Let’s talk hardship and dignity

hardshipby Graham Ayres, Chairman and CEO of Charis (pictured © Charis)

As we bask in the summer heat, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that the colder months will be upon us in the blink of an eye, and the same issues caused by poverty and hardship will be upon us once again. Not to bring a downer on the lifting of moods that the summer brings, but the outlook for the winter is not offering us any relief.

This article is not to list out the litany of misery that is piling up for vulnerable households who are already struggling - rather, we want to highlight the vast array of support and resources that Charis can offer social landlords in a bid to alleviate the struggles of their residents.

The mental health charity, Mind, has written extensively about the links between an individual’s housing situation and their emotional well-being. When money is tight, this leads to stress, anxiety and panic attacks, lack of sleep and depression. Too often, individuals can get caught in a downward spiral, from which it gets harder to escape without someone holding out a firm hand of support.

Instant access to emergency funding
The struggle to pay bills is the biggest source of anxiety for thousands of households - and that struggle is only going to get worse as the cost of living continues to rise beyond wage levels. While there is government help available through the Cost of Living Payments, which have been extended through to 2024, social landlords can offer additional support quickly, easily and securely to further alleviate the lack of dignity and self-respect that poverty can cause.

Let’s Talk Energy
Charis is probably best known for its close partnerships with some of the UK’s largest energy suppliers. The company collaborates annually with a number of suppliers to offer debt support, as well as providing free white goods and advice on energy saving. The Let’s Talk fund is one of our most well-known. It is aptly named when you consider that simply talking about a problem helps to alleviate stress and is often the first (and most difficult) step to take when seeking a solution to a constant worry.

The biggest resource that Charis provides housing associations when it comes to the financial, practical and pastoral support they can offer their residents is the Charis Shop, a fully automated digital platform that overhauls the efficiencies and handling of funds administration. In short, this means that landlords with a Charis Shop account can distribute emergency vouchers and digital payment cards within minutes, securely, and with full back-end transparency for reporting and auditing purposes.

While energy vouchers and digital payment cards (we have actually issued over £2.6m on our cards alone since last autumn) are the most common draw on funds, residents can also apply for vouchers to cover clothing, food and shopping, furniture and household essentials such as bedding and curtains, and even DIY vouchers. In short, these are all items that help to give back an individual’s sense of peace of mind and dignity.


Image © Adobe Stock

Taking care of the present, building for the future
From this, Charis can help further by partnering with housing associations in more empowering schemes that are focused on helping people get back into work, retraining them in different professions, and even providing start-up grants for those demonstrating a more entrepreneurial mindset.

Through its Shop platform, Charis can set up multiple bespoke project-specific funding streams depending on the provenance of the money. This gives the housing association much greater control and checks over its disbursement, lowering associated costs to optimise the impact of the money on the beneficiaries themselves. Fully automated auditable reports that comply with statutory regulations can be produced in minutes, saving finance officers hours of additional work involved in compiling these reports by hand.

Charis was originally established 20 years ago to simplify the administration of grants. Over the years, the company has recognised its role in helping to improve the emotional well-being of households throughout the UK. We may be a few steps removed, but it is still an issue that underpins our values and drives the continuing improvements we make to our services for social landlords.