Income Collection Policy

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1 Income Collection Policy Author: Gordon Steed, Tenancy Services Manager Version 1.1 October 2014

2 Glossary Court costs Forfeiture Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Lease Money judgment Possession order Rent arrears Service charges Costs which may be awarded by the court as part of their judgement. The court may order the tenant or leaseholder we are taking legal action against to pay us court costs a sum of money to cover the County Court charges. Ending a lease through the courts. The leaseholder would lose their home. The mortgage lender and any others who have a charge on the property would recover what they are owed (together with their costs) from the sale proceeds before anything is paid to the leaseholder, so it s unlikely they would get back what they have invested in the property. It is very much the last resort when other options have failed. A measurement of how well we are performing in a given area The key legal contract between the leaseholder and Colchester Borough Council, giving the leaseholder ownership of the property for a set period. It sets out what charges we can collect and how these are set. These may include rent, services charges, ground rent, management charge and building insurance. We have several different versions of lease. A court order that orders the debtor to pay the money owed. A County Court Judgement (CCJ) is a common type of money judgement. This is frequently used alongside possession action to allow the recovery of the debt even if the tenancy ends. An order from the court ordering the occupant to leave the property. It may set conditions such as payments they must make to avoid this happening they are able to stay living in the property as long as they keep to the conditions. Rent payments that have not been made by the date they are due. A charge made for services provided for residents, typically including cleaning and gardening in communal areas, and (for leaseholders) repairs of the common areas and the structure of the building. 2

3 Contents Glossary 2 1. Introduction 5 2. Purpose 5 3. Key Principles 5 4. Our Standards 6 5. How customers can pay 7 6. Preventing debt and supporting those who owe money 7 Tenancy profile 7 Financial inclusion and Bank accounts 7 Money advice 7 Debt counselling & advice 8 Income maximisation 8 Credit Union 8 Affordable repayment 9 Responsibility 9 Vulnerable Tenants 9 Introductory Tenants Details of managing specific charges 10 Garage rent arrears 10 Leaseholders 10 Former tenant debts 11 Repair recharges 11 Homeless accommodation charges Income Collection Issues 12 The relative priority of debts 12 The impact of direct payments to tenants of welfare benefit entitlements Legal action Managing Performance 13 Performance Reporting Performance Management Error! Bookmark not defined. Error! Bookmark not defined. 3

4 Audit Error! Bookmark not defined. 11. Responsibilities Related Documents Consultation & Engagement Advice and Training Review and Compliance Monitoring References 18 Document Control Sheet 19 4

5 1. Introduction All Colchester Borough Council (CBC) tenants, whether tenants, leaseholders, or those renting garages from us, have a legal responsibility to pay what is due, on time. The role of staff is to enable and support this. We do this by: providing clear information offering a choice of convenient payment methods offering advice and support on claiming welfare benefits, managing money, maximising income signposting to work finding services. Where customers have not paid what is due, when it is due, we take action to remind them and explain the consequences of non-payment. This takes into account their personal circumstances, and aims to sustain the tenancy or lease as far as possible. Customers may owe money for reasons other than arrears on rent or service charges rechargeable repairs, payment of court costs following legal action, and payment of rent owed by former tenants. This policy covers how we collect this income from our customers. 2. Purpose The aim of this policy is to set out clear principles and guidelines so that we make decisions and manage processes in ways that are in line with: our core values and purpose good practice fairness, consistency, and appropriate behaviours supporting staff who are managing the process, allowing judgement and discretion within overall guidelines. We aim to establish a payment culture, collecting all the money owed to us to fund the provision of our services, while striving to sustain tenancies and leases. This policy applies to all housing management staff, including Customer Services staff, Assistant Housing Officers, Community Housing Officers, and specialist officers. 3. Key Principles Our work on income collection is driven by a number of key principles. We will: Make the tenant s responsibilities clear and understandable before the start of the tenancy; collect a rent payment at the sign up of the tenancy, establish regular payment patterns, and remind tenants regularly of their contract to pay the charges due 5

6 Compile usable and accurate information on who is living in our properties to confirm benefit entitlement, assess the risk of getting into debt and deliver a targeted income management approach Offer a range of convenient and economical ways to make payments Send statements to all our current tenants and leaseholders every three months Seek to prevent debts from arising in the first place and to minimise their impact by providing welfare benefit & money advice, supporting income maximisation, promoting affordable credit, and taking a holistic approach to debt by referring tenants to specialist support Contact our tenants promptly when they owe us money, clarifying their responsibilities in a firm but fair way Make direct personal contact where arrears continue, find out why the debt has not been paid, and establish the tenant s personal responsibility for the debt Offer advice and support to tenants in arrears, including working with our partners and other agencies to help tenants in need Make clear, realistic and affordable agreements to repay debt, monitoring all arrangements made, and following up promptly if these are not kept Restrict the re-housing of any current or former tenant who owes money unless there are exceptional circumstances Take enforcement action as allowed within the tenancy agreement or lease, following the law and best practice, including, as a last resort, eviction or forfeiture Measure, evaluate, and publish our performance, including comparing CBH with other social landlords, learning from others and sharing good practice 4. Our Standards Tenants and leaseholders sign legally binding agreements for their homes which contain explicit commitments to pay the charges due within specific timescales. The services provided by Colchester Borough Homes are funded by rent payments. Collection of charges that falls below targets impact on the financial planning of CBH and CBC. Rent collection and rent arrears recovery performance are Key Performance Indicators that are reported to the Council. These performance indicators affect the reputation of the Council locally and nationally. We aims to minimise levels of debt so that tenants can access financial products (financial inclusion) and to minimise the vulnerability of tenants to doorstep lenders and other forms of financial exploitation. Colchester Borough Homes follows an Equality and Diversity Strategy to promote fairness for all in how we work 6

7 5. How customers can pay We offer a range of convenient options for making payments: Direct Debit five dates during the month are available for weekly, fortnightly of monthly payments Bank Standing Order weekly, fortnightly or monthly By phone or internet by debit or credit card Post Office Payzone payment points Bank Cheque or postal order 6. Preventing debt and supporting those who owe money In line with our principles in Section 3 above, we offer a range of ways to support our customers to stay out of debt, and to manage their situation when they are in debt. Tenancy profile Income management is not a one size fits all approach. We aim to tailor our approach to the individual customer, understanding the factors that increase the risk of them getting into arrears, prioritising how we intervene, and supporting the customer to establish regular and sufficient payments to sustain their tenancy. Financial inclusion and Bank accounts As part of our approach to financial inclusion, and in the light of the reform of the benefit system, we aim to identify those customers who do not have (or do not use) bank accounts. We offer and promote easy bank accounts to tenants to prepare for the introduction of Universal Credit.. We continue to evaluate and adapt our processes to prepare tenants to pay their rent themselves once benefits are no longer credited automatically to their rent account. Money advice Many of our customers are on low incomes and face a range of pressures on their finances. We recognise that good management of money, while not the only solution, is a key element in establishing a sustainable approach to payment of rent and other charges. We offer advice in line with nationally agreed good practice which classifies rent payments as a priority debt. 7

8 Debt counselling & advice We recognise that many of those owing money to us may also be in debt to other organisations utilities, Council Tax, store cards, credit cards, and sometimes payday or doorstep lenders. The most effective and sustainable approach to managing debt is to look at the person s whole financial situation, not just focusing on what they owe us. We fund the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to provide specialist debt counselling and advice. The role can involve negotiating with all creditors to agree sustainable payment arrangements. We refer customers to the service, and liaise with the CAB to monitor its impact. Customers can also refer themselves to the service. We also promote the services of the National Debt helpline. Income maximisation We aim to ensure that all customers are maximising their incomes. We employ a Welfare Rights Advisor to directly advise tenants with more complex welfare benefits issues, as well as training CBH staff to give expert advice. We also work with, and refer to, external agencies offering advice and support to particular groups, such as Age UK for older people. Working with partners Working in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), CBH staff encourage tenants who are not working to engage with services that the DWP provide as a way of maximising their income and dealing with the burden of debt. This includes giving opportunities to tenants to volunteer for resident involvement opportunities that may increase their employability by strengthening their curriculum vitae (CV). A joint working protocol between CBC, CBH, and the DWP has been agreed with the following objectives: Homelessness prevention Provide support to the most vulnerable residents Ensure successful implementation of Universal Credit Provide effective joined up advisory services that would support residents to find long term work and to reduce debt Credit Union We support the work of the Colchester Credit Union and Essex Savers as a way for our customers to have access to making savings and receiving affordable credit. Tenants may not have access to bank accounts from High St. providers. Credit Unions provide ways of saving which lead to rights to borrow at affordable rates. This opportunity encourages the development of money management skills and a greater understanding of other financial products. 8

9 This reduces the vulnerability of tenants to loan sharks and the restrictions of living with high levels of debt. Affordable repayment In all cases where we are owed money our approach is to first ask for the repayment in full of the outstanding amount. Where this is not reasonable we accept payment in stages. We will set this up so that all priority debts can be met and then give advice about items of expenditure which the tenant will need to review in order to meet the priority debt payments. The current minimum payment is always expected towards to the repayment of the arrears in addition to the current rent. Where the debt is large and the tenant has a favourable change of financial circumstances we will renegotiate the instalment amount upwards. Responsibility The tenant or leaseholder remains responsible for paying what is due throughout this process of support. Legal action will be taken to enforce this responsibility if the arrears do not reduce in order to protect the council s interest and to show the customer the consequence of non payment. The County Court expects to see evidence that CBH has provided this support and advice before it will consider making an order for possession. This expectation is documented in the Pre-Court Action Protocol. Vulnerable Tenants Vulnerable tenants can find establishing robust payment arrangements challenging. Community Housing Officers make a personal assessment of the circumstances of each tenant and may refer tenants to specialist support providers. Colchester Borough Homes supports local agencies to provide specialist support to tenants through grant payments One Housing Association provides a personal support and advice service. Open Road provides a similar service for tenants with addictions. Citizens Advice Bureau provides debt and money management with appointment times specifically for CBH customers by a direct referral process These agencies are best placed to give additional intensive support that is sometimes needed to establish a sustainable tenancy. 9

10 Introductory Tenants An Introductory tenancy will be offered to new tenants who have not held a secure tenancy previously. Problems occurring within the first 12 months of the tenancy will be reviewed and the tenant offered additional support. Introductory tenants are closely monitored to ensure they are keeping to the terms of their tenancy during the introductory period. An internal tribunal hearing is arranged to review their situation if satisfactory rent payments are not made. This tribunal has the power to end their tenancy if it is not satisfied that the introductory tenant shows insufficient commitment to their tenancy agreement. The decision will be referred to the County Court for the issue of a possession order. 7. Managing specific charges Garage rent arrears Colchester Borough Homes Garage Tenancy Agreement (extract) You must pay your rent weekly in advance. If you break any of these tenancy conditions we can end your tenancy by sending a notice to quit to your last known address. When the notice expires we can change the locks and give you notice to remove your belongings. If you have not removed your belongings within 28 days we can dispose of them without further notice." We take a streamlined approach to managing garage arrears compared to residential properties. This is because the law allows us more flexibility, and because the consequences of ending the tenancy are less. Leaseholders Colchester Borough Homes Leaseholder Handbook (extract) You must pay your share of the costs of managing and maintaining your block. This is a legal duty set out in your lease. If you do not pay your share, you are breaking your lease agreement and we could apply to a leasehold tribunal and then to the courts to have your lease forfeited. In these circumstances, you could lose your home. We will always be fair about service charges. We will explain how they are calculated, and you can challenge any charges you do not agree with. If you have financial problems, we may be able to give you a loan or make other arrangements to help you pay your service charges." 10

11 While we have the right to end the lease by forfeiture if payments due to us have not been made, in practice we always look for alternatives first. We will consider the following options: ask the leaseholder to pay all the debt straight away agree that the debt will be paid over a period of months, and/ or ask the mortgage lender to pay allow the leaseholder to sublet, and/ or charge interest on the debt and/ or charge the cost of our administration obtain a court order which may include a charge against the property Former tenant debts We aim to actively manage current rent arrears in order to keep debts owed by former tenants to a minimum. Tracing and chasing debts is carried out across the council by a specialist team, using standard debt recovery techniques. This includes working with a certified debt collection agency. We aim to contact the debtor as soon as possible after the end of their tenancy. We ask in writing for the whole debt to be cleared immediately; we will accept payment by instalments. Once the tenancy ends the payment of rent no longer becomes a priority debt and enforcement powers are limited. Where it is uneconomic to pursue the debt, and we have followed the recovery process fully, we recommend to CBC that the debt is written off. These recommendations are based on whether we know where the person lives, their current income, and the cost of taking legal action. Debts can be written on if the former tenant s address is found. Repair recharges We aim to avoid carrying out repair work that is the responsibility of the tenant, unless payment has been made in advance. Where damage has been caused which is the responsibility of the tenant CBH recharges the cost of the repair to the tenant. CBH has a Recharging Policy. 11

12 Homeless accommodation charges When CBC accepts customers as homeless, they are offered temporary accommodation until suitable more permanent accommodation can be offered. Customers are supported to apply for housing benefit and to pay their charges promptly to encourage money management skills that will be carried into future tenancies. CBH staff provide this advice and support. Essex Guardians Where a tenant has died and is intestate, yet has assets, Essex Guardians will contact CBH to offer to pay any debts that the tenant may have. 8. Income Collection Issues The relative priority of debts Court costs following legal action are collected with the arrears of rent. Any County Court Judgement will remain active until such time as both the rent account and court costs are paid in full. Debt resulting from when Housing Benefit has been overpaid is usually collected by CBC by reducing the weekly Housing Benefit payment to repay the debt. These debts are accounted for on an account which is linked to but separate to any rent account. Housing Benefit overpayments are not counted as rent arrears unless collected by deductions and not paid. We prioritise the payment of current rent, so other debts are paid only when the rent account balance is cleared. The impact of direct payments to tenants of welfare benefit entitlements When tenants move on to Universal Credit significant numbers of them will receive their welfare benefits directly at their home address and will be expected to make rent payments to CBH when they have never done this before. The Financial Inclusion strategy contains details of how we are preparing tenants for this change. Please see section 10 for how CBH will monitor the impact of this change. 12

13 9. Legal action CBH will take legal action in the County Court if customers do not pay what is due in order to protect the Council s interest and the continuation of the services that CBH provides. Before an application to the County Court is made CBH ensures that all information and advice has been delivered in accordance with a Pre court protocol. We will advise customers that they have a relationship with the County Court and advise them of the consequences of not fulfilling the terms of any order or undertaking made. We expect customers to approach the County Court direct if they cannot keep the terms of the Court hearing. If customers do not fulfil these obligations we will ask for another warrant from the County Court so that the Court can decide what action to take. CBH will carry out evictions if the Court orders that the possession of the home should be given up to the council. 10. Managing Performance The Director of Housing has overall responsibility for income management, reporting to the Operations Committee. The key performance indicators (KPIs) of rent arrears recovery and rent collection are reported to the Council every month. The Tenant and Leaseholder Consultative Committee reviews reports to the Board. Fortnightly reports from the computer system provide accurate information on who is in arrears and by how much. Computer records show daily what has been paid to individual accounts. The Head of Housing Management and the two Housing Managers review the performance of the teams every fortnight and take corrective action when needed to prioritise the rent arrears recovery in team workloads. Community Housing Officers (CHOs) are responsible for achieving challenging but realistic performance targets for their area. Each Community Housing Officer has his or her own annual collection targets at patch level. All staff have a clear understanding of what is expected from them. In the monthly one to one monitoring and supervision meetings individual cases are reviewed to see if the CHO is following the policy and the procedure to support the tenant out of debt. Advice and support to protect CBH s income stream and to maximise the tenant s income is provided. Our approach emphasises: collection performance financial advice, support, and information 13

14 taking early firm action to reinforce the priority of the rent debt working in partnership to promote financial inclusion We aim to achieve high levels of contact with tenants through pro-active home visits and telephone calls. The performance of each Community Housing Officer is benchmarked with others. Assistant Housing Officers and Customer Services Assistants promote regular and sufficient payments of charges due. Every year an internal audit, carried out by independent auditors, assesses the CBH s compliance with its procedures. Recommendations are acted on. 11. Responsibilities Role Customer Services staff in the Universal Customer Experience Assistant Housing Officer team Community Housing Officers (CHOs) Responsibility Take calls from tenants, advising on available payment methods & encourage regular payment Make voluntary agreements to pay low level debts where there is not a history of arrears Advise new tenants of rent payment responsibility Advise on the amount to pay at the start of the tenancy Complete HB claim at tenancy start Initial contact with tenants and leaseholders in arrears Recovery of arrears from garage tenants Recovery of arrears of charges in temporary accommodation Clarify payment responsibilities and the consequences of non-payment, with all customers Check rent payment pattern at new tenancy visit, confirming any required HB application information Make referrals to Welfare Rights Worker and other CBH / CBC specialist staff including the Housing Options team to prevent homelessness Make referrals to external specialist support agencies Support tenants & leaseholders to maximise benefit 14

15 Role Welfare Rights Worker Financial Inclusion Officer Housing Benefit Liaison Officer Housing Options team Housing Manager Community Safety Manager Communal Services Officer Property Services Responsibility entitlement & tenancy sustainment Monitor payments and take recovery actions prompted by the computer system Letters, phone calls & visits to tenants in arrears, making & monitoring repayment agreements Initiate legal action for authorisation by the Housing Manager Collect court costs Carry out evictions with the County Court bailiff Complex Casework Advise and train CBH colleagues Provides advice and support to tenants to maximise financial opportunities Leads on the take up of Discretionary Housing Payments Promotes the use of bank accounts Deals with and prioritises claims for vulnerable council tenants Strengthens the good working partnership between CBC and CBH Support tenants to prevent homelessness Manage income collection / arrears recovery performance Set performance targets for CHOs Monitor performance against targets Agree legal actions The recovery of temporary accommodation arrears Responsible for collecting service and leasehold arrears charges from leaseholders Raise Repairs recharges 15

16 Role Rent Accounting Team CBC debt collection team CAB Open Road Age UK One support Housing Group Tenant Support Officers Operations Committee Tenant & Leaseholder Consultative Committee Responsibility Administer Direct Debits, standing orders, payment cards & books Post payments to accounts Carries out adjustment to rent accounts Collection of former tenant arrears Casework where customer has multiple debts Casework where customer has drug and/ or alcohol dependency impacting on their ability to pay Casework for elderly customers with complex benefit entitlements Support for vulnerable tenants, specialising where tenants have learning difficulties or mental health issues, where this impacts on their ability to make payments Casework to build the capacity of vulnerable tenants to sustain their tenancy; in particular customers in temporary accommodation. Scrutiny of income collection and rent arrears recovery performance Scrutiny of income collection and rent arrears recovery performance by tenants & leaseholders 12. Related Documents Arrears recovery procedures Avoiding debt when you end your tenancy (tenant information leaflet) Introductory Tenancy (tenant information leaflet) Service Charges for Leaseholders your rights and obligations Service Charges for Leaseholders explained Service Charges for Tenants explained Vulnerable Persons Policy Tenant Handbook no longer issued to new tenants Leaseholders Handbook 16

17 Welfare Reform Strategy Financial Inclusion Strategy Rent Collection Helpsheet Rent Income NSP iconnect helpsheet Rent team iconnect questions Recharging Policy Standard letters & forms 13. Consultation & Engagement Customer Services Improvement Group Citizens Advice Bureau Housing Management Staff 14. Advice and Training Advice in interpreting and implementing this policy should be sought from the Head of Housing Management and from the Housing Managers. Every year CBH trains front line staff on welfare benefits. This covers both the reforms and the detailed assessment of entitlement to individual benefits. Advice and training is given at one to one monthly meetings and at team meetings. 15. Review and Compliance Monitoring We will review this policy no later than September This process will include: An assessment of performance, and whether the policy is fit for purpose in maximising performance Reviewing the changes in the external environment we operate in e.g. the impact of the Welfare Reforms. Examining the cost effectiveness of current working practices; Reviewing the quality of the service as measured through customer feedback Learning from the external assessment of our operation by independent auditors Responding to the findings of any related Resident Scrutiny review e.g. mystery shopping 17

18 We monitor and manage income collection performance using a range of methods: KPI reporting Reviews of individual cases Audit Tenant feedback County Court comments Monthly review of performance by Directors Monthly review of performance by CBC 16. References Reports of the Audit Commission on the recovery of rent arrears and income collection Court action protocol Good practice guide of the Housing Quality Network 18

19 Document Control Sheet Title: Electronic File name & location: Consultation with stakeholders: Income Collection Policy T:\Common Files\Policies, Strategies And Corporate Documents\Word Versions Of Current Corporate Documents\CBH Income Collection Policy - October 2014.Doc Customer Services Improvement Group Citizens Advice Bureau December 2012 Equality Impact Assessment: TBC Approved: CBH Board, October 2014 Dissemination Date: October 2014 Implementation Date: October 2014 Method of Dissemination: Next review: This policy will be available on the CBH website. Staff involved will be trained to implement it. An article will be published in Housing News and Views and in the Staff Newsletter to promote the accessibility of this document. The policy will be circulated to staff with have responsibilities under the policy. September 2017 Document Amendment History Version No. Date Brief Description 1.0 February October 2014 New policy Minor amendments 19

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