73. Targeted discretionary housing payments (TDHP)
73.1. Short description
The aim of the TDHP project was to support people from areas of high levels of unemployment and deprivation in Birmingham in the transition from welfare to work. Having managed to overcome hurdles associated with getting a job in the first place, people may be faced with a series of issues, some social and some more practical, which need to be addressed to support the sustainability of the employment. Among the most practical difficulties can be those relating to financial matters.
The previous Labour government recognised the difficulties in the transition from benefits to work in a number of benefit changes but many claimants still did not meet the strict eligibility criteria for additional support. The criteria were that individuals must have been claiming certain benefits for 26 weeks continuously and take a job for at least 5 weeks. Those who met the criteria could receive support for a 4-week period. The project provided additional and practical support to people in the transition period for up to 12 weeks to maximise their chance of sustaining their new employment.
73.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The project provided tangible support in the form of payments to ease the costs of transition into work for clients. Eligibility was based on the area that a person resides and qualification for the initial 4-week support. People were contacted by the service with information on how to access payment, which involved completing a form. The support was in the form of additional Housing and Council Tax benefit payments. In 2011 the average each participant had been paid was over £280 to bridge the gap between coming off benefits and paid employment.
One client explained that the extra assistance received helped towards rent arrears as before becoming unemployed they had fallen behind with paying rent. When they started work, the discretionary housing payment helped towards paying the arrears so that they were not threatened with eviction. Another felt that the financial assistance had helped them remain in work.
73.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The project was run by the City Council’s Benefits Service and supported initially through the WNF. The project benefited the proposed number of customers but at a lower cost than anticipated, and as such released funds back into the wider WNF Programme. As part of contractual arrangements, the participants remaining in employment was monitored at the end of each month. The information available at January 2011 indicated that over 91 per cent of customers remained in employment at the first outcome milestone of 13 weeks and over 77 per cent of customers paid through the scheme were still in work at 27 weeks.
An original aim of the project was to develop closer, mutually supportive referral arrangements with other agencies and employment support providers. A great deal of work was done in this area and there was a continued dialogue with a wide range of employment support provider. The team did receive some direct referrals from organisations and individual workers but overall the number of referrals from key organisations such as JCP was low. Most eligible clients were identified by the Benefits Team trawling their own database. The project managers felt that a longer implementation phase would have made it possible to get more referral agencies on board.
73.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The project was successful at getting different organisations and departments within BCC to work together such as the Benefits Team, Regeneration, Housing and Neighbourhood Offices and helped to show what impact relatively low-cost support can have on job retention. This approach pre-dates the Coalition Government’s proposals for welfare reform. Iain Duncan Smith MP (currently Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) visited Birmingham in February 2011 and came to find out more about the TDHP project within the context of welfare reform. In addition, two local authorities contacted the team to find out how the project works. The project was also put forward for two local government awards.