Behind the scenes at our emergency helpline
Our free emergency helpline is open 365 days a year and is often the first port of call for people facing housing issues. But what’s it like to be the person answering those calls? One of our helpline advisers, Liv, wrote a diary* during the COVID-19 pandemic.
9am: Tried to stop an illegal eviction
My first call is from a client whose landlord wants him, his wife, and two children out of the property tomorrow. I wish I could say calls like this are rare, but sadly they happen almost daily. I advised that to follow the correct process for eviction, the landlord must serve valid notice, get a court order, and a bailiff’s warrant.
He hasn’t done any of that, so the client doesn’t have to leave his home tomorrow. I could hear my client smile with relief, and it felt good to be able to reassure him and his family with good news.
10.30am: Helping to find a missing person
I took a call from a police officer wanting information on homelessness units in the area, to help locate a missing person. I gave the details of two organisations and the housing options department at the council, which is most likely to have contacts for other local organisations. Life on the streets is incredibly hard, and it can be dangerous. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the missing person is found safe and well.
12.30pm: Time for a breather
Popped out to take my dog for a walk at lunchtime. I try to get some fresh air in the middle of the day. It helps me keep things in perspective, is good for my spirits, and keeps my energy up. The dog likes it, too!
2pm: Vulnerable and in need of help
Took a call from a client who will be homeless after having an electric monitoring tag taken off. He’s vulnerable due to health conditions. I checked for some self-referral hostels but couldn’t find any, so I rang the council and spoke to the housing office, who said they had to speak to my client to carry out an initial assessment.
Sometimes it’s hard to see for the red tape, but there’s no way round it for now. I transferred my client through and hope he finds somewhere for tonight at least. I’ll call the council back later to see how he got on.
3.30pm: The end of the story?
A housing officer calls back about my last client. He’d been asked to come down in person but hadn’t shown up. He called us from his landlord’s phone so we can’t reach him. It’s hard not to worry about clients who find themselves suddenly homeless like that. I really hope he gets in touch again so we can get him the help he needs.
4pm: Keep calm and carry on
Took a call from a client experiencing anti-social behaviour, harassment, and hate crime from a neighbour. Client is disabled and lives in housing association property with her 14-year-old son. She was understandably very distressed, having already been through a lot, and she needed help. She had done everything we would suggest as initial advice and wanted help with writing a discrimination complaint to the housing association.
As she wanted help with specific legal arguments, I signposted her to the Equality and Human Rights Commission – the experts in this area of law. I also made a referral call to her local Shelter office to get the ball rolling on some ongoing support for her. Calls like this make me sad and angry on the client’s behalf, so it’s good to be able to offer practical help, with a reassuring and friendly voice.
5.30pm: We can help make it right
A client who is experiencing disrepair in rented property rang us, and I took the call. There’s damp and mould in the bedrooms, leaks in the bathroom, and the hot water wasn’t working. His landlord is aware of these issues, but is not doing much to fix them. I informed the client of his rights and the legal obligations on his landlord.
I gave him useful advice for next steps. I advised him to ask Environmental Health to inspect the property and sent over letter templates, so he could write to his landlord and give notice to get the repairs done. My client was understandably frustrated, as these issues had been ongoing for over a year.
I speak to so many people about rogue and dodgy landlords. Mould, water running down light fittings, rats, no locks on the doors… It’s genuinely shocking what some people will try to get away with. But, as bad as it can get, we can help make it right. That’s why I love my job.
6pm: No two days are the same
I finished up my day by checking any final emails and leaving everything tidy for the morning. No two days are the same in my job, and I wonder who I’ll speak to tomorrow.
*We used a model to protect the privacy of our adviser. We based the diary on real calls and responses but edited it for length and clarity.