Welcome to the latest instalment of our ‘Meet The Team’ series, where we introduce you to the people behind the scenes helping our clients at Citizens Advice Bury & Bolton (CABB). In our last instalment we met our Volunteer Support team – – in case you missed it, you can read it here.
This month, we talked to Gemma Walsh, our Housing Services Manager, to find out more about how the team helps the residents of Bury and Bolton.
What’s the role of the Housing team at Citizens Advice Bury & Bolton?
We deal with all housing-related issues, which can be very wide-ranging. In the private and social rented sector, we can help clients with any threat of homelessness, from receiving a Notice Seeking Possession right up to a court-ordered Warrant of Eviction. We can also help with unlawful evictions and harassment by landlords – for example, helping renters to understand and assert their rights.
Another area we deal with is unsuitable housing, whether that’s disrepair, lack of affordability or anti-social behaviour. You’d be surprised at how many clients we see who are struggling with these issues, but they don’t have to suffer alone.
We also help clients with ‘actual homelessness’, which means any decisions made by the Local Authority when a client presents as homeless. For example, if a local authority decides that someone who is homeless does not have a priority need and we think that they do; we can appeal this. This often makes the difference between a homeless person sleeping outside or in a hotel because we have made a challenge on their behalf.
What does a typical day look like for a housing adviser?
Now that our face-to-face drop-ins have started up again, our advisers are regularly seeing clients with a variety of housing issues, so it’s difficult to describe a typical day!
At a drop-in session, a client could walk through the door with a Warrant of Eviction due to be executed the following day. They may have four children with them, then it’s all hands on deck to fill out court forms, negotiate with a landlord, write to the judge, and arrange temporary accommodation if needed.
Our next client may have just been made homeless due to fleeing domestic abuse and has no idea where to go. On the other hand, we may have a handful of clients who have notices seeking possession for 3 month’s time and therefore the urgency is less. This gives us time to liaise with landlords and DWP/local council if benefits are the reason for the rent arrears.
And in between drop-ins, our advisers are supporting clients over the phone and via video call.
What are some of the most common housing issues the team sees? Have any problems been particularly common recently?
The most common issue we see is probably private landlords issuing eviction notices, as they want their properties back – often because a tenant has asked them to remedy disrepair or because they are behind with rent. Just lately unlawful evictions have risen, likely to be a result of the restrictions placed on landlords to legally evict tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.
Often tenants tell us that they think it is too late and there is nothing they can do, but we can help right up to the day of a court ordered eviction. In a lot of cases we can, at least delay the action to allow clients to put things in place – if not stop the eviction completely.
What do you enjoy most about working for CABB?
No day is the same, we have the ability to make real changes to somebody’s circumstances. To have an impact on somebody having or keeping a home is a huge responsibility, which comes with a massive sense of achievement when we are able to make a positive impact.