Listening to customers will be key to supporting them through the cost of living crisis

“Many of the people who will be most affected by the cost of living crisis are also most reliant on housing associations, which puts us in a significant position of responsibility to understand and be responsive to their needs,” writes Naomi Williams, Investment and Commissioning Manager for Orbit.

“As a housing association, we see first-hand the real-life impacts that the continual cost of living headlines have on our customers and it’s imperative that we listen and respond to the challenges that they are facing.

“As a result of Brexit, Covid-19, rising energy costs, changes to the benefit system and an unstable labour market, our Better Days programme continues to see a sharp rise in the number of people needing support with mental health issues, finances, food, clothing, and fuel costs.

“Our sector-leading Better Days programme has been developed and commissioned by behavioural insight and marketing specialists, our customers and employees, to ensure that we understand the day-to-day lives of our customers. The programme offers services which are available to every customer and designed to support financial inclusion, mental wellbeing, employability and skills and digital support.

“Last year, more than 5,000 Orbit customers, alongside a cohort of non-Orbit customers living in and around our Orbit communities, accessed our Better Days services.

“Combining feedback from our sector leading partners and local intelligence with the likes of area scores on deprivation indices, domestic violence, local health data, skills and employment mapping, we’ve been able to respond with agility to issues as they have emerged, and developed as well as identify future improvements to our services.

“That’s why this year we are introducing extra measures to further support customers through this time, including:

  • A new Welfare Benefits Advice service which will have the capacity to advise 1,200 customers annually who are most in need, reducing financial exclusion and increasing customer income.
  • A new online ‘cost of living hub’ will include information about government and local council support, lowering energy usage and energy support, debt advice, budget planning, food affordability, mental health support and employability upskilling, and how to avoid payday loans (loan sharks) and cost of living scams.
  • Offering specialist energy advice and new ‘Warm and Well’ packs to help keep 1,000 customers warm, safe and well this winter. Alongside a further 500 customers receiving specialist energy advice phone support.
  • Making extra provision for an increased demand on our mental health support services, which saw a 42% increase in referrals over the pandemic and helped 1,400 customers improve their mental wellbeing.
  • Launching Skillzminer (an employability and skills portal) on our customer hub website to help people increase their skills and job quality, leading to financial stability and people moving into higher paid roles to keep up with the rising cost of living.
  • Working with new and existing customers to test a new package of grants for essentials such as furniture, furnishings, digital connectivity and household appliances, to help bring them out of furniture poverty and support energy efficiency.
  • Working with the NHS to bring their free smoking cessation service direct to our customers in an effort to support people to reduce their spend on smoking and with added health benefits too.

“Led by our customers, people will get the support they need to gain skills and knowledge such as financial numeracy, confidence with money and a sense of control over short and long-term money management, empowering them to be resilient to both expected and unexpected life events and changes in circumstances.

“Our Customer Promise includes a pledge to work with our customers to help them to have a ‘Better Day’. In practice, this means being there for our customers when they need us and helping them to access a raft of measures to help them through the challenges they are facing now – and tomorrow.”