Derek Streek, Head of Neighbourhoods at VIVID discusses how the housing association supports its vulnerable customers.
When I started my housing career some 35 years ago, anti-social behaviour was dealt with by the police and people with mental health issues were housed in large institutional asylums, often for far longer than was necessary. Along came Care in the Community — a noble project to move those well enough back in to the community with comprehensive support packages to help them integrate. However, at that time there was considerable prejudice in society and the main challenge for housing providers was to ensure those coming out of institutions were housed appropriately to mitigate the risk of prejudice.
Fast forward to more recent times we’ve now seen the devastating impact austerity, welfare reforms and high levels of disengagement in health and social services has had on the more vulnerable in society. This has resulted in increasing levels of mental health issues, anti-social behaviour, hoarding and difficulties in gaining access for things like gas servicing. All of which have been linked with high level of arrears cases.
As one of the largest providers of affordable homes and housing related services in the south of England, we’ve first-hand experience with daily challenges our customers face, and these are growing. With our customers’ wellbeing at the heart of everything we do, we launched our Wellbeing Service in December 2018 to ensure we provide support to our customers to help them access and engage with mental health, wellbeing and recovery services, better manage their behaviours, reduce arrears through bespoke payment plans and maintain their tenancies.
As part of our Wellbeing Service we’ve forged a partnership with our local NHS trust, Solent NHS, to support those with mental health needs to stay in their own homes. Working together ensures our customers get access to the health, wellbeing and recovery services that they need, and we can prevent and reduce mental health crisis so customers can sustain their tenancies.
It’s early days for the service but we’re making great progress — and so are our customers!
Through offering information, advice and guidance to customers facing challenges with their mental health, and a link between housing, mental health services, social care, voluntary community groups and the NHS, our two wellbeing workers have achieved a number of key outcomes. We’ve reduced the dependency of at least 15 high intensity users who have used NHS and/or emergency services inappropriately, with one GP estimating our involvement has saved their primary care services around £1,500 a month per customer.
We’ve secured new care plans for customers requiring additional support — enabling them to remain independent in the community whilst receiving the local health and social care services they require. We’ve also helped customers get access to the health, wellbeing and recovery services that they need, so they do not breach their tenancy conditions. On many occasions customers with mental health conditions are perceived to be breaking their tenancy agreements and are taken to court. Thanks to our Wellbeing Service we can identify vulnerable customers earlier and ensure they have the right support to maintain their tenancies.
Since budget cuts to the welfare system and social services have come into place, housing associations have needed to expand their core services to support their customers to ensure they have bright futures. Wellbeing is now fundamental to this, and our work in this space is just the beginning.