After joining Town & Country Housing as a Support Worker, Louise later moved into the role of Income Manager. We spoke to her about how can we can help tenants get back on track when it comes to paying any rent arrears and get advice on benefit claims.
“Before I moved to Town & Country my life was very different,” she adds. “I lived somewhere else and worked for DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), though when I joined it was ‘DHSSS,’ where I worked until I had children.”
Louise would later move on to a more people-facing role (i.e. supporting people with head injuries or the elderly with managing their money), before joining the world of housing. “Historically, I did some work on the Money Support team doing some similar work, but I have been managing the patch I do now in Tunbridge Wells as an Income Manager since 2015,” explains Louise.
The role of the Income Management Team
“Our team includes three Money Support Officers who have their own patches and several Income Managers (like me) here and in East Kent, as well as two people to handle former tenant and sheltered housing.”
As a team, Lou and her colleagues work to oversee the collection of rent for properties in a dedicated area, with Money Support Officers specifically helping residents with their budgeting and paying debts. If people’s rent is not coming in, an Income Manager will work with a tenant to work out a suitable payment plan to pay back arrears.
We are happy to meet tenants in their homes or at the Monson House office in Tunbridge Wells (if they are comfortable with this), to figure things out. “Personally, I’d prefer to talk face-to-face, rather than talk on the phone, if possible.”
“I don’t think I can say certain things in the job are specifically part of my role or a Money Support Officer – they are interrelated, however Money Support understand the action we have to take if things build up.”
Income Managers can refer residents to Money Support Officers if they are in need of a bit of guidance on money, or may also suggest using Citizens Advice or local dedicated support, like the West Kent Debt Advice or similar, depending on a tenant’s need or preference. With 18 locations around Kent (including Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone, Canterbury, Dover & more), Citizens Advice can offer a range of advice on sorting out debts and other money-related issues (e.g. getting the best gas & electricity deal).
Getting used to Universal Credit
It’s varied work – as well as working with tenants to decide how to best deal with arrears, it’s important for Louise to keep up with the rollout and updates to Universal Credit (UC) and other benefits, as well as sometimes being in court due to arrears not being repaid.
What’s the biggest misconception about her job? “That I don’t want to actually help – I’m just interested in money and want people out of their homes if there are payment issues.”
“The biggest challenge is getting people to talk to us sometimes.” We all fully recognise how precious homes are, and how difficult it can be to start a conversation on how to tackle issues with outstanding rent payments; “Please speak to us about what’s going on – we’ve got lots of experience doing this and want to help as best as I can.”With the introduction of UC, a lot of people will now be responsible for directly paying their rent and Louise stresses that letting her know when it’s come in is vital to keep on top of things. “Sometimes doing it all yourself can be hard and even though we may make an arrangement for paying things back it’s still not easy. People will ask if their rent can come straight out of their UC because they can’t manage it, and that’s okay. Sometimes we will have to ask that this happens as debt is building up (or because of certain other circumstances).”
Overall, communication is key, whether your benefits have changed, you have cancelled your rent direct debit or you have been contacted about rent arrears. Not responding to a Notice of Seeking Possession (NoSP) in the 28 days after receiving one, or not going to a court hearing, can lead to court charges being added to your rent arrears, and, unfortunately, in some cases eviction.
Dealing with overpayments
Sometimes it can be difficult to deal with an overpayment of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, which will then be taken back (from any ongoing entitlement) to make up the difference each week. The rate this money is recovered will depend on the amount overpaid and the reason for overpayment, however the amount you can afford can be considered too.
“If tenants are struggling we suggest they go back to the council or DWP and ask for the payment rate to be reduced (although this will mean repaying it back over a longer period).”
Overall, although doing a challenging role, Louise says working together with a tenant to resolve any payment issues, get things on track and see them get the support they may need to do this is the most rewarding part of her job. “The highlight of my job is seeing someone get the benefit they may need to get by,” says Louise. “It’s also nice every now and then to have someone thank you after following your advice, as you really feel like you’ve helped,” she concludes.