Foundations Webinar, Tuesday 25 January 2022
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
Level One 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.
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.