Maria* was clearly struggling to cope following the death of her mother 18 months ago. Needing to downsize, she was offered a property from Town and Country Housing.
Maria had initially been referred to Hayley, one of our Money Support Officers by her Allocations Officer as she had been identified as being vulnerable. Battling with mental health issues since her early teens, being a young carer to her mother and then later losing her had had a huge impact on Maria’s life. Read Hayley’s account below:
I tried to engage with Maria about four weeks after her tenancy started but she missed the first appointment. Fortunately, I managed to arrange a second one and this time Maria met with me.
On first meeting with Maria I could see straightaway she was suffering with anxiety and was worried. We sat and went through her current benefits to check she was receiving what she was entitled too, and apart from housing benefit, everything was in place. However, she told me that she had already submitted the housing benefit form along with all the information requested, so we were just waiting to receive the first payment.
Following our appointment, I referred Maria for Floating Support (a government funded scheme to support vulnerable members of the community with housing related issues). I also referred her to Town and Country Foundation** to help with accessing Mental Health Support Groups across Kent.
A few weeks later we had still not received a housing benefit payment. I telephoned housing benefit office who advised me that there was no housing benefit claim in place. At this point Maria had been issued with a ‘Notice of Seeking Possession’ as her rent account was in excess of eight weeks in arrears.
I tried to arrange on a couple of occasions to visit Maria but she failed to engage. With no housing benefit in place despite being entitled, and the lack of engagement from her, Town and Country Housing had no choice but to apply to court for her eviction.
However, I continued trying to contact her and after several attempts, Maria finally agreed to let me visit her. I reinforced the seriousness of her situation and explained if it wasn’t sorted soon she would lose her home. She was very apologetic that she hadn’t responded earlier but it was clear to me that she was struggling to cope with everything that was going on in her life.
This time I completed the housing benefit application form online and submitted it on Maria’s behalf. Although it took some time, Maria finally managed to provide me with all the documents required to complete the application. I was then able to forward this information on to housing benefit for the claim to be processed. I explained the urgency of Maria’s situation and stressed that Town and Country Housing were in the process of applying for eviction.
Ordinarily, it is not the job of the Money Support Officer to intervene in this way. It is important for all individuals, where possible, to take responsibility for their own tenancy, especially because under Universal Credit it will be harder for third parties to act on behalf of someone else.
However, in the case of this young lady, due to her vulnerability, I had a duty of care. I knew that had I not helped she would have ended up homeless.
We know that one size does not fit all when it comes to Money Support and in our roles we can treat each case individually, making judgements on what is needed to support each person.
Had Maria not finally engaged with me she would have lost her home. Her Housing Benefit has now been awarded and thankfully just before her case got to court. She agreed to pay an extra £5 per week by direct debit towards her arrears. As long as Maria continues to be in receipt of full housing benefit and continues to pay the £5 per week her tenancy is safe. However, should she need my support again, she knows she can always contact me.
*name changed to protect identity
**Foundation is the charitable arm of Town & Country Housing and has excellent links with local mental health groups, priority access to counselling, helping people find employment and much more