You’ve been out of work for ages, your rent arrears have piled so high the bailiffs have been called in, you’ve got young kids, and you fear being left on the streets. It’s a scary and stressful situation being faced by increasing numbers of people.
The long-term solution is a sustainable job, but with more pressing priorities, you need an empathic ear and effective, practical help.
If you are a participant on the Restart Scheme in Central and West London, you have access to Sekina and Dawn – Housing Advisors with the lived experience and in-depth knowledge to advise you. They help Restart Scheme participants tackle housing problems with practical advice, that then allows Restart Advisors to concentrate on the skills and support people need to find sustainable work.
The Housing Support Service was set up in recognition that 18.5 per cent of participants in the region identify housing as a barrier to work, with nine per cent describing it as a major issue. It was this response to specific customer need that saw the team recognised in the Tailored Employment Support of the Year Award category at the 2023 ERSA Awards.
The team’s stats are impressive: since January 2022 the Housing Advisors have taken 4,177 appointments – that’s around 150 participants a month each across 14 London boroughs – with an attendance rate of 80 per cent. Nearly half of those people have gone on to start a new job.
Ealing-based Dawn believes the rising cost of living, shortage of homes to rent and the increasingly cold weather are driving the number of referrals from their colleagues. Recruitment is now underway to add a third advisor to the team.
Sekina, based in Lambeth, says: “Right now a growing number of people we see are really struggling with the rising prices, rents going up and the cost of heating and hot water soaring.
“A lady came in two days ago who has been living in a private rented property for 12 years. She has two young children and was being evicted. Her case had been referred to bailiffs and she was afraid the council wouldn’t support her. I was able to reassure her that the council definitely would help as it has a duty of care for her. She was crying but you have to put on a brave face to show you are not scared for them as well.”
Dawn adds: “We speak to a lot of refugees from Afghanistan or Ukraine where their sponsorship has come to an end and they are not sure what happens next. Or they are from other countries and placed in hotels awaiting a decision on their immigration status – a lot of the time they are big families that the council can’t house. Their housing issues mean they cannot actively look for employment and that’s where we help them.”
The service also helps those affected by neighbours’ anti-social behaviour or looking to exchange homes with other social housing tenants, as well as supporting housing and benefit applications.
Both the advisors worked previously in the housing teams of local authorities, giving them an insight into the complex legal regulations surrounding when a person is, or isn’t, regarded as homeless.
Dawn says: “We have lots of experience of housing law and how complex it can be, along with knowledge of how each borough amends their housing allocation policy to suit their stock of homes, which affects if people are eligible or not for assistance from their local authority.”
The people the team supports are incredibly grateful for their help. One stated: “Dawn gave me the best possible advice. She cared about my problem and is not just a good professional but also a friendly and caring human being.”
Another said: “Sekina offered excellent advice and was courteous, knowledgeable, and professional. The support was understanding and helpful.”