While we fiercely oppose welfare changes, it is our job to support tenants who are being forced to cut back
Many of you will be aware that Eastlands Homes found itself at the centre of an unexpected media storm recently over a paragraph in our customer newsletter. The paragraph was part of a five-page spread of advice and information on welfare reform and aimed to highlight the need to consider cutting back on non-essential spend.
It reflected reality, that the draconian under-occupation cuts being imposed by the government will mean that customers face some stark choices. It recognised that some customers will need to prioritise their rent over non-essential items to prevent them from losing their homes. We didn’t want to bury this crucial message which included the offer of advice and support.
The media storm claimed that our customers felt stigmatised by the newsletter and were outraged - they weren’t. We have 8,000 customers and less than a handful complained with many more supporting us on the message we gave out. Interestingly, a high proportion of postings and tweets were from outside our areas.
What also became clear was that we were being targeted by a Facebook pressure group against under-occupation cuts which, after 48 hours, posted a ‘forgive and forget’ message saying it had now achieved its aim of challenging the government and achieving national headlines for its campaign.
We too are disgusted by the changes - they go too far, are being introduced too fast and they punish social housing tenants for the crime of having an extra bedroom, as defined by the government.
Along with all our colleagues in the sector, we have lobbied against the welfare reform changes and have been working closely with our customers since 2011 to prepare for them. We achieve challenging targets for maximising income, we provide employment and training support and our recent newsletter has generated even more demand for this service. We work with customers every day providing financial advice and support, including budgeting.
We were disappointed to have become something of a lightning rod for people’s anger over welfare reform and especially for the divisive debate that ensued. We recognise the need for welfare reform, but the inequality, speed and perversity of these changes is breathtaking. Unfair as it is, people who have little enough to cut back on will have to cut back even further. We will continue to support our customers with the stark choices they face.
Sheila Doran is chief executive of Eastlands Homes