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Understanding evictions

In the second in a series of blogs by housing students who attended the Wales Housing Research Conference 2020, Abdi Ahmed reflects on early intervention and prevention in avoiding evictions.

I attended the conference this year for the first time, a plethora of great research under one roof, carried out by dedicated academics. The day started with a presentation (Reframing the economic and social impact of housing interventions and investment) from Ken Gibb, University of Glasgow. It was followed by presentations from Shelter Cymru and the Chartered institute of Housing.

There was an innovative presentation by Jennie from Shelter regarding homelessness in Wales. She outlined the sectors aspirations to achieve zero evictions into homeless services from social housing. This strategy was thought provoking, which created a passionate debate within the room. However, the highlight of the day for me was a session I attended in the afternoon looking at ‘Disputes, resistance and evictions in the rented sector in Wales’.

You may ask why? Well, the answer is I work in frontline housing management for a large social housing provider. In my time, I have witnessed a transformation of services since the implementation of welfare reform, in particular the under-occupancy charge. The session was titled ‘Understanding social housing evictions’ the research was carried out by Opinion Research Services on behalf of the Welsh Government. The objective of the research was to understand the rates of social housing evictions across Wales, highlighting the reasons and processes which lead to evictions and how they can be prevented.

Interesting, I thought. As the presentation unfolded, I did wonder how my employer compared to other social landlords in Wales, given early intervention was a significant component to avoiding evictions and is embedded in our principles. The research was carried out by conducting a survey of all social landlords and local authorities. The data that was collected was possession orders, warrants for eviction and actual evictions over a period of time. Qualitative telephone interviews were carried out to collate the information.

What became apparent was that the vast majority of possession orders granted did not materialise to an eviction and were for rent arrears. You are probably wondering why? Maybe I can shine some light on the explanation, a mixture of early intervention and prevention. These tools are used remarkably well within my organisation, it involves using a multifaceted approach to support the tenant to manage their tenancy, also ensuring any income is maximised. The aim of this approach is to prevent and reduce arrears and other breaches of tenancy agreements. Also, ensuring that all attempts are made to intervene and offer support early to prevent enforcement action or ultimately eviction.

I believe we should ensure that regular conversations take place with tenants as this will enable housing professionals to identify if there are any vulnerabilities or needs. Being able to ask open-ended questions which allow and encourage engagement, which can establish what advice and support can be offered.

In Wales, if we are going to really realise the ambition of ending evictions from social housing landlords into homeless provision then long-term tenancy sustainment is vital. Let’s be realistic, you are going to have cases where you need to take enforcement actions as a remedy, it may be to protect the public. Low-level breaches of tenancy terms should include educational tenancy training sessions, to raise awareness of how a tenant could sustain their tenancy following breaches or access money advice if rent arrears accrue.Some social housing organisations already provide pre-tenancy training, this type of training could be utilised not just at the beginning but throughout the lifetime of the tenancy.

A multi-agency approach that includes regular meetings for tenants to building supportive and lasting relationships. Transparency is important, therefore tenants and other family members should be included in decisions made about their future.

Abdi Ahmed is a student on the MSc Advanced Practice (Housing) course at Cardiff Metropolitan University

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