Did you know that on average it can cost the local Councils and Housing Associations £12,000 if they serve a Notice of Seeking Possession (NOSP) to a household? Often, this is because there are significant rent arrears, although it can be because of Anti-Social Behaviour or that the home has not been looked after and conditions have become poor. This total figure will be made up of rent arrears, repairs and maintenance charges, court fees and temporally re-homing the family. A family could be placed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation for 6 months, all charged to the Council.
To date, our Intensive Family Support Team in Hampshire has saved Councils and Housing Associations close to £144,000.00, through their interventions. In theory, Councils and Housing Associations could have saved themselves a lot more money if they were able to provide early intervention support to families.
So how have the Family Support Workers (FSW) prevented these extortionate costs? The important thing is to ‘communicate’; both with the family and the Councils or Housing Associations. An expenditure form is completed; this identifies total income, including benefits and also regular outgoings. There may be changes to the family’s circumstances; for example; adults no longer in employment, changes to benefits, ill health or a person leaving the family home. All these things can affect finances and result in rent arrears. Also, there are often non priority debts/payments within the household, ultimately reducing available funds. The FSW will make contact with all creditors to request manageable repayment plans.
It is important for the Family Support Worker to gather all necessary evidence in order to meet with a Housing Officer initially. If a NOSP has been served, then a Court hearing date would be provided and the family would be expected to attend, they will also be accompanied by the FSW.
Preventing a NOSP, resulting in an eviction is by no means an easy task. The FSW would be in constant contact with the Councils or Housing Associations. It is likely that the FSW will apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). If this is successful, the majority, if not all of the arrears are cleared. There will need to be significant evidence of changes of circumstances for this to happen and this is often challenged. This will also not prevent a Court hearing taking place.
For the families, being ordered to attend Court and knowing they are at risk of being evicted is a daunting and stressful time. The FSW will play an important part supporting and reassuring the families. Often, FSW’s are given the opportunity to speak on behalf of their families, hence why gathering evidence plays such an important part.
During the Court hearing, the Council or Housing Association representative will inform the Judge of the reasons why a NOSP has been served. The FSW will have already submitted documents, such as, an expenditure form, budgeting plan, a letter from the GP etc. The family and or the FSW will then be given the opportunity to discuss the situation further, particularly where there has been contact with the Housing Officer, the result of the DHP application and manageable repayment plans put in place. All of this would have been completed from the time of receiving the NOSP to the date of Court. Finally, the Court makes a decision as to whether the family are to be evicted or whether they are awarded a ‘Stay’.
To date, the intervention and support FSW’s have given to families facing eviction have resulted in 100% prevention of evictions and Stays awarded to all. A ‘Stay’ means that the family will remain in their home but only if they follow the decision of the Court. The FSW will continue to support the families, as there are often other issues within the home. Careful monitoring will take place to ensure all families abide by the Courts decision. The majority of this will be setting up direct debits to ensure outstanding debts are regularly paid. Families are aware that we are limited to the time offering support; it is therefore important that we empower the family to take control and not hide away or ignore potential threats to tenancies and other important issues.
Councils and Housing Associations have been grateful for the support we can provide, particularly as their Housing Officers are ultimately following orders. They agree that eviction is often not the best option; however, they are limited to the time spent with families to help them deal with the underlining issues. Just think of the money that could be saved by the Councils and Housing Associations if there was early intervention support in place and not when a NOSP had already been served.