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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Housing organisations are opening up to disabled professionals


A scheme from CIH is helping disabled people to work in housing.

Disabled people are twice as likely to live in social housing as in any other tenure yet only a tiny number of disabled people are working in housing, something that a scheme from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) is addressing.

Now in its third year, the Positive Action for Disability programme matches ambitious and talented disabled people with housing organisations keen to broaden their search, and the investment is starting to pay real dividends for trainees and housing providers. The first intake of seven trainees is now graduating from the programme and starting to find professional-grade jobs in the sector.

Debbie Smith was the first trainee to be offered a post and has now started as a Debt Advisor with New Charter Housing Trust. Previously Debbie worked as a senior manager in the financial services sector but developed a serious disability that forced her to re-evaluate her life and career choices.

Debbie said: “I was motivated to join the scheme as after doing some research on the CIH and New Charter Housing Trust I felt that this would be an ideal opportunity for me to try and get back into work with the on-going support package from my employer and CIH. I thought I would be giving myself the best chance possible to succeed. I knew I had made the right decision the first day I started at New Charter and the results at the end of my traineeship have proved that I definitely made the right decision and am looking forward to a great long term career with them.”

New Charter is one of 14 organisations who have signed up to the Positive Action for Disability (PAfD) scheme.  They take on a disabled trainee for two years, paying them a trainee salary, and provide a programme of induction into the organisation’s business.  This can means spending from a week up to six months in a department including customer services, tenancy management and sheltered housing.  Trainees also take on a professional housing qualification during the two-year period, which gives them the academic grounding to take on a career in the sector.

CIH offers housing partners disability equality expertise and input from the recruitment phase right through to the end of the placement – and offers the trainees intensive support through personal coaching and mentoring, action learning and other support systems.

Gary Sharp, Head of Human Resources at New Charter said: “I’m thrilled with Debbie’s success - she’s been inspirational - totally committed to the organisation and the CIH programme. She has an abundance of positive energy and is totally customer focussed - a perfect ambassador for the sector”.

CIH’s Graham Findlay is the scheme’s manager.  He said: “The PAfD programme’s core aim is to redress the balance and get more disabled people mainstreamed into the housing sector as professionals. Disabled people can add real value to an organisation, both in terms of service delivery to customers, and crucially in terms of a diverse workforce and changing organisational culture. Many of our partners have commented on how having a disabled person in the workplace has made them think differently about equality and diversity and the experience has challenged them in a very positive way.”

He continued: “ I am of course absolutely delighted that our first graduates from the scheme are being offered professional posts that will be the springboard for a successful career in housing –  and I will be watching their career track over the next five years with real interest.”

Jayne Wallace has just started a job as customer services officer at Gloucester City Homes after her two year traineeship with the organisation.  Jayne previously worked in beauty therapy, but when she developed Ataxia, a disability that affects her speech and mobility, Jane wanted a complete change of career. Her new post will be based in a call centre taking calls from customers on repairs and other tenancy issues, she will also work on reception.

“I am overwhelmed at getting the job.  It is something I really wanted,” Jayne said.

Lisa Howarth, Head of Housing Services at Gloucester City Homes said: “The job is thoroughly deserved; Jayne is extremely hard working, dedicated to her approach to delivering excellent customer service and has demonstrated a real passion for housing”

As well as completing an HNC in Housing Studies, Jayne is studying towards an Institute of Customer Service Award and is now considering her next programme of study.  She added: “There is so much to learn in housing.”

Eileen Barron joined the trainee scheme in 2009 having a back disability that had previously made work difficult. Somer Housing Trust made considerable efforts to be flexible in their approach and  put in place reasonable adjustments for her condition (funded via the Government’s Access to Work scheme) so she could undertake all aspects of a housing management trainee role. She started a temporary contract as a Neighbourhood Services Officer at Somer Housing Trust in July and is responsible for two neighbourhoods in central Bath. She said: “I am really excited and I’m ready for this.  When you are a trainee your work gets filtered, but when you are doing the job you don’t know what’s going to happen each day, it’s a real challenge.”

Asked how Positive Action for Disability had helped her secure a job in the sector, Eileen said: “I would never have applied for this job in housing without the traineeship.  It has opened up a whole new possibility.”

Graham concluded:  “We understand it’s a very difficult time financially for housing organisations to invest in equality and diversity, and specifically disability equality. But I would argue that now is the time that disabled people need real help on to the “first rung of the ladder” towards a housing career. PAfD really does work for both disabled people and housing organisations – the evidence for this is that our trainees are being offered professional-grade posts in the sector following their two year traineeships. In difficult times it is even more important that disabled people get the opportunity and support to show they can excel and that housing organisations can benefit from employing them.”

Positive Action for Disability – the facts

 Launched in 2009
 Two year paid traineeship
 Trainees also study for a professional housing qualification
 CIH currently works with 14  housing organisations in England and Wales:

Affinity Sutton; The Community Housing Group; Gloucester City Homes; Habinteg Housing; New Charter Housing Trust; Raven Housing Trust; Redbridge Homes; Redland Housing Association; Rochdale Boroughwide Housing; Somer Community Housing Trust; Sanctuary Housing; Newport City Homes, City West Housing Trust and Valleys to Coast Housing.

To find out more contact Graham Findlay at

This article first appeared in 24 Housing magazine November 2011

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