At the beginning of March, before the lockdown was announced in England and Wales, our Wales policy officer, Tim Thomas, took up the opportunity to visit a job centre on Charles Street, Cardiff – a busy centre that serves the diverse needs of the Welsh capital.
The visit gave Tim a first-hand opportunity to understand some of the key issues facing the DWP and what measures are being put in place to support both tenants and landlords operating in the Private Rented Sector. In this blog Tim writes about what he took away from the visit.
For quite some time, ‘claimants’ have been addressed as ‘customers’, and the first impression I had as I stepped into the Job Centre was that the environment was more supportive to help people back in to work and reduce barriers.
One such project is Parenting Childcare into Employment or PACE, which is funded by the European Social Fund to tackle any barriers experienced by parents into employment such as lack of childcare. Other projects include ‘Onwards and upwards’ designed to support long term claimants get back into work with specialist support.
Other support needs include supporting people into voluntary work as a gateway into paid employment, support for self employed people to either give them the option to become self-employed or to progress their business further to more specialist support such as help with cultural awareness or support in passing ESOL.
With regards to supporting housing needs, including those specific to the PRS, the job centre liaises closely with local partners including the Salvation Army in the local delivery of Housing First – an innovative programme that utilises the PRS for people at risk of homelessness.
The visit also gave me the opportunity to visit the Partnership Manager for Cardiff and the Vale, who explained to me the many ways that the DWP are engaging with landlords including bi-monthly meetings with both social and PRS landlords, speaking opportunities at the Vale of Glamorgan Landlords Forum, supporting landlords in specific tenure projects such as Housing First as well as the YMCA PRS scheme and via the strategic landlords newsletter.
Despite the improved relationship between landlords and the DWP, there still remain challenges to the sector including the lack of ‘trusted status’ for landlords operating in the PRS. The social sector enjoys a close relationship with the DWP where they can access important information on their tenant’s status of the UC claim which is not on offer to the PRS. Local estimates suggest that around 7% of tenants in receipt of UC in the PRS have managed payments in place compared to 33% in the social sector.
The final part of my visit was meeting the officer responsible for the verification of housing costs which is evidenced from tenancy agreements. As a top tip for landlords, to ensure the verification is as streamlined as possible, tenancy agreements should breakdown all costs rather than include bills as this delays the verification. It is also strongly encouraged that if landlords have any information on their tenant’s changes of circumstances, then they should provide this as soon as possible.
[Main picture caption: Tim speaks to Gaynor Williams, DWP Partnership Manager for Cardiff and the Vale and a member of staff at the job centre]