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Home Improvement Agency

For Caseworkers

Casework is the difference between a Home Improvement Agency and technical support in relation to repairs and adaptations. Casework has sat at the heart of Home Improvement Agencies from their start in the mid 1980’s. Caseworkers provided the Care in Care and Repair agencies. Caseworkers stayed with clients from beginning to end in the early Staying Put agencies; providing continuity of care. Holistic, person-centred casework provides the DNA in an effective HIA.

The Social Model of Disability

Central to effective casework is the concept of the Social Model of Disability. The social model of disability emerged at about the same time as the start of the HIA sector. It sees people not in terms of their impairments but in terms of the barriers that are put in the way of people participating in a full and active life in all its aspects. Good Casework sets out to remove as many of those barriers as possible. These barriers do not just relate to the fabric of the built environment which stops people getting upstairs, being able to wash without help or getting out and about. Casework will also aim to address inequalities of opportunity to participate in society by dint of relative poverty, social isolation, or the lack of the knowledge people need to make informed choices about what is possible for them to do. It is for this reason we talk about casework as being holistic and person-centred. Holistic because it views people in the context of their community as a whole. Person centred because it tries to provide unique solutions tailored to the expressed preferences and needs of the client or customer.

Casework Stages

Every engagement between caseworker and client will be unique, but generally casework will follow these 7 stages:

  • Introduction and establishing trust
  • Discussion and exploration of the issues and options
  • Assessment and agreement to favoured solution
  • Deliver support
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Follow-up
  • Close

HIA casework is therefore not just an administrative function but seeks to:

  • challenge attitudes to old age and disability
  • provide the social support and services needed to overcome some of the barriers; for example by putting people in touch with befrienders, a lunch club and other local community organisations and services
  • provide information in a way the client can understand. This relates to both the format and language used as well as ensuring people understand the implications of the housing and adaptation choices they make.
  • remove the physical barriers
  • work with the client to provide the service they wanted rather than the service on offer; for example by offering a range of ways to engage with their HIA.

A Caseworker can:

  • Explore with clients, their needs and aspirations
  • Support clients to explore the options to meet those needs
  • Enable clients to access their best option based on informed choice
  • Source available funding to make that choice a reality
  • Work with partner agencies to improve the wellbeing of our clients.

Funding

Although caseworkers do more than provide the support to help vulnerable people through complex grant processes, the primary function of a Home Improvement Agency is to help older and disabled people live independently in the home of their choosing. Casework may sit at the heart of an effective HIA but its function is essentially a practical one. HIAs help people affect change in their home to respond to changing need. Therefore, an important part of a caseworker’s job is to maximise the financial resources their clients can call upon to adapt and change their homes.

Caseworkers are committed and creative in exploring a range of means to fund the measures people need to stay safe and comfortable in their home. This is more than means testing but explores with vulnerable clients how they might maximise their income, their entitlement to charitable and statutory grant aid and use their savings and capital best. An HIA caseworker will be able to help:

  • with benefits and income maximisation
  • access charitable support
  • access Loans - short and long term
  • with fuel costs and energy efficiency
  • minimise tax liabilities and exploit insurance liabilities
  • advise on staying put and the financial implications
  • advise and support for moving on - financial appraisal
  • with debt and financial management
  • establish Incapacity - managing other people’s money

Exploring Needs and Options

For Commissioners and service providers this may help in structuring services. For caseworkers, it is important to understand that each level requires different skills and support and has implications for their relationship with clients, partner agencies, funders and local authorities.

Level 1 Information and Advice

There is an expectation under the Care Act (2014) for local authorities to establish and maintain advice and information services for everybody in relation to not just the local care and support system but a much wider range of concerns including health, housing and finance and it must include housing and housing related support options.

Access to quality assured Advice and information is a critical enabler for both consumers and commissioners to make choices and drive up experience of lives, homes and services. Better access to information can also play an important role in enabling greater collaboration at local level. Together, increased access to quality information and joined up working across local public services can then support better planning and prevention and enable more personalised approaches to care.

In relation to repairs and adaptations, the information and advice deficit endured by people in the private rented sector or who own their own home has long been recognised. Caseworkers are often the first point of contact for people looking to change or repair their home and the quality of information and advice they impart is crucial in the subsequent success and outcome of someone’s journey through the system. Caseworkers should therefore maintain an up to date database of goods, services and benefits to address the needs of people making enquiries of the Home Improvement Agency.

Level 2 One to One support

Individualised Casework distinguishes a building technical service from a Home Improvement Agency. A technical service might generate designs, specifications and the contractual framework to project manage repairs and adaptations. One to one casework is necessary because of the enhanced duty of care that attaches to delivering services to vulnerable people. However, effective casework mediates and facilitates the inevitable compromises between professional assessments and personal aspirations, efficiency and good outcomes, public purse and quality of life.

Individualised casework has been part of the concept of an HIA, Care and Repair or Staying Put Agency from the very start when local authorities were encouraged to make bids for government monies to set up simple agencies consisting of caseworker, technical officer and administrator. In local authority HIAs, Caseworkers will need to be furnished with a degree of ‘psychological independence’ in order to facilitate the conversations between professionals, officers and customers which generate the best possible outcome for all. This psychological independence is easier to achieve and maintain in outsourced services, although it risks alienating different parts of the process from one another.

Effective individualised casework relies very much on interpersonal skills, empathy and aptitudes brought to the work. While these are not absent in the grants and technical workforce of local authorities and construction industry, they are not qualities required to determine which regulations apply, a reasonable price or the most efficient way to get jobs through local processes. The complexity of those systems alone might need someone to ensure customers understand the things that happen and the control or otherwise clients may reasonably expect. Where customers hope to flex local structures and processes, a caseworker to navigate them will be even more essential. Where grant conditions or equity release effectively means people borrow against the value of their own home, a degree of flexibility how that money should be spent may well be expected.

Level 3 Advocacy

The word Casework also covers some forms of Advocacy. Because caseworkers in the HIA sector are salaried, their work in the field of advocacy may be defined as paid independent advocates to support and enable people to speak up and represent their views, usually during times of major change or crisis. Such advocacy is issue-based and the advocate may only need to work with the person for a short time. Some types of advocacy must be provided to eligible people wherever they live. Statutory advocacy services must be provided in every local authority area. Statutory advocacy services cover:

  • NHS Complaints Advocacy: For people with a complaint about NHS services
  • Independent Mental Health Advocacy; For people detained under the Mental Health Act
  • Care Act Advocacy; For decisions about care and support when friends or family are unable to help
  • Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy; For accommodation and treatment decisions. Eligibility is based on decision-making capacity and whether friends or family can help.
  • Relevant Person’s Representative: For people who are deprived of their liberty
  • Rule 1.2A Representative: For people who may be deprived of their liberty in a community or domestic setting.
  • Advocacy for children and young people: For children and young people in local authority care, with special educational needs or transitioning from child to adult care and support.

Advocacy requires the advocate to be independent and while it may be conceivable for HIA caseworkers to support their customers in the process of Income maximisation including appeals to the DWP regarding decisions on benefits and representation at benefit tribunals. It is more difficult to maintain that independence when the caseworker works for an organisation with a stake in the outcome of the case such as a fee on the successful completion of works to targets on spend of the DFG budget.

An effective HIA caseworker will be aware of the limitations of their role and the need to refer customers to advocates better place to represent them.

Loan Funding

In 2010, the Coalition government ceased virtually all housing renewal and regeneration funding. This closed off a vital source of funding for people who were capital rich but cash poor to repair and maintain their homes. Some local authorities retain discretionary repair grants and some repairs are possible under a DFG where there is a medical need. On the other hand, the value of people’s homes have risen by 26% since 2010 and 64% since 2000. While there are regional differences, on the whole people’s equity in their homes has risen. The Care Act requires Local Authorities to take account of housing need within their general assessment of people’s need and well-being. Consequently, there are opportunities for agencies and caseworkers to develop clear and legally compliant pathways to guide customers to advice and services that enable them to fund repairs and adaptations to their properties.

Generic HIA caseworkers without FCA authorisation must be aware that advice on mortgages is a regulated activity in some instances. It is a regulated activity only if it relates to a particular mortgage. Advice requires an element of opinion on the part of the adviser. In effect, it is a recommendation on a course of action. The provision of information, on the other hand, involves statements of facts and figures. Giving information without making comment or value judgement on its relevance to decisions the client or service-user may make is not advice.

It is legitimate for a caseworker to:

  • Explain terms and conditions
  • Compare the features of one loan or another
  • Provide leaflets or illustrations that help HIA clients to decide which type of loan to take out.

HIA Caseworkers must therefore make sure that they:

  • Provide factual information which does not lead the client to the conclusion that a specific product meets their requirements.
  • Provide advice on general product types and not specific providers of those products.
  • Introduce a client to a person who may provide advice on regulated products when that person is authorised by the FCA.
  • The information they provide does not result in a fee, either from the client or authorised financial adviser.
  • Declare fees of any sort in relation to their activities connected with loans and equity release is made obvious to the client.

A number of local authorities already contract with CIC investment companies such as Parity Trust (opens in a new window) and Lendology (opens in a new window) to enable people to release equity on their properties. Such companies usually depend on LA investment and don’t cover most of the country. Other routes for customers are through SOLLA (opens in a new window) financial advisers specialising in advice to older customers. Following a regulatory change from the FCA, this advice now carries a charge.

See more at FILT Pilot-projects

Charitable Fundraising

Financial assistance and other forms of support are often available from grant-giving charities, depending on your clients' particular background and circumstances. Hundreds of small and large charities give grants to individuals, from one-off sums to help with things such as furniture, decorating, clothing or ways to improve quality of life (eg, holidays or training) to regular amounts to help cover bills and household expenses.

The grants usually depend on an individual's circumstances. It is therefore really worthwhile to take a note of:

  • Where they and/or their partner worked as there are many occupational and vocational charities
  • Whether they or their partner was in the armed forces and what they did while in service
  • Whether they were in a trade union as many Trade Unions will have means to support ex-members
  • Their active religious practice as many denominations will try have support structures for co-religionists
  • Their specific illness or disability as there are many charities which will aim to support people with specific conditions.

Websites such as Turn2us (opens in a new window) and Funds Online (opens in a new window) have easy-to-use grant search facilities which tells you how to contact any suitable charities directly. Charitable fund-raising is a caseworker skill of central importance. It requires practitioners to be:

  • accurate in assessing eligibility criteria for a range of potential funders.
  • precise in quantifying need.
  • clear why their client’s need is greater than most.
  • good at telling the story of your client in such a way as to engender empathy.

Find out more at Foundations Independent Living Trust

Welfare Benefits

The UK benefits system can be complicated and it’s been constantly evolving in recent years as successive Governments implement changes and the slow roll-out of Universal Credit continues…

The benefits system exists to provide practical help and financial support for those who are unemployed and looking for work. It also provides people with assistance if their earnings are low, if they have a disability, are bringing up children, are retired, care for someone or are ill.

Some of the most common benefits include:

Universal Credit (UC)

Universal Credit is a payment to help people with their living costs. It is paid monthly, and people may be able to get it if they are on a low income, out of work or cannot work. Universal Credit has been rolled out to most places in the UK and is the benefit most new claimants for Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Income support will now receive. Universal Credit is replacing the following benefits:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working Tax Credit

Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)

Jobseeker's Allowance is a benefit for people who are actively seeking employment and are capable of work. You must be under State Pension age to claim this benefit and in the majority of circumstances over 18 years old. You must not be in full-time employment and working no more than 16 hours a week.

There are 3 types of JSA. Income Based JSA is means tested and takes into consideration any income and capital you and your partner may have. In most cases Universal Credit has replaced Income Based JSA. Contribution Based JSA is non-means-tested, dependent on National Insurance Contributions and ignores income and capital of you and your partner for 6 months. 'new style' JSA is also non-means tested and dependent on Class 1 National Insurance contributions.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people who have limited capability for work due to an illness or disability and are not in receipt of Statuary Sick Pay. You must be over 16 years old and under State Pension age. Similar to Jobseeker's Allowance there is Income Related ESA which is means tested and Contribution Based ESA which is non-means-tested and dependent on your National Insurance Contributions. Most new claims are for ‘new style’ ESA which like ‘new style’ JSA is non-means tested and dependent on National Insurance contributions.

Income Support

This benefit is a means-tested top-up to income available only to people between 16 and Pension Credit Age who are entitled to severe disability premium and a range of tightly defined eligibility criteria which means Income Support has largely been replaced by Universal Credit.

Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit can help people pay their rent if they’re unemployed, on a low income or claiming benefits. It’s being replaced by Universal Credit. Existing claimants will have had an entitlement going back to May 2019 or are entitled to make a new claim because they qualify for the severe disability premium, have reached state pension age or are in supported, sheltered or temporary housing.

Council Tax Support/Reduction

This benefit is administered by your local Council and designed to assist people with their Council Tax bill if they are on a low income. You can be employed or unemployed. This benefit can vary depending on where you live. It is means tested and takes into consideration your income and capital. It is available to people who live in rental properties and to homeowners. This Gov.uk (opens in a new window) page will take you to your local scheme.

Support with Mortgage Interest (SMI)

People who own their own home and on a low income may be eligible for assistance towards interest on their mortgage payments and loans that have been taken out for certain home improvements and repairs. It’s paid as a loan, which will need to be repaid with interest on the sale or transfer of ownership of the home. In order to be eligible for SMI homeowners will need to be in receipt for one of the following: Income Based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit or Universal Credit.

Tax Credits

There are two types of Tax Credits, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Child Tax Credit is a benefit to assist with the costs of bringing up a child. Child Tax Credit has been replaced by Universal Credit for most people. You can only make a new claim for Child Tax Credit if you are entitled to the severe disability premium. In the same way, Working Tax Credit has been replaced by Universal Credit for most people unless there is an entitlement to the severe disability premium..

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a benefit for people who are between 16 and State Pension Age who, due to an illness or disability, have additional care needs. This is a non-means-tested benefit and therefore income and capital are ignored. There are 2 parts to this benefit, the daily living component, and the mobility component. This benefit could increase your income anywhere between £23.60 and £151.40 a week. Claiming this benefit can lead to entitlement or increased entitlement to other means-tested benefits.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a benefit for children who have additional care or mobility needs. It has 2 components, the personal care component and the mobility component. Your child must be under 16 years old to claim with additional age rules for the mobility component. This benefit is non-means-tested. For adults, existing Disability Living Allowance claimants are being reassessed for Personal Independence Payments.

Attendance Allowance

This benefit is for people who are over State Pension Age who are either physically or mentally disabled and require either assistance or supervision with their personal care needs or require supervision or support to ensure that they are safe.

It is available to people who live on their own or with others and is not dependent on whether the assistance required is being given. It is a non-means-tested benefit and therefore income and capital are ignored.

If you are in receipt of this benefit it can lead to entitlement or increased entitlement to means-tested benefits. This benefit could increase your income by either £59.70 a week if you have either day time or night time needs, or £89.15 a day if you have both and can lead to entitlement or increased entitlement to some means-tested benefits.

Carer's Allowance

This benefit is available for people who provide care of more than 35 hours a week to someone who has an illness or disability. The person that you care for has to be in receipt of Attendance Allowance, the middle or higher rate of the care component for Disability Living Allowance or the Daily Living element of Personal Independence Payment. The person claiming Carer's Allowance is not able to earn more the £128 per week and the benefit is paid at £67.25a week. Even if a person earns more than £128 per week it is important to claim as the underlying entitlement to Carer’s allowance affects the DFG Means-test.

Pension Credit

Pension Credit is a means-tested benefit for people who are on a low income who have reached Pension Credit age. This benefit tops up your weekly income to £173.75 a week if you are single and £265.20 a week for a couple. Claiming this benefit can also lead to entitlement or increased entitlement to other means-tested benefits.

Cold weather payment

This benefit is available if the average temperate in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below for 7 consecutive days. In order to be eligible cold weather payment, you will need to have made a successful claim for one of the following: Income Based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit, Income Support or Universal Credit.

Winter fuel payment

This annual payment is made to people over state pension age to help them pay their heating bills. This payment is usually made automatically between November and December if you are eligible and you get a state pension.

For many people their existing home simply no longer answers their needs. The housing stock in England is relatively old and many older properties cannot be adapted or are difficult and costly to maintain and repair. For many, their family home in older age may simply become too much or too far away from family or people of like mind. As a result some 50,000 people over the age of 65 move every year.

There are also drivers for policy makers in ensuring older and disabled people are enabled to move to specialist and appropriate homes as needs change.

  • Helping people move will address health and wellbeing risks associated with falls, poor housing and isolation
  • It may address failures in our ‘broken housing market’ by freeing family homes.
  • It will support Extra Care and Housing with Support strategies and schemes developed by local authorities and Registered Providers.

Foundations in Partnership with Taylor Wimpey have funded two pilot projects to help people move on the bases of the Move On briefing paper published in 2019. Findings and learning will follow shortly.

Read 'From Staying put to Moving on' the Move on Paper (opens a new window)

Casework is a collaborative job. An important part of that is understanding boundaries. Some organisations will be better placed to respond to the personal and specific needs of customers than housing related support workers can be.

  • Age UK (opens in a new window) is a leading national charity dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. It has a federal structure with 130 local Age UKs providing a range of practical, community and emotional support services.
  • Independent Age (opens in a new window) can provide people with free and impartial advice on the issues such as: care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility.
  • Disability Rights UK (opens in a new window) is a leading national charity run by and for people with lived experience of disability or health conditions.
    • It provides advice and information and support to disabled people on welfare benefits, in cases of discrimination and on education and employment.
    • It also works to Influence public attitudes, behaviours and policies.
  • MacMillan Cancer Support offers emotional, physical and financial support to people living with Cancer.
  • The Alzheimers Society (opens in a new window) provides national and local services which aim to provide the information, advice and support people need to live better with Dementia.