North Devon Homes manage properties and deliver services to over 3,300 affordable homes and those who live inside them. Central to their mission is the building of sustainable tenancies in order to create communities where people want to live and tenants can thrive. To support this goal, it is essential for North Devon Homes to ensure that they have full visibility of prospective tenants at the pre-tenancy stage.
In order to assist their teams in identifying issues pre-tenancy, thereby giving the opportunity to create supported and sustainable tenancies, North Devon Homes went live with MRI SafeStart in June 2016. SafeStart validates data and performs pre-tenancy checks by aligning multiple data streams to give a full picture of a potential tenant’s current status and history.
North Devon Homes have been using the SafeStart Pre-Tenancy Financial Assessments (PTFAs) to support and verify the pre-tenancy interviews that they complete with all applicants. SafeStart bands customers into different risk categories and presents them in an easy-to-read format.
“We find the scoring categories a really useful way to start a conversation with customers, so ‘the financial assessment has identified you as very high risk’ category allows us to begin to unpack what the customer’s wider financial position is. We often find that when applying for housing with us, customers want to present themselves in the best possible light and will tell us that they have no debts or CCJs. The SafeStart PTFA gives us a way of verifying this,” says Alison Myhill, Income Manager at North Devon.
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A couple applied for housing and when interviewed, told North Devon they had no debts or CCJs and a healthy income of around £750 a week. The SafeStart PTFA showed debts exceeding £17,000, multiple default accounts and CCJs. This prompted them to have further discussions and affordability checks, concluding that the applicants were not ready to take on a new tenancy – even with support. “We were then able to signpost the customers in question to appropriate debt help,” added Alison.
The PTFAs offered through SafeStart also assist in understanding affordability and where that is marginal, North Devon Homes are also able to talk to the prospective tenant about bidding for alternative, more affordable accommodation. By showing a complete understanding of a tenant’s history, the SafeStart PTFAs are fundamental in helping North Devon Homes to reduce failed tenancies and secure income.
Alison explains: “We recognised that one of our biggest risks for rent arrears was at the start of a tenancy. We wanted to set expectations as well as supporting those who needed help with the transition. So, we are using the SafeStart PTFAs as a way of traffic lighting support action during the starter phase of the tenancy. This is a really useful way of targeting resources to those at highest risk.”
One of the ways North Devon Homes hope to be able to use SafeStart in the future is to complement work with customers on the waiting list to get them ‘Rent Ready’. Applicants will then be able to make good use of their waiting time to resolve any issues and start their tenancy right.
In line with their mission to create a community of sustainable tenancies, North Devon Homes will offer tenancies wherever possible with the right support packages in place and it is unusual for them not to be able to. However, the SafeStart PTFAs do help them to understand where this would not be the in the best interests of either themselves or the customer.
Alison gives us one example of a situation in which the SafeStart pre- tenancy checks have highlighted information that would likely have meant that an offer would have resulted in a failed tenancy.
By understanding the full context of a tenant’s situation, North Devon Homes are able to offer a tenancy that will fully support the customer. Depending on the circumstances, starter tenancies may be offered with conditions attached to the offer. These conditions could include engaging with North Devon’s own financial inclusion services, dealing with debts and getting help with budgeting and banking.
Alison shares one case, where having a complete picture of the tenants’ situation allowed them to implement the right support package:
“A family who applied to us for housing last year have just successfully completed the 12-month starter phase of their tenancy and we’ve been able to convert them to an assured tenancy. Their initial application and interview portrayed a pretty healthy financial position, however the SafeStart PTFA revealed some significant financial difficulties.
“We decided to offer a starter tenancy conditional on engaging with support. We’ve now been able to help the family with household budgeting, maximising their income, reducing outgoings through utility switching and bringing all their debts under control with affordable payment arrangements in place. They’ve never missed a rent payment.”