27 July, 2022

The Centre Discusses: The cost of living crisis

HACT, The Centre for Excellence in Community Investment and attendees discussed key themes across the sector as residents feel the impact of rising costs. Here is a summary of the discussions across five key themes.

How to identify those in poverty

Identifying those in poverty is key for knowing who may need some support. One way of doing this that came up in the discussion is mapping customers most exposed to the cost of living crisis (desktop exercise), i.e. who are already in debt, those with a disability and might be using facilities more, and those in energy inefficient homes.


The biggest obstacle faced in identifying those in poverty is often having poor quality data. Time was another challenge that was raised; for example, going out to the residents and asking them what they need is a massive undertaking, so how do we best do this. Options include the use of existing research. The importance of upskilling all staff in all teams to understand indicators and to be able to give quality advice and signpost/refer was also highlighted.


We heard how looking at what previous support, such as the emergency support fund (fuel vouchers and energy vouchers), has been previously used by residents as an indicator of potential future support needs. As well as the importance of proactively reaching out to those in situations that we know to be precarious, such as contacting residents who are signing up to Universal Credit for the first time. This also lead to a discussion about how most measures and solutions are short-term and how can we be innovative and disruptive? We need to make real changes, i.e. reduce responsive repairs service and housing management visits so we can reduce rent.


The idea of having a different approach to GDPR and the impact this has was also raised, for example, restricting how much we can tell residents about services and how much work we can do to identify and reach out to resident groups.

Lastly, the benefits of partnerships out of the sector, e.g. National Energy Action, local councils etc were also underlined as a way of taking the pressure off housing associations to create solutions.

Fuel poverty

Energy Redress fuel vouchers have been incredibly valuable, but colleagues are increasingly concerned about non-pre-payment meter residents and how to direct financial support to them as we move into winter. Longhurst are developing a Community Improvement Fund to provide an internal funding mechanism for non-PPM residents, and working creatively with social value elements in procurement processes to direct support for those experiencing fuel poverty.

Some housing associations are taking a consortium approach (for example, Independent East) to collect information and data about issues facing residents and what support they need/want. Using the data, they will look at how they can pool resources across the consortium to meet some of those needs, such as jointly funding a new role to work across all the housing associations. There was also mention of how housing associations could test the use of tech such as Switchee to see what insights it gives and as a communication method direct to residents’ homes.

It was mentioned that it is not necessarily the customers who are asking for help that housing associations are most concerned about, but rather those residents they never hear from. Again GDPR was recognised as an issue  but a few approaches being taken are:

Food insecurity

It is now evident that it is no longer just those in poverty or unemployment; many of those seeking food support are in employment, but an overall increase in costs is hitting them across every expense, and now at the basic need level. The UK Harvest Survey – supports the idea that everyone is affected, not just the poorest.

Crisis funds and short-term solutions are a sticking plaster, and there is a need to focus on a more rounded cause and need, and have services or direct support for the full picture. For example, Orbit have a triage system and dedicated team for residents who can assess their full needs and they are currently reaching around 20,000 this way. Some larger housing associations voiced that they need a national solution as well as access to local solutions or insight  

Three keys themes came out of the discussion


It was noted that all of the above also offer employment opportunities for those in the community. At a hyperlocal level, this supports local knowledge, and community environment along with helping to identify the needs or requirements of residents to adapt to cultural needs  



Impact on mental health

The group considered mental health in three themes based on MRI’s research:

The group discussed whether ‘knowing’ about support services in itself will help improve mental health more so than actually receiving the support. For example, knowing there is an Energy Hardship Fund could be enough to reduce the stress and anxiety of fuel bills. Abri shared there plans to provide a directory of support services to their residents which includes all support for mental health and beyond.  They are working on how to make this as accessible as possible to residents.

The group briefly discussed the effect of referrals on mental health. Catalyst’s ‘no wrong door’ policy was shared as a great example to minimise the uncertainty for residents. Providing easy support to account for the frustration of areas out of their control such as applying for universal credit. The recent research from CPAG: Navigating the UC system report was discussed as an example of how accessing financial help can lead to issues with mental health

Digital / data poverty / exclusion

Understanding your residents’ needs around data and digital is critical. One colleague talked about a digital needs survey they had undertaken recently, which highlighted that the biggest challenge for residents was devices. They are working with the Good Things Foundation with their national device bank – devices no longer needed by organisations, staff or friends can be recycled here.

One colleague mentioned that they had built-in provision of laptops/devices into contracts with suppliers, as part of their social value requirement. Another colleague talked about the lack of coverage in rural areas which would affect residents’ ability to use digital to contact their HAs. If people can’t engage this way, then how can we enable them to talk with us, noting the importance of being able to talk to a person. This was affirmed by two others; one mentioned the use of 0800 numbers, with residents ending up waiting for 40 minutes before they spoke to someone. The other reinforced the importance of face-to-face; even though residents might be tech-savvy, they don’t want to do everything digitally! 

We touched on the issue of data – devices are great, but we’re hearing that some residents are unable to use digital food vouchers because they don’t have enough data available on their phones. Free data is being provided to 500,000 people here: National Databank – Good Things Foundation

Finally, there is the issue of being able to inform residents about these initiatives – colleagues talked about being inhibited from emailing residents because of GDPR requirements, although this was challenged by many others. HACT were asked to investigate this further.

We ended by talking about the benefit of engaging in this way and sharing that HACT will be hosting a digital poverty alliance network through our Centre for Excellence in Community Investment. More details on this will be shared with delegates. 


Watch the main session from the event here

The Centre Discusses: The cost of living crisis

Hear from Doug Sarney from MRI Software and Maggie Houghton from Hyde, many thanks to Shelley Hathaway-Batt from Clarion for chairing

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This event was hosted by The Centre for Excellence in Community Investment and the best way to stay up to date on the latest tools, resources and events is to join our networks. To find out more about the work of The Centre get in touch with HACT Business Development Director, Matthew Grenier

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