Last November, Housing Options Scotland (HOS) launched a new tenancy support service for housing providers. Following a piloting exercise providing the service to Almond Housing Association, our Communications Officer Julia Bandel met with CEO Moira Bayne to chat about how it’s going and her future plans for the service.
As a not-for-profit, person-centred service that provides expertise and independent advice, HOS Helps bears many similarities with the regular HOS brokerage team. The difference? HOS Helps is designed to provide tenancy support to individual housing associations.
The premise is a simple one: If a tenant is having issues that cannot be dealt with internally, their housing provider can simply refer them to HOS Helps. Tenants can expect the same service as all HOS clients: “There’s a named person who will work with you to help with whatever issues and problems you’re experiencing, and who won’t leave until that is all settled and resolved.”
“It’s a very flexible and broad-ranging service”, Moira explains. “We’re providing information on a whole host of issues which we hadn’t even anticipated, and we’re learning as we go along.”
HOS Helps Development Worker Heather Storgaard, the main caseworker, has helped tenants with issues as varied as filling out grant funding applications, sourcing whitegoods and assisting EU citizens with their settled status application.
Moira believes that outsourcing tenancy support to services like HOS Helps can particularly benefit smaller housing associations who already have very good relationships with their tenants, but lack the expertise or the capacity to deal with the individual issues that arise from time to time.
“We’ve got more resources at our disposal and more time to go out and investigate things on the behalf of tenants. It clarifies the situation for landlords – they know how much they’re paying every month or every year, and they know they will get a service that meets their needs.”
“As a national organisation, we’ve not only got a lot of expertise within our team, but can also tap into national resources and national networks. Landlords won’t necessarily have the same networks, especially small, local housing associations that tend to be very geographically constrained. I think we could open up opportunities that they and their tenants haven’t been able to access previously just because they haven’t known about them.”
One of the examples Moira names is occupational therapy support. Rather than going on a two-year council waiting list of occupational therapists (OT), Almond HA’s tenants have benefited from having their adaptation assessments done by Housing Options Scotland’s in-house OT.
She also praises Heather’s ability to open up possibilities for tenants by finding funding they otherwise would’ve never applied for, along with HOS Helps’ tenacity when it comes to solving problems.
“One of the things we do really well across the organisation is that we don’t give up. Some of Heather’s cases have involved sitting on the phone for hours at a time – for example, trying to get through to an energy provider for a lady in her eighties who was getting massive bills that she couldn’t pay and couldn’t understand. Many people who come to us can’t stay on the phone for very long for various reasons. There’s not a service out there that’ll spend four hours on a phone just trying to get through, so that is something we really pride ourselves on.”
Almost a year into providing tenancy support for Almond Housing Association, Moira is confident that things are going well.
“We’ve had good feedback! Paula, one of our volunteers, did a mid-term evaluation for us in March when she spoke to Almond staff, tenants, and other stakeholders. I think we know from the number of clients that we’ve helped and the number of positive feedback we’ve got that it’s been very successful. It’s quite often exceeded what we’ve been asked to do.”
She attributes much of this success to Heather, HOS Helps’ primary caseworker:
“Heather hit the ground running. She knows how to investigate, how to follow something through to a conclusion, she doesn’t give up, ever, she’s the absolutely ideal person for the job.”
Always striving to make the service even better, Moira won’t let any complacency about HOS Helps’ success settle in:
“We keep it under continuous review, so we don’t sit back and go ‘oh, it’s going really well, we can all relax now’, I never really relax. We’re always looking for ways to improve and extend the service. If there is an issue that we come across that we haven’t dealt with before, we make it our job to find out how to deal with it.”
We’re excited to see how HOS Helps will grow!
For more information on HOS Helps, contact Moira Bayne at firstname.lastname@example.org.