It’s Mental Health Awareness Week

Chief Operating Officer Kate Still explains how the Tenant Support and Wellbeing service helps residents:

We need to think innovatively to make sure we offer services that make our homes truly liveable.

We announced our new Citizen brand last month and for us a central part of making the transition to our new organisation will be making sure that our service offer creates an environment that supports our residents to live successfully in their homes.

We know that many people are faced with a multitude of pressures that makes this increasingly difficult. In 2017 we undertook a piece of work with a research organisation called Canvas 8 which looked at how we could improve our services. What came out very strongly was that tenancies most often break down when the wider pressures of life become too great.

The report highlighted that the problem is not as simple as rent. What we need to do is support people to help build their resilience. We need to support them to work through issues which could cause a relationship breaking down or help them cope with mental health issues which could threaten their employment. This is where our focus needs to be.

For us one of the major learning points from this piece of work was the importance of intermediary support and advice services that are independent from us.

Like many associations we historically used organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau to refer our residents, but in the face of funding cuts and the increase in demand for services, referrals could often take weeks or months, by which time a resident’s circumstances were hard to turn around.

We wanted to create a service which would give our residents access to highly responsive, confidential advice services. Our intention was to be able to cost effectively provide access to an independent confidential support which every single tenant could have access to 24/7.

We knew it would be impossible to directly fund separate services in each local authority, so instead we took inspiration from a different source – our employee assistance programme.

This is a benefit we provide to our 1,000 staff, and our teams are one of the highest users of this service in the country because we promote it widely and provide a breadth of great life support services through it.

The service covers everything from telephone counselling to debt advice, health and parenting support. This inspired us to come up with the idea of working with providers in this industry to see if they could create a similar 24/7 service for residents that could be a cost-effective way of providing access to the kind of support that was previously available in local communities.

We start a two-year trial of the Tenant Support and Wellbeing Service this month and are working with the sector to refine the offer over time if it is successful.

Every tenant has access to the service as a benefit of their tenancy via a freephone number and online portal. It is also a great tool for our frontline staff as they can provide information on the spot if they see someone struggling and know that the service will be available then and there.

We know this is just the beginning. It will provide a gateway and foundation level of advice and support for residents, while others, we know, will need more targeted support.

That’s why we are also working with an innovation company called What If to create a tailored support model through our core housing management service that we hope will bridge the gaps that are arising for people with complex needs living in general needs properties.

We need to learn from the innovators in health and social care and bring those tools and mindsets to housing.

We can’t ignore these needs if we want to provide homes that are a true foundation for life.