Pauline Sewell's headshot

Blog: Just a few interventions from us can change people's lives

Pauline Sewell, Tenancy Sustainment Officer
Published on 31/03/2023

As a tenancy sustainment officer, I visit the homes of some of our most vulnerable residents. I’ve seen a huge difference since the cost of living started to go up. You go in the middle of the day and there are people sitting with their coats on because they can’t afford to use the heating.

People are referred to us if their tenancy is at risk, for example from falling into rent arrears. We are seeing a lot more people now because rent is often regarded as the least urgent bill. If someone can’t afford food or heating and their housing benefit comes in, they aren’t saving it to pay their rent. They’re using it to meet their immediate needs.

When I first started eight years ago, I’d say the majority of the residents I went out to assess had no mental health issues. They had just got themselves into a situation where they knew they needed help.

Now, I’d say at least 90% of the residents referred to us have mental health issues, mainly depression and anxiety. A lot of people express a feeling of helplessness and not knowing how to cope. I’m noticing an increase in people with substance abuse issues as well. When problems feel insurmountable, people can just feel like there’s no option but to give up.

The tenancy sustainment team at L&Q offers a holistic service, so we look at all the different things we can do to help our residents stabilise their finances and improve their lives. The first thing we will do is benefit checks to maximise their income. Then we look into debt and management plans and liaise with utility companies that are owed money. When we visit, there are often piles of bills. We get residents onto payment plans so that they are not just getting stressed out by all the letters and ignoring them.

I recently helped one 80-year-old customer who was initially referred because he needed some new flooring. I realised he’d missed a payment on his utility bill and was receiving red letters. He said he didn’t know what to do, so I arranged a call with the provider. It emerged that he wasn’t having hot meals or boiling the kettle because he was so worried about his bills.

We explained to him that the government was offering assistance and went through all the payments he was eligible for. There is help available, but a lot of people don’t know about it, so they are going without it, which is heartbreaking.

This job can be emotionally hard, but it’s also very rewarding. When you get a resident back on an even keel, you know that you’ve really changed that person’s life. But recently, I am going through budgeting plans with residents and it is getting harder and harder to make things add up.

I’m currently supporting a mother of five who had rent arrears of about £12,000. She couldn’t afford to feed one of her sons, so he had to go and live with his father. The money coming in just wasn’t enough to meet her outgoings.

In her case, I applied to the council for a discretionary housing benefit payment and it is going to clear her arrears. I was so happy when I found out because I know how much difference that will make to her life.

Sometimes it does impact you, and you wish you could just go out and get someone some shopping.

L&Q knows that, because we are on the front line, our well-being is key to keeping us going and helping people. We are always asked how we are doing; if we are taking regular breaks. There is always someone available to offload to.

At L&Q, we have a personal support fund to help with essential items like cookers, washing machines and beds. We can also provide food and fuel vouchers, as well as refer people to other sources of support. These things are all one-off payments. Once that’s over, you have to try and work out where to go next. But I never give up, and I am always finding new ways to improve things for our residents.

A lot of the time, just having someone to listen makes a big difference. People close the shutters when they are in crisis and stay isolated. We offer a lot of emotional support as well as everything else.

The best part of my job is seeing the positive impact my work has on our residents and their families. Just a few interventions from us can really change people’s lives, and our service also lets them know that they are not alone.