A new initiative to help reduce the risk of financial poverty amongst people in Barnet especially those in the Black African community and prevent debt and homelessness has been launched by Barnet Homes.

Called the BME (building minority engagement) project, the need for it was identified after it became clear why some Barnet Homes’ tenants, especially those from Black African communities, were at high risk of rent arrears.  Research showed that 41% of people from Black African communities were at risk of falling into rent areas.

Amongst other causes, one of the issues was that they were not claiming the benefits they are entitled to. It was apparent that they are more likely to discuss their financial worries with their church or community leader instead of with Barnet Homes.

Boosted by a £95,000 lottery grant to Barnet Homes, Ajoke Adetunji joined the organisation as a community link officer and has recruited volunteers to advise on welfare benefits. The project now has 16 volunteers, many of whom are from faith organisations as well as being Barnet Homes’ tenants.

These volunteers joined the Mayor and Mayoress of Barnet, tenants and members of the project’s steering group at an official launch held this month.

Ajoke Adetunji said: “Our strategy to tackle high rent arrears in the Black African community, and therefore help prevent the consequences of financial hardship such as homelessness and financial poverty, is already making an impact. We are working closely with local church leaders, whom members of this community trust, to help us achieve this.”

One tenant who has already benefited is Kevin Lukau, from East Finchley. He said at the launch: “I’d buried my head in the sand about all the information I needed when I first became a tenant. When things got bad my social worker advised me to go and see Ajoke.  She broke everything down about what I needed to do to get myself back on track.  She explained what benefits I was entitled to and how to sort out my rent and my payments. It was the advice I needed and was a life saver.”