How We Have Helped
"I was scared and burying my head in the sand" - Jane's Story*
“I was close to losing my kids. I never thought things would escalate as far as they did. I can’t believe I let things get that bad.”
Just eight months ago, MHA tenant Jane* was facing eviction from her home in Abergavenny. Having racked up various debts totalling well over £4,000 and with bailiffs on her doorstep most days, Jane had taken to hiding away and not answering her door.
With spiralling rent arrears, MHA Income Officer Alison Bromham was determined to get to the bottom of Jane’s debt problems in an effort to help her. Luckily, Ali’s persistence finally paid off and she finally got to speak to Jane – just in the nick of time.
Jane was due in court in a matter of weeks. Ali helped Jane apply for a stay hearing and encouraged her to be as open and honest about how she’d let her debts escalate to the extent they had. The judge gave Jane one last chance to turn things around. Jane admits the court appearance and discussions over her children’s living situation were the wake-up call she needed to start turning things around.
She explains: “I’d hide from Ali for weeks on end. I was scared and burying my head in the sand by this stage, I’d become overwhelmed by my financial issues. I was lucky to get that final chance. I could have lost my kids.
“I now have agreements in place to pay back my arrears with MHA and I always prioritise my rent first. I’m getting through paying back my other debts and I have manageable payment plans in place to help me do that. I stay in touch with Ali and keep to my appointments. I’m well on my way to clearing my debts and the next step is to get back into work and provide for my family.
“I realise now MHA are here to help and Ali is not someone to be scared of! She’s helped me stay in my home with my kids. I really want to get my story out there and to let other tenants know that MHA are there to help. Without Ali’s persistence I don’t know where I’d be now.”
Ali said: “With Jane’s situation, it shows how important it is to keep dialogue lines open. All along, our aim has been to keep Jane and her family in her home. I’ve been persistent with Jane and it has eventually paid off – she’s in a really good place now and I know she’ll always get in touch if she needs any help, advice or support with her finances.”
Jessie and Anita
MHA tenant Anita talks to MHA Income Officer Jessie about how she has taken control of her finances after moving onto Universal Credit.
MHA Neighbourhood Officer, Cally (left) is pictured with David in his home
“I’ve worked all my life. I was a builder for many years. I’ve been a roofer and even a pub landlord. When I was informed I’d be moving to Universal Credit, which is managed online, I had concerns as I’d never really used digital technology. MHA were able to give me a tablet and Cally [MHA Neighbourhood Officer] has helped me learn how to get to grips with it. I use it to look for full time work and it’s helped me massively in getting ready for Universal Credit.”
David was one of the first people in Monmouthshire to apply to move onto the government’s new Universal Credit system. Universal Credit is a single, monthly payment replacing Jobseeker's Allowance and other work-related benefits and was introduced in Monmouthshire in September 2015.
The Universal Credit payment includes rent, which people then need to arrange to pay to their landlord themselves. This differs from the old system in which rent was paid directly to the landlord.
David was able to adapt easily to this change, as he’d signed up to use MHA’s Direct Payment Pilot. The Direct Payment Pilot enables tenants to set up payments so their rent is paid directly to them, just as Universal Credit would be. Tenants can then get used to paying their rent to MHA themselves, meaning they are better prepared for when they move onto Universal Credit.
But the switch to Universal Credit has been far less straightforward. During his application, David started work on a zero hours contract. Earning just £2 over the wage threshold – which is less than £400 per month – meant David’s Universal Credit claim was cancelled. Six weeks into the claim, he found himself back to square one and without any benefits payments coming in.
“It was incredibly frustrating as I’d had no communication this was likely to happen. At this point I was getting really stressed about my situation.”
Cally worked with the DWP to get the information on why his claim had been cancelled. She then helped David reapply for the Housing Benefit he was entitled to, using the tablet computer donated by MHA. Despite no benefits payments for a few weeks, David was able to budget having saved some money.
With Cally and MHA’s support, David feels much more prepared for Universal Credit if it comes to applying again. “I can’t deny the whole thing has been stressful at times. But Cally has been really helpful. She’s worked with me on my application and helped me get online, understand job search websites and email.
“I enjoy my MHA home and the community where I live, so paying my rent is important and I'm now back in full time, permanent work.”
After a very difficult year, Tracey finally feels like she is getting her life back on track: “I’m happy again now. I feel settled. I can begin the next phase of my life.”
At the start of 2016, Tracey’s husband sadly passed away, leaving no will and outstanding mortgage payments on the family home they’d lived in for the last 35 years.
Tracey was unable to keep up payments on the house and was treated badly by her step-children, who took over the mortgage and rights to the property and began charging Tracey an unmanageable amount of rent on the home. They wanted her to leave so they could sell the house.
Tracey was facing homelessness and in desperate need of support. Fortunately MHA’s Safe Hands team were able to step-in and help.
Tanya from the Safe Hands team worked with Tracey to help her understand the home bidding process using Monmouthshire Homesearch. Tracey was then able to secure a one-bedroom apartment perfectly suited to her needs.
However, after such significant changes in her life, Tracey still needed help in a number of different areas. Tanya offered practical and emotional support to Tracey during and after the house move – from arranging her utilities and downsizing her possessions to helping her apply for a loan to get a new carpet and Housing and Council Tax benefits.
Despite the difficulties she’s faced this year, Tracey is upbeat about the future: “I’m settled into my new MHA home now and I’m happy here. I help my next door neighbour out, as she’s elderly and finds tasks such as cooking a bit of a struggle. Tanya’s helped me so much and I’m so grateful to MHA. I’ve got a new lease of life!”
*name has been changed
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Cally McCarthy is the person to speak to at MHA if you need help with Universal Credit. You can email Cally at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0345 677 2277