Charis Shop expands following record demand during COVID-winter
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Housing Association Magazine – March issue
While much of the focus over the last few months has been on ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society have access to warm homes, many thousands of people are still unaware that, if they meet eligibility criteria, they can actually get government help for all number of different items.
Housing associations are ideally placed to help new and existing tenants upgrade old and broken furniture that is considered dangerous and replace white goods that have finally given up the ghost with current models that have the highest energy efficiency rating. They can even help residents invest in products such as slow cookers and air fryers, which have proven to be cheaper and more efficient to use than conventional ovens.
Developing an online shopping experience
Since the pandemic, Charis has invested significantly in developing an online portal that was designed to simplify the distribution of grants and funds for social housing landlords, enabling them to get desperately needed fuel and food vouchers quickly to those who needed them most.
“The pandemic really accelerated the development of the technology for us,” commented Charis business development director, Ollie Gray. “During covid, organisations suddenly had to distribute an unexpected increase in funding, in the most extraordinary of circumstances, with no time to prepare. By loading the funds onto the Charis Shop, they could hit the ground running.”
Future-proofing for future funding
Since covid, the company has concentrated on both refining and improving the technology to ensure that the Charis Shop continues to fulfil the needs of existing housing associations and charities. With an eye on the future, the Shop platform has an expansive capacity for future growth, and the company has been broadening its range of partnerships that not only gives beneficiaries more choice in terms of the range of products they can access but also the retailers they can use to redeem the payments.
Most recently, it announced a new partnership with the Tillo platform. This partnership expands the range of goods and products, as well as participating retail outlets that households can access when applying for help and support via housing associations, Citizens Advice, and participating local authorities using the Charis Shop platform.
Through having access to retail brands, such as Currys and Argos, households that are eligible for grants or funding can opt to be more creative in using digital vouchers for more sustainable and energy-saving options, such as air fryers and slow cookers. Having this choice empowers households to introduce energy efficiency into their day-to-day lives.
“Hardship should not eliminate the element of choice for households, and this partnership with Tillo is essential to protect not just the physical wellbeing of those who are struggling, but their emotional wellbeing, too”, said Ollie Gray. “The cost of living crisis has brought an increasing number of people, many of whom have never needed help or support before, to the point of acknowledging that need for support and approaching their local organisation. By expanding the range of retail and product options, we can help remove the stigma and encourage households to come forward and accept the help and support they are entitled to.”
Previously an individual may not have been able to use a voucher because there was no outlet within a reasonable distance that could redeem that voucher. The partnership widens the net by bringing in more local choices, ensuring that voucher redemption is more convenient and cost-effective for the beneficiary.
Greater efficiencies mean more time to support
For social landlords, moving grants onto the Charis Shop frees up significant time and resources. Users report back on the responsive approach that Charis incorporates, working with the individual needs of different housing associations and building those into their organisation’s accounts.
“Considering the complex nature of the Household Support Fund, one of the greatest benefits of the Charis Shop is that it has already broken down any legislative and statutory regulations and built them into the framework of the platform,” continued Ollie Gray. “Back-end reporting is consequently automatic and error-free. Housing associations can return to the people-focused services that really make the difference.”