Blog: Sustaining tenancies and Helping Hands

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Posted 01 June 2021

by Pam Mastrantonio, Executive Director of Retirement Living

Whose responsibility is it to sustain a tenancy? How involved should a landlord be in making sure it doesn’t fail? No matter what the legal responsibilities are, I think we can all agree that evictions feel like a failure.

I learned this in my third week as a Housing Officer. Attending my first eviction for rent arrears I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to see a young girl just like me. She had lost her job, hadn’t applied for benefits she was entitled to and wasn’t responding to our calls. She had simply withdrawn and here we were removing her from her home. Even though I could see our organisation had tried to help, watching her walk up the street with her bags was not a good feeling.

Fast forward twenty years and I’ve worked for some brilliant organisations, all with pledges to treat people as more than pound signs and to do their utmost to keep people in happy, healthy tenancies.

At Housing 21, I am very proud of our ‘Helping Hands’ initiative which includes a commitment to tenancy sustainment, as we reach for our target of zero evictions for rent arrears. This has meant that by working with staff from across the organisation and creating a resident task and finish group we have built on our approach to income management, talking openly about how we prevent arrears with good quality information before prospective residents sign a tenancy with us. We’ve looked at how we embed our commitment to making tenancies work and how we make our residents feel more comfortable talking to us about money.

One of the ways we have done this, is by recruiting a network of fifty ‘Tenancy Gurus’ and embedding them across our organisation. They all have a passion for tenancy sustainment, can train and support their colleagues and run sustainment based activities for our residents. The gurus have received additional training and coaching around how to have those difficult conversations, how to talk about money in a positive way, benefits specifically for older people, and on budgeting.

Our arrears process is also less reliant on letters, with the emphasis put on real-life conversations and that human contact. Indeed, all of our standard arrears letters have been changed to tell our residents we would rather speak with them and to let them know we will help them if we can.

On our ‘Make a Difference Days’ the whole organisation undertakes to do something that will make a difference to someone. This might range from a cheery phone call, to running a benefits awareness session, partnership working to resolve issues or helping residents with a benefits application. We had over 100 stories from our staff who got involved, secured benefits our residents were missing out on, as well as making numerous agreements to help get people out of arrears and reduce anxiety around these.

Twenty years ago, I promised myself I would never again feel the way I felt watching that young lady walk up the street with her bags, and I never have. Looking forward with our ‘Helping Hands’ programme I feel confident that I never will.


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