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When Grace* was referred to Bromford’s lettings team it became quickly apparent that offering the single mum-of-seven a tenancy would be completely unaffordable.

The 41-year-old, with five dependent children, had successfully bid on a 3-bed property in the Warwickshire town of Wellesbourne. But on assessment it was calculated that there was already a weekly shortfall of £75 due to the current benefits cap and this would rise to £145 once the additional welfare reform changes had come into force next year.

In preparation for these changes, Bromford introduced an affordability assessment into its Lettings Policy in June to ensure customers are not set up to fail through unaffordable tenancies. With it came a commitment to work with local councils where possible to remove a customers’ reliance on out-of-work benefits and make the tenancy affordable by getting them back into work.

After listening to Grace’s story, Bromford searched for an alternative solution.

“My nine-year marriage broke down two years ago and I had to leave the family home with my children. Up until that point, my husband had brought home a good income and I prioritised bringing up my children so there was never any problem. But suddenly I had nothing,” Grace explained.

“We moved into my father’s 2-bed flat and the six of us were there for 18 months. We were living in cramped conditions and it gave me depression – I was stuck it a rut and if one of us got an illness, we all caught it. I was desperate to get out which is when I found this Bromford property on Home Choice Plus.”

Housing manager Angela Manson said: “There was definitely some nervousness that Grace wouldn’t be able to afford the tenancy but that’s where some brilliant partnership working came into play with Stratford-on-Avon District Council. They nominated Grace and offered to make up the shortfall on her rent; on condition that she could demonstrate she had been working with us to try and find work. It was a 12-week arrangement with the option of a further 12-weeks.”

Angela, along with skills coach Tracy Huburn-King and starting well coach Hayley Tye, began meeting Grace three times a week but found it difficult to engage with her at first.

“I remember visiting Grace the first time and she was poorly anyway and just burst into tears – she was just totally overwhelmed and I think it was a real low point for her,” Angela recalled.

Grace said: “Looking back now I didn’t realise how close I was to breaking down. I had no CV, no experience and my qualifications were years old. I didn’t even know how to switch on a computer so the prospect of suddenly finding a job was very scary. I kept delaying the process initially because I didn’t even know where to begin.”

Working with Tracy over a number of sessions at the local library, Grace put a CV together focusing on the soft skills she had acquired whilst being a mother before uploading to several job sites. Hayley also worked with Grace to set up a number of direct debits so that she got used to being on top of her finances.

Tracy said: “Once the CV was uploaded she finally had something tangible to apply for jobs with, Grace finally recognised that she could do this and her confidence came flooding back.”

Training course

In the twelfth and final week of her initial tenancy, Grace spotted a vacancy at a new care agency whilst walking past a shop window and quickly submitted her interest.

Grace was given the role and found herself on a training course just two days later after impressing in an interview. She now cares for elderly people for 16 hours-a-week which means she qualifies for Working Tax Credit to top up her family income.

She added: “I’d have done any job just to keep a roof over our heads but I’m actually really enjoying my new job – the people are really nice, it gets you out of the house and my children have all said I seem happier since I started. My goal now is to get a new car so I can see customers further afield and this will mean I can earn more too.

“I’m proud of myself for managing to find something so quickly and I’m now thinking about whether I should eventually return to college and do my NVQ in care. When I get my first pay check I’ve promised the kids I’ll be treating them to something nice. I also need a few things for the house and I’m aiming to take them in the caravan down to Weymouth towards the end of the summer.

“But I’m not going to be wasting my money on things I don’t need. I think it will make me more careful with my money. You look at your finances in a completely different light when you’ve earned it yourself – it gives you a sense of achievement and that can only be a good thing.”

Neighbourhood manager Jas Mahami said: “Grace is a completely different person from the lady we first met and by finding employment it means she can now afford to pay her rent in full as well as benefitting from the many positive wellbeing aspects of entering work.

“As we start to work with more customers affected by welfare reform, Grace’s situation and outcome shows that through one-team working between Bromford, the customer and the local authority, we can support customers to make significant changes and realise their aspirations.”

Click here for advice on welfare reform.

*name changed to protect identity

Communications Manager - whether it's telling customer stories, proactive and reactive media relations, social media, or photography, I'm your man!

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