Category: testimonial, Housing, What Our People Say, Staff Testimonial, Supported Housing, PA Housing, House-building
Today, Lindsey (who is camera shy) and her parrot, Jojo, join us via Zoom to discuss the ways in which the Covid-19 crisis is affecting hundreds of PA Housing's residents, with her and her colleagues now dealing with customers they've never needed to speak to before.
What is your average day usually like?
It's my job to make sure customers have in place the benefits they need to be able to afford to remain in their tenancy.
My colleagues and I receive referrals from Neighbourhood Coordinators, Tenancy Solutions, or the Customer Contact Centre. The Income Team refer customers who are struggling to pay rent or facing eviction – we contact these individuals and have conversations about the problems they're facing. Anyone in the business can make referrals to us, and it’s really important that they know that.
It's a challenging job, and it can be very stressful, but the rewards outweigh any of this – very often, we do manage to save customers from eviction.
I don't have an average day. Some days I'll be out, supporting someone during a health assessment so they can claim disability benefits, other days I'll be representing individuals who've had their claims turned down at tribunal.
Every time I answer the phone, I don't know what I'm going to get. You can have a conversation and it will open a whole can of worms.
What has your average day been like during the Covid-19 crisis?
The demographic of the customers we're working with has changed dramatically. We normally support people who are already on several benefits, and the payment of these benefits has remained unchanged. Instead we're supporting customers who have been furloughed, or are self employed and are concerned about paying their rent.
When lockdown happened, customers could text us with the word 'support' and we would go back to them to discuss any issues they were dealing with. We also received hundreds of emails from customers who needed help. More than two and a half thousand people contacted us for help in the space of four-to-six weeks.
It's turned out that hundreds of residents cannot afford to pay their rent for the first time, and they ask, "What am I going to do?". I’ve supported some customers who have lived in a PA property for 10 years or more, and this is the first time there’s been an entry written on their rent accounts– they've always paid their rent on time.
Throughout this crisis, I've been watching the Chancellor's announcements about benefits very closely so I can decipher the information being given, and I've then been updating colleagues across PA through a short, 45-minute course delivered via Zoom. Today alone, I've done three sessions with small groups of around seven colleagues. Usually, after a session, I have people follow up with questions on behalf of their own family members – it's a privilege to help in this way, particularly as so many are concerned about changes to the furlough scheme.
Many businesses won't be able to afford to pay a higher proportion of their employees' wages and National Insurance contributions, so it seems inevitable that, as a team, we're facing even more change in terms of the number of people we'll be helping.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned during this unusual time?
I've learned how lucky I am. All I've had to do throughout all of this is stay at home and work. In this role, you learn not to take anything for granted, but over recent months, I've spoken to people who've had things taken away from them, just like that.
One of my most challenging calls so far was to a lady whose husband had died due to Covid-19. She hadn't seen him for a few weeks and wasn't able to say goodbye. Our conversation was on a Friday and it stayed with me all weekend. At that point, coronavirus became very real to me.
Having the hardship fund that Dilip has given us to provide some help people whose earnings have been affected has made a big difference, in terms of being able to offer some support there and then. We're also able to send grocery and energy vouchers to customers via text and email.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Getting the result I want. When you are supporting a customer with a claim for disability benefits, and it’s taken over a year to get to a tribunal, then it’s extremely rewarding when they finally get their award. They could have thousands of pounds backdated, and if they have gotten into rent arrears, they are able to clear those and afford to pay for extra ongoing care they may need. That's the 'ker-ching' moment. The whole team celebrates when any one of us get a result like that.
What would you say makes you unique?
I’m probably the only person that works with a parrot on their shoulder. My parrot is called Jojo and I inherited him from a friend's father-in-law who was moving into a care home and couldn't take him with him. I've only recently appreciated how relaxing it is to have a pet around while you're working, my hand just wanders over to tickle him on his head.