A 32 year old single parent, with four children aged between five and twelve, and with a history of debt problems joined the Rent-flex scheme in August 2017. Two years previously she had been working part-time but had been using credit cards to pay for food and other essentials. Following debt advice she had entered into a Debt Management Plan, owing around £10,500.
She had found the experience of working on low pay and getting into debt dispiriting and had decided to take steps to improve her qualifications in order to help her progress in the labour market. She had started an undergraduate course at University. However, this made it difficult for her to manage her money. Her student finance was paid to her at the start of each term, but she had to work over the summer months, when she found it hard to make ends meet and the change in her circumstances caused problems with her Housing Benefit claim.
“Before Rent-flex I was always worrying about whether I was going to be able to pay the next bill. And I never had enough money to treat the kids. Not even to take them for a picnic in the park. During the summer, I was working delivering parcels, six days per week, but it messed up my benefits, and it was a real struggle. I had to use the foodbanks.”
She was attracted to Rent-flex because it offered her the chance to lower her rent payments over the summer and make these up again across three instalments when she received her student finance. Joining the scheme in August was “perfect timing” for her as it removed a lot of stress; and she was able to take the children away for a short break as well as have enough money to pay for new school uniforms in September.
“It was great to be able to get through the school holidays and do things with the kids that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. We had some weekends away in a caravan on the Isle of Sheppey and I was able to buy new school uniforms. I wouldn’t have been able to afford those without Rent-flex and would have probably taken out a doorstep loan.”
She also found the Rent-flex scheme easy to understand and manage.
“It was really easy. It was quite a long in-depth phone call in the beginning, to make sure I could afford the payments but then that was it. And, if you have any difficulty paying you can just call them, there’s no pressure. Normally, if you miss your rent payment, there’s threatening letters. With Rent-flex they were much more understanding. I think I had one moment where I received my student finance late or I forgot to pay, and they phoned me and asked me to pay, but they were really nice about it. They were just making sure I remembered.”
Looking at the performance of the rent account, the tenant was £250 in rent arrears prior to joining Rent-flex but subsequently paid in line with her agreement and moved into credit for three quarters of the year. Since the pilot ended, arrears have again accrued on the account although the tenant indicates that she is still paying rent on a three-monthly basis in line with her student finance payments, so this is simply a result of her payment cycle.
When asked about the future of the scheme, the tenant indicated that she would “love to” use Rent-flex again and would probably opt to underpay in the summer school holiday period as last year. She also felt more confident to ring up and explain any changes of circumstance over the year which might require the Rent-flex agreement to be amended:
“I feel Optivo are a bit more approachable now. Now that I know they help people who are finding things difficult, rather than making threats.”
This improvement in the landlord-tenant relationship is borne out by Optivo’s CRM records. These indicate that Optivo’s outbound contact attempts to discuss her rent arrears prior to Rent-flex were often unsuccessful. Agreements for the tenant to pay weekly amounts towards the arrears also proved unsustainable. Following her move onto Rent-flex the account proved much easier to manage with fewer contacts required and more of this in-bound and initiated by the tenant. Although the tenant’s employment in the summer of 2018 again caused difficulties with her Housing Benefit claim she was also able to navigate through this herself and maintained her agreement to pay in line with the receipt of her student finance.