"It’s amazing how everyone’s adapted to the situation"

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Housing Officer

Quite a lot of our tenants are isolated - they’re living on their own which can be challenging and difficult for them. Financially too and being in and out of lockdown means there are financial struggles and concerns. We also have people who are vulnerable with regards to their health needs.

I’m Hayley and I am a Housing Officer in Brighton and Hove for the Housing Management Team. I’ve been working for Southdown for a year so I’m a newbie!

We’re quite a small team but there’s a lot we do! As a Housing Officer, I’m responsible for the Southdown properties in the city. I assess prospective tenants and organise tenancy agreements, help tenants manage their tenancies, and I manage housing issues like repairs or dealing with anti-social behaviour.

Prior to lockdown, no day was ever the same. I was based at Preston Park Recovery Centre where I could nip out to properties and have face-to-face contact with tenants. It’s obviously different now we’re home working – we can’t go out to properties unless it’s urgent. In the office I would speak to my Housing Assistant and other colleagues and run through what we had on that day, now we do all this over the telephone instead.

If I have to print off urgent documents like court paperwork and tenancy agreements, I will go to Head Office. I do feel safe when I go there – it’s well organised and there aren’t many people there. Everyone is aware of everyone’s safety.

It’s actually more challenging working from home. Because we’re lone working we don’t have the ability to bounce ideas off each other, to stop and have a laugh and coffee together. But what’s really been important throughout all of this is the support we have had from our colleagues. We meet over Zoom to do quizzes and to see each other. Our Housing Manager has been absolutely fantastic. During the first lockdown she wrote emails to us every day, making sure we were alright.

Everything is mostly done over Zoom! It’s also been interesting to find different ways of communicating with professionals and partner organisations. We’ve all had to embrace technology and use it the best way we can to do our jobs.

We’ve also been finding different ways of working with tenants. For example, my team ensured, along with the support services, that each tenant had a call every week and additional calls if we knew they were struggling. This was especially important during the first lockdown when everyone was concerned about what was happening.

We used to complete a joint assessment of a prospective tenant in person, with myself and the Gateway Officer at the Homelessness Prevention and Mental Health Support service. Now we do the assessment over Whatsapp as a joint telephone conference or individually where will discuss our assessments together afterwards. During an assessment we go through the tenancy agreement and the housing and mental health and wellbeing support the tenant will need.

Before the pandemic we would meet the client at the vacant property, go through the tenancy agreement and any questions they had, and I would hand over the keys once they’ve signed it so they could move in.

The challenge now is viewing the property and signing the tenancy agreement safely. We do viewings over Whatsapp or socially distanced, and I go through the agreement over the phone and send it to the tenant beforehand. Wearing PPE, I will open up the property and the tenant will go inside on their own. Tenants have been really good and brought their own masks and pens with them. It generally works really well.

When I do the tenancy sign-up, I lay all the documents out next to the keys because we’ve already gone through them over the phone, they sign the agreement, and hand it back to me in a plastic folder. Some tenants electronically sign the documents instead. It’s all about finding the method people are most comfortable with. It’s really person-centred. And equally we have to make sure we’re safe as well.

My Housing Assistant has been going out to complete the compliance checks in properties for fire alarms, gas applicances, and water for Legionnaires disease. We still have to manage these things regardless.

Anti-social behaviour has increased quite significantly. People stay indoors a lot more, tenants hear things they wouldn’t normally hear. In the past we’d go out and speak to the tenant but now we communicate over the phone. It’s about unpicking why it’s happening and what’s going on for that person. Are they alright? Do they need more support? Do we need to refer them to other services? Do social services need to be involved for safeguarding?

What’s worked really well is linking in with the PCSOs in the area. They have been fantastic with a couple of our properties that we had significant issues with and sending letters to people who weren’t adhering to social distancing rules.

Joint working with other agencies to get the best outcome for a tenant is key. It’s amazing how everyone’s adapted to the situation. It’s ever-evolving and we’re having to be flexible in the way we work and think differently with how things can be done.

As a landlord we have to balance our legal duty and requirements with our responsibility for the care of tenants, managing our properties and our tenants. During the first lockdown the courts were closed which affected a couple of court cases that were due and our applications to the court for rent arrears and breaches of tenancy. But that was resolved when the courts started functioning over the phone.

Quite a lot of our tenants are isolated - they’re living on their own which can be challenging and difficult for them. Financially too and being in and out of lockdown means there are financial struggles and concerns. We also have people who are vulnerable with regards to their health needs.

We have tenants who are frightened and worried about the pandemic and we show them that we understand, have the same fears, and we’re here to support them. The key with anything we do is communication and understanding that the way we work with one tenant isn’t necessarily how we work with another.

We’re a lot more busy now. It’s not always easy but I quite like it. This year has challenged me as a person. It’s made me develop and I am continually evolving and learning. I’m lucky because of the team I work in. We’ve all got experience and knowledge that we can tap into. Southdown is a really good organisation to work for. It cares about its staff and we have good incentives.

I ensure I have a work-life balance and try to separate work from my home life when working from home. I finish at 5 unless I have deadlines to meet, pack away my stuff and walk my dog which means, “That’s it, I’m finished now!” At weekends I spend the time with my partner. This year has taught me that appreciating the people around me and what I have is the most important thing.

 

Southdown provides different types of affordable housing from temporary accommodation to a long-term home for people who have health and/or support needs. As a specialist supported housing landlord the majority of our tenants also receive additional support from our housing officers to help maintain their homes. Alongside them, our floating support officers work to ensure that individuals have the support they need to manage their independence, health and wellbeing.