I’ve been training council and housing association staff since 1998 and I must have worked with thousands of housing people since that time.
Furthest west I’ve been is St Austell, furthest North Motherwell, although I did once turn down a course for the Hebridean Housing Partnership on the basis that someone told me you had to fly in from Glasgow in a small plane which lands on a beach.
Being one of that breed of people endowed with the remarkable super power of being able to hold an entire jet liner in the sky just by clenching their bum cheeks for 8 hours I declined.
Meet the ‘Frontliners’
Sometimes the course delegates are young and enthusiastic or not necessarily young and to be frank….a little worn down by it all but one common factor I often find when asking questions at introduction time is that the majority never expected to be doing it, they just fell into the work in a variety of ways and either ‘Liked it and stayed’ or ‘Never escaped’, depending on how you look at it.
It’s a strange job constantly sorting out other people’s problems and it does get to you sometimes, especially when you are trying to log in your interview notes only to be told by reception that there is another one waiting, and for this to happen all day, every day, whilst simultaneously being nagged by your manager about your case work and monthly stats.
As one wag said to me on a course “I used to love my Mum until I found out she was a member of the public”.
Training? You must be joking …
It is quite rare for people working in housing law, by which I mean advice, homelessness housing management to actually be legally trained in any respect. Often the knowledge is picked up on the job.
I started as a homelessness case work/adviser on the Monday, was interviewing people by Wednesday and it was 18 months before I was sent on a training course to tell me what I should have been doing.
An anecdote I often tell on training courses 25 years later to more than a few nodding heads of acknowledgement. Plus ca Change then.
Living in the real world
Some organisations are great at keeping their staff up to date while others struggle to jemmy in a half day somewhere once every couple of years.
It isn’t always down to budget either. In the busiest offices just finding time to get the staff off of duties can be a major headache. Homelessness offices have to stay open or the CLG starts hopping up and down.
Also, imagine you’re a manager trying to coordinate the diaries of a team of 20 people. Each one of them has appointments, duty rotas, meetings, annual leave etc. The chance of everyone being free on the same day is as rare as a conjunction of planets that give rise to the birth of a new Messiah.
Plugging the black holes
As a trainer I often find black holes in people’s knowledge as well. Ask any housing advice worker in Newcastle or Lambeth to outline the tenancy rights of an agricultural worker and you’ll get a sea of blank stares. Not many farms in Jesmond or Brixton.
Go into a homelessness office in LLandrindod Wells and ask them about eligibility for homelessness assistance for citizens of Ecuador and a lot of shoe shuffling goes on.
And why not? Nobody can remember everything and if you don’t deal with Ecuadorian farmers that much why bother to retain the knowledge? As long as you know where to look it up if one comes through the door chewing on a hay stem.
Why its a serious problem
The problem for agencies dispensing advice or housing officers dealing with possession hearings is that the less knowledge they have the less effective their organisation will be in achieving their aims.
Homelessness units can’t prevent as much homelessness as they need to without staff who are up to speed on not just the weird ones but also the more routine stuff as well.
Housing officers involved in possession proceedings wont be able to get those possession orders or warrants enforced if they are constantly pipped at the post by a solicitor who knows his Lambeth v. Hughes from his Forcelux v. Binnie.
Training in housing organisations should be an essential and ongoing part of the routines of the teams if the organisation itself is to meet it’s stated goals and targets and yet so often it’s a case of “haven’t got the time/budget”.
One manager said to me once “But what if spend the money training them and they leave?” to which I replied “What if you don’t and they stay?”
The Easy solution
This is why Tessa and I formed Easy Law Training Ltd. She does the landlords and agents and I do the public sector posse.
We know the jobs that they do, the way they work, the pressures they are under and where their knowledge gaps will need the most shoring up.
If you are a public sector housing worker reading this nag your manager to get us in. You get Tessa’s qualifications and gravitas and my Hawaiian shirts. What’s not to like?