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

Welfare reform and housing shortage changing frontline housing roles


Welfare reform, lack of housing supply and the increasing gap between income and housing costs are having the biggest impact on frontline housing roles according to new research.

Initial findings from the Frontline Futures study reveal that people who live in social housing need increasing levels of support – and in many cases housing professionals are expected to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of other services.

The UK-wide research, commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and Wheatley Group, found that frontline workers want their employers to provide education and training, but also wellbeing support to help them cope with fear, distress and suicide threats from tenants under increasing pressure.

De Montfort University’s Centre for Comparative Housing Research (CCHR) carried out the study, which saw 1,054 housing professionals and tenants responding to online surveys.

Dr Jo Richardson of CCHR said the results show how valuable frontline housing workers are – in some cases helping to save lives.  She said: “Housing professionals are often the one constant in some tenants’ lives. Where other public services respond in a crisis, housing is already there and can observe and act quickly when intervention is needed.

“In Scotland, one housing officer told us about responding to a tenant who said he would commit suicide. In that instance, a swift and compassionate response linking the police, health services and family members literally saved a life – what higher social value is there than that?”

The initial findings from Frontline Futures are being launched tomorrow (Tuesday 11 March) at CIH Scotland’s Annual Conference and Exhibition in Glasgow.  The research found that mobile technology is increasingly freeing housing workers from the office, allowing them to spend more time on their ‘patch’ and in customers’ homes.   

The tenants who responded to the survey said they would like to see even more of their housing officers, with some keen for tenants to play a stronger role, using their knowledge of their own neighbourhoods to work alongside housing professionals.

Housing professionals said they expected having a commercially-minded approach to become increasingly important in the future.  CIH director of membership and education Judy Waugh said: “This is business for a purpose – this research shows that housing professionals believe maximising income is vital if they are to continue to deliver services and invest in new and existing homes.”

The study also showed the diversity of frontline housing roles and the breadth of services workers are expected to deliver.  Although ‘housing officer’ was the job title cited most often by people who responded to the survey, a huge variety of different job titles were given, with roles encompassing management, rents, repairs, support, neighbourhoods, governance, tenant involvement and organisation leadership.

Judy Waugh said: “This research shows that frontline housing professionals are providing hugely valuable services – and also demonstrates the pressure they are under from welfare reform and the housing crisis.  It’s clear that the profession is changing, so it’s vital that employers invest in training, education and support to give their staff all the tools they need to do the best job they can.  Ultimately, ensuring housing professionals have the right skills is crucial if organisations want to continue supporting residents and investing in their communities.”

Hazel Young, Wheatley Group’s director of policy and service development, said: “We’re really pleased to be involved in this exciting and important research.  It confirms the vital role that social housing landlords play within their communities and will provide us with insight to help us to shape future services. We’re a forward thinking organisation and we’re constantly evolving and supporting our staff to meet the changing needs of our customers.”

CIH Scotland's Annual Conference and Exhibition takes place on 11-13 March at the SECC in Glasgow. Find out more

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