“Without SafeStart, we would really struggle to verify the sustainability of tenancies”
Muir Group have been using the TAIM SafeStart and InSight solutions since May 2016 in order to build and maintain sustainable tenancies amongst their residents across their four regional housing teams. As a housing association that puts the resident at the centre of their operation, they are continually striving to improve the sustainability of their tenancies, as well as the services they offer; it was this goal that led to the decision to implement the Housing Partners TAIM (Tenancy and Income Management) product.
Our pre-tenancy solution, TAIM SafeStart, works by validating data and performing powerful Pre-Tenancy Financial Assessments (PTFAs) on tenants, a process that has been fully embedded into Muir Group’s pre-tenancy process. Forming a key part of the checks that Tenancy Service Officers (TSOs) complete before they are allocated, SafeStart PTFAs allow Muir Group to be much more stringent, identifying any affordability issues in the early stages of allocations and ensuring the correct support is in place before the tenancy commences. Emma Robinson, Housing Services Manager at Muir Group explains:
“Prior to SafeStart we had limited insight into our applicants before we allocated properties to them. The PTFAs have allowed us to really drill down into an applicant’s potential sustainability as a resident and have enabled us to identify any financial vulnerabilities early on in the allocation process. The information allows us to provide the correct amount of support before they start their tenancy.”
“SafeStart has enabled us to identify any financial vulnerabilities early on in the allocation process. The information allows us to provide the correct amount of support before they start their tenancy.”
Housing Services Manager at Muir Group
Support for potential residents deemed to be a high risk often comes in the form of a referral to Muir Group’s Money Advisors (MAs), where support plans can be put in place to increase the chances of a successful tenancy. In Muir Group’s East region, 10 new residents have been referred to the MA since August following PTFAs that identified them as high risk. The MA worked with each of the residents, culminating in 10 offered tenancies; of these new residents, 8 of the rent accounts are currently well managed. The remaining two residents have fallen into arrears, with one agreeing to a payment plan for clearing these arrears, meaning a total success rate of 90%.
Becky McKeirnan, Community Housing Manager at Muir Group, explains Muir Group’s pre-tenancy processes in more detail:
“We usually use SafeStart PTFAs to identify if we need to do further probing in relation to a potential resident’s Income and Expenditure, so if they come back as high risk, we will ask them for 3 months of bank statements and refer them to MA for them to be looked into further. A recent situation; our MA spoke to the applicant and signposted him in relation to managing the debt. We subsequently allocated the property to him. The resident paid a month’s rent in advance at sign up and he has no arrears on his account.”
“We usually find the SafeStart reports beneficial in identifying any debt that the applicant hasn’t disclosed to us in our initial checks.”
Community Housing Manager at Muir Group
The information highlighted in the SafeStart PTFAs has also gone further on occasion, as in the case of Mr G. Mr G was a customer who had applied for a property and upon the running of a SafeStart report, was discovered to have over £18k of debt and an IVA that had recently failed. Mr G investigated further and discovered his ex-wife had been obtaining credit fraudulently in his name. Whilst the police investigation is still ongoing, as a result of this information Muir Group allocated the property to the applicant for, what continues to be, a successful tenancy.
There are cases however, where it can be concluded that it would not be in the best interests of either Muir Group or the resident for a tenancy to be offered. Becky McKeirnan elaborates:
“We usually find the SafeStart reports beneficial in identifying any debt that the applicant hasn’t disclosed to us in our initial checks. On occasion we have had to decline the applicant the property due to concerns over affordability or sometimes they become uncontactable when we start asking for more details around the information that the report has brought up.”
A recent applicant was recommended to Muir Group by an existing tenant, however the PTFA run through SafeStart showed over £150k of personal debt – not including mortgages – which had not been disclosed. A substantial amount of this credit had been obtained over the last 3 years, indicating spiralling debt. The applicant also had a shared ownership property, which was being sold in order to relieve some of his debts. Upon discovering this level of financial distress, it was decided that it would not be beneficial to either party for this applicant to be offered a property, saving Muir Group from what would likely have resulted in a failed tenancy.
Ensuring that the full picture is visible ahead of the commencement of a tenancy is of utmost importance for reducing both the possibility of arrears and increased financial hardship for those already facing debt. With SafeStart, Muir Group have been able to make informed decisions, whilst also ensuring that the right support is in place for residents before a tenancy begins. “Without SafeStart,” Emma explains, “we would really struggle to verify the sustainability of tenancies,” which is ultimately, the objective for each and every tenancy that Muir Group offers.