Students Staff

24 March 2014

Research to look at impact of welfare reforms in Essex

Colchester Campus

social housing

A Colne Housing development.

The impact of far-reaching welfare reforms and the knock-on effect for Essex-based social housing providers is the focus of a new partnership involving the University.

Nationally, the impact of reforms like the bedroom tax and universal credit has already been making the headlines and recent figures from the National Housing Federation (NHF) showed that over a third of households affected by the bedroom tax blamed the reform for being in rent arrears. 

With the NHF also finding that two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax unable to find the money to pay their rents, the knock-on effect for housing associations is obvious. 

With the welfare reforms predicted to lead to higher debt, the support services that receive funding from housing associations will become even more important. 

Now the University has joined forces with Colne Housing Society and other Essex Housing Officers' Group (EHOG) members to gain a much wider, deeper and ongoing understanding of the impacts of social welfare reform so that future investments can be more effective and strategic. 

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) will firstly involve developing a qualitative research ‘toolkit’ that will enable Colne and EHOG to gather intelligence and understand the impacts of social welfare reforms in order to invest in appropriate support services across the 13 districts in Essex. 

The second phase of the project will then involve developing a dynamic, digital map of support service provision and quality that will be accessible to all the members of EHOG and enable them to share intelligence and make informed investment choices. By also gathering qualitative research, the project will produce an evaluation toolkit that will be used to understand the impacts of social welfare reform on an ongoing basis.

KTPs support UK businesses wanting to improve their competitiveness, productivity and performance by accessing the knowledge and expertise available within UK universities and colleges.

The multi-disciplinary project will involve Dr Darren Thiel, from the Department of Sociology, Dr John Woods, from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering and Dr Ewen Speed from the School of Health and Human Sciences.

“The new welfare reforms have been really tough for many people,” explained Dr Speed. “Many people affected by the bedroom tax can’t find a smaller property without leaving an area they have lived in for many years. On the other hand, the cap on housing benefit is pushing people out of London and putting pressure on areas like Essex.

“This project will be important as it will give us the chance to look at policy in action and its impact as it happens, which is quite unique.”

For the housing associations, where their income is tenants’ rent, a rise in rent arrears can have a major effect on their business as a healthy balance sheet is needed to attract large scale loans for building much-needed new affordable homes.

As Martin Buddery, Operations Director of Colne Housing, explained, one of the ways housing associations try to mitigate the risk of tenants falling into arrears is by investing in services that support financially-vulnerable residents, such as Citizens Advice Bureau.

“With a sound social science base, this KTP project will help us make decisions in the future about where to invest in services in Essex. This is an exciting project for us as without joining up with the expertise at the University we would not have been able to carry this out on our own,” he added.


Note to editors
For more information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or email:

About KTP
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are a government-funded technology transfer initiative that supports partnerships between business and universities, placing graduates on challenging, high profile projects. Further information of KTPs with the University of Essex please email:


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