARCA’s Welfare Benefits Tenancy Sustainment Advisor. He works within the Safeguarding team, whose primary focus is to help and support our residents. We sat down with Mark to chat about his day-to-day role, how he supports residents and some top tips for managing finances.
What are some of your typical day to day responsibilities?
“I try to resolve any issue a resident has with claiming a welfare benefit, but the main focus is on claiming help with housing costs. This covers a wide range of issues from losing their job, being told they have been overpaid in benefits or that their benefits will be stopping. I then provide advice on what help they might be eligible for.
Recently there have been many reforms to the welfare system, such as the bedroom tax and benefit cap, which have had a big impact on social tenants. I can help people affected by these reforms to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the difference and a number of our tenants have been awarded these payments. In addition to this, I help people with basic debt and money advice. If residents are having money difficulties with other bills or debts, I can help them to make paying rent their first priority and refer to specialist money advisors if necessary.
I also attend meetings outside of the office. There are liaison meetings with Housing Benefits and forums for welfare advisors. These meetups with other housing providers allow me to discuss, share and listen to various solutions to the issues we face.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Firstly, I enjoy working with tenants who are being supported by my colleagues in the Safeguarding team who are great at building up a rapport with vulnerable people who would be seen as “hard to reach”. We recently identified a resident who had complex needs and had been underpaid a sickness benefit for some time. Our aim was to help him get a backdated payment. My colleague had worked with him and built up trust which led to him engaging with benefit advice.
Secondly, it is rewarding to help tenants who have rent arrears due to a problem with Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. It is a win-win situation for both Poplar HARCA and the resident when we can get payments backdated and/or reinstated as this helps to reduce their arrears and avoid the need to take enforcement action.
Any top tips for individuals and their finances?
It is a good idea to seek advice, especially before applying for Universal Credit – people may end up being worse off and there may be other options. There are various benefits that are under claimed, such as Pension Credit (up to £3.5 billion in 2018!). People over retirement age may want to find out if they are entitled to this benefit which tops up their State Pension income.
Are there any services or points of contact you think more people should know about?
Local advice services include Island Advice and Bromley by Bow Centre (the Bromley by Bow Centre has a money management service who we can refer tenants to). Entitledto, Citizens Advice, Shelter and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) are all brilliant sources of advice.”
If you think you might benefit from our support services, contact the Safeguarding team.