As the eviction ban lifts in England, many hundreds of thousands of households are worried about losing their homes.
For residents in South Cambridgeshire, however, help is at hand with an initiative that was started by Mears in 2018, which provides dedicated support to families and individuals in rent arrears helping people keep their homes rather than face eviction.
Mears provides repairs and maintenance service to 5000 homes owned by South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) and recruited Neighbourhood Officer, Paula Rae to help residents who have been taken to court for being in rent arrears and are at significant risk of losing their home.
In the four years since Paula was recruited to the role, she has supported over 2,000 families across the district.
The support that Paula offers includes:
- Checking if residents are claiming the right benefits.
- Supporting residents at court appearances and advocates on their behalf.
- Writing to creditors on behalf of these residents to negotiate repayment deals that resident can afford.
- Liaising with other agencies on behalf of the resident.
- Providing any ongoing support that the resident might need to turn things around and keep their home.
Paula explained: “People get into rent arrears for all kinds of reasons and this pandemic has posed additional challenges for so many families. They lose jobs, suffer bereavement, relationships break down. Sometimes people need to borrow money or stop paying bills to deal with a new situation.
“What I’ve learned is that people’s lives are complex and those on low incomes are particularly vulnerable when circumstances change.
Paula adds that while allowing people to continuously avoid repossession by making last-minute and partial rent payments is not the answer, equally, evicting and eventually re-housing a vulnerable person can be an unhappy and expensive vicious cycle.
“In my role, I can try and get to the bottom of why someone has fallen behind with their rent, and then proactively help them to tackle those issues and get back on track. That might involve helping them to identify and apply for benefits they were not aware of, or it might be putting them in touch with organisations that can provide practical or emotional support,” continued Paula.
“Whatever the intervention, if it helps people to stay in their home, then we see that as a successful outcome for everyone involved.”
Mears stands, proudly recognised, as one of the most socially responsible businesses working with the public sector and believes that there is a moral duty to help people to avoid eviction.
Managing Director for Mears, Peter Baldwin, said: “Every resident in South Cambridgeshire deserves to be in a safe and secure home.
“Helping people to maintain their tenancies is the right thing to do, eviction is an incredibly traumatic process for anyone to go through. It is also costly for landlords and wider society.
“If we can provide that intervention that helps people to meet their rent commitments and stay in their homes, then everyone wins.”
“As a business, we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, work in our communities and help change people’s lives for the better.”
Paula’s intervention and engagement with the residents has earned her several recommendations from SCDC.
Donna Thurlbourn, SCDC Senior Recovery Officer commented: “I worked very closely with Paula as she does a lot of tenant visits for me before court hearings. She goes above and beyond trying to get hold of tenants when a phone call, email and letter has not been responded to.
“Paula will often go ‘out of hours’ to track down a tenant and is always successful. She goes through income and expenditure, setting arrangements, helping tenants apply for benefits and even getting them on HomeLink when they are subject to underoccupancy and need to downsize.
“Paula continues to regularly engage with them, so they don’t fall back into arrears. Tenants specifically ask for Paula when they need help as she has always been so helpful in the past.”
Debbie Barrett, SCDC Housing Services Team Leader added: “Paula’s role has become invaluable both to our team and the tenants that she provides help and advice to. She has helped many avoid potential homelessness through her commitment to guiding people through some of the complexities of benefits, but also by working hand in hand with them to face up to their financial problems and deal with them successfully.
“Her energy and enthusiasm to help and support, both colleagues and customers are inspiring.”
Claire Gilbey, SCDC Housing Enforcement Team Lead said: “Paula’s contribution to the team is invaluable. She carries a wealth of knowledge on financial support. I have never met a tenant who has anything other than positive feedback.
“Paula is always one of the first to offer support to other team members especially when it comes to assisting our more vulnerable tenants. She always has a bundle of energy and passion and this reflects in her day to day work.”