RIP Bowie, Rickman, Council Housing

We’re halfway through January, and it feels like the coldest month of the year in more ways than one. The weeks after Christmas are a busy time in the office — family meetups over the holiday period can lead to people feeling worried about family members they haven’t seen in awhile, and also it’s human nature to think “we’ll get onto this after Christmas” about any non-urgent concerns they had in December. Busy is good. I like meeting new people. Overly busy while other team members are off sick so you have to cover for them is not so good. We try to support each other, to let both colleagues and clients know if we feel worried about them, to share the load.

It has also coincidentally been a time when I’ve had a few dealings and joint visits with housing professionals. Like most of the rest of the country, council housing is very tight around here with a very long waiting list. And like pretty much anywhere in the south east, housing benefit barely covers rents on the private market either.

What this means is that anyone in unsuitable housing may not have a lot of options for moving unless things are really very desperate. I really notice this when working with people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility issues. (This is going to be a real no brainer for anyone reading this who uses a wheelchair, who will know it very well.) There is some adapted housing around, but it tends to go quickly, and they went through a phase in the past of building one person bungalows (which isn’t great for anyone with eg. a family or live in carer).

You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone

The new Housing Bill (currently on its way to the Lords) heralds a change in what people can expect from social housing. The ink isn’t yet dry on the bill but proposals to change secure tenancies to more short term (2–5 year) tenancies are going to make a lot of the people I work with very anxious.

It was a client who drew my attention to this at the tail end of last year.

“It’s a shame we don’t really have any strong tenants association in area X,” the community worker had told me, “I don’t even know if there’s the talent and experience to train new leaders.”

So when I was talking to one older man who hadn’t been feeling motivated to go out of the house since having a fall, and he gave me the lowdown on the housing bill and how he was trying to lobby his MP to vote against it — in a gap in conversation I did casually ask, “I can tell you’re interested in housing, have you ever been involved in tenants groups?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “There hasn’t been much recently but 20 years ago …”

I put him in touch with the community worker, and they’ve been talking about setting up a new neighbourhood action group. I could see the light in his eyes as we talked about it — I think it’ll be good. All in a days’ work.

Another brush I had with housing recently was when I was working with a woman with disabilities who had been living (and caring for) her mother who had dementia, with the support of other siblings locally. Her mother had been rushed into hospital and everyone was feeling very anxious. “I’m worried about mum,” she said, “but also where would I live if anything happened to her?”

So I checked.

In this case the tenancy was a housing association tenancy. This is generally good news as social landlords are typically understanding about the needs of their vulnerable tenants. I spoke with the housing association, who confirmed that the person I was working with would succeed the tenancy (in housing speak, this means they inherit it) — and that while the council might want them to then move to a smaller property they would be guaranteed a tenancy. And also they’d get support from a housing officer and there wouldn’t be any immediate pressure to move, and taking the cat would be fine. The housing worker I spoke with couldn’t have been kinder or more understanding.

I spoke with my client, and passed this on. With that weight off her mind, she was able to focus on how she and her siblings could support each other and their mum, and start planning for the future.

All I can think is what a phenomenal thing it has been to have lived in a state that could offer secure housing to people.

Sic transit Gloria mundi. Also I’m strangely gutted about Alan Rickman. RIP.