S.W.A.T. from R to L – Andy Birtles (team leader), Amanda Walsh, Lindsay Patchett, Joanne Cahill, Kath Whitehead.

Tameside Housing association, New Charter Homes has re-launched S.W.A.T., its Specialist Welfare Advice Team in order to help their tenants cope with the roll-out of ‘full service’ Universal Credit.

The controversial benefit was launched amongst new benefit claimants in Tameside in 2013 but on 7th March the ‘full digital service’ will be rolled out across the region, meaning that anyone currently claiming any of the six benefits it replaces who has a change of circumstances will be asked to claim Universal Credit.

New Charter has already seen nearly 85% of its tenants who are currently claiming Universal Credit either fall into rent arrears or have their existing arrears increase dramatically. To combat this, the association has put together a squad of specially trained advisors whose mission it is to help, advise and inform those who may be affected by the switch to Universal Credit.

There are around 6,000 households in New Charter’s neighbourhoods that have been identified as potentially moving to Universal Credit after 7th March 2018.

Between now and March, S.W.A.T. will be carrying out a triage process to identify those tenants who need general advice and guidance and those who need more intensive support in readiness for the move to UC.

The team will visit neighbourhoods and speaking directly to New Charter tenants and helping them with all manner of queries linked to UC, from advice on getting online and setting up email addresses (which are needed for the application process) to budgeting to prepare for change

Andy Birtles, S.W.A.T. team leader said, “We’ve already seen how Universal Credit has affected many of our tenants, causing some to fall into arrears and debt, we have asked current UC claimants what it’s been like for them which has helped us to identify the main problems that people are facing. These included the 7 day initial waiting period (which thankfully has now been removed), the stress of getting into debt whilst waiting for the first payment and the fact that Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears directly to the tenant, including the housing element for the payment of rent. With the right help and advice, these issues can be avoided and our team is looking forward to getting out there and doing what we can.”

A previous incarnation of S.W.A.T. existed from 2012 to 2014, when the so-called “Bedroom Tax” was introduced. The project saw the team visit the majority of New Charter households who were going to be affected by the bedroom tax (2,200 in total) to raise awareness and give advice and address tenants’ debts.

For their work, the team won the 24 Housing Welfare Wise Award in 2013.

Keep an eye out for S.W.A.T. in your neighbourhood over the coming months. They can also be contacted by phone or by email at;