‘Rent-flex’ trials will help social housing tenants avoid the use of high cost credit

13 May 2019

As featured on Radio 4 Moneybox Live Saturday 11 May 2019. 

Tenants in social housing will be able to personalise their payment of rent and reduce their need to borrow at common financial pinch points in the year, such as over the school holidays or at Christmas.

Following housing association Optivo’s successful pilot to prove the ‘Rent-flex’ concept, the Centre for Responsible Credit (CfRC) is expanding the scheme.

The extension of the Rent-flex project is financially supported by JPMorgan Chase Foundation and will allow trials to take place involving more than 1,000 social housing tenants over the next two years. CfRC is a dedicated research and policy unit established in 2010 and hosted within Learning and Work Institute.

CfRC Director Damon Gibbons said:

“Rent-flex provides social housing tenants with support to plan for the year ahead and flex their rent payments in line with their anticipated cash-flow.  The results from our pilot have been very good, and the scheme has an extremely positive impact on the financial health of tenants.

Funding from JPMorgan Chase Foundation will help us take Rent-flex to the next level: testing it with over 1,000 tenants and building a model which could support its future roll-out across the sector.”

The trials will build on an earlier pilot conducted with Optivo Housing Association, which was funded by the Money Advice and Pensions Service.  This demonstrated that Rent-flex can help tenants:

  • Smooth out cash-flow and reduce the need to use credit;
  • Pay down existing debt, including high cost payday loans and money owed to door to door lenders; and
  • Pay for essential household items including white goods, children’s beds, and furniture.

Paul Hackett, chief executive at Optivo, said:

“Optivo are proud to have been able to be the first Housing Association in the UK to trial this innovative approach. We are keen to support residents in as many ways as possible. We’re delighted with the outcomes and money confidence skills our residents gained when having a flexible rent approach. Optivo are pleased to be partnering with CFRC to extend this offer to even more residents.”

Tenants in the pilot reported a wide range of positive impacts including healthier diets, warmer homes and less stress and anxiety about money.

Rent-flex also helped the landlord and tenant relationship by building trust and improving levels of engagement with tenants in financial difficulty.

Sarah Porretta, Strategy and Insights Director at the Money and Pensions Service, said:

“Nearly two thirds of the UK population are financially struggling or are squeezed by money pressures. As a result, they feel less confident about budgeting for their personal expenses or household bills.

“It is crucial that people are empowered to manage their rent commitments with confidence, helping set them on the path to financial wellbeing. The Rent-flex pilot shows that a personalised schedule of rent payments – allowing people to under and overpay on their rent at different points in the year – can be beneficial for tenants and landlords alike. There is potential here to make real positive changes for how the housing sector works with its tenants, and we are pleased to see the research continues to receive funding and support.”

Notes to Editors

  1. For further information/interviews contact Damon Gibbons on 07961 869473.
  2. The Centre for Responsible Credit (‘CfRC’) is a dedicated research and policy unit established in 2010 and currently hosted within Learning and Work Institute.  CfRC monitors the development of credit markets; conducts research into the extent of over-indebtedness, the effectiveness of regulation and the impacts of financial health programmes and financial services provision, and promotes policy and service responses designed to protect the long term interests of households and sustainable economic growth. For further information see responsible-credit.org.uk
  3. The initial pilot with Optivo Housing Association involved 59 low income families who were either in rent arrears, or who had a recent history of rent payment problems.
  • Most tenants used the scheme to help with the cost of buying presents for their children at Christmas; paying for extra heating during winter; to help cope with the extra costs of looking after children during the school holidays or to buy school uniforms.  This helped many to avoid borrowing at these times.  Other tenants used the scheme to enable them to pay off existing debts, including payday loans and door to door lenders or to buy essential household items, including fridge-freezers, beds, and furniture.
  • A third of tenants improved their rent payment performance as a direct result of the scheme. These tenants typically reduced their rent arrears from around £200 to under £10 over the year.
  • Tenants who continued to face significant income shocks over the year and to struggle with rent payments also found the scheme helpful, and their relationship with their landlord was improved.