Social-housing landlords training staff to spot tenants at risk of suicide

Maintenance workers, call-centre staff and housing officers are being sent on courses after growing problems among victims of austerity reforms

Social landlords are spending thousands of pounds training staff to identify tenants at risk of committing suicide as benefit and public sector cuts take their toll on deprived communities, The Independent can disclose.

Call-centre staff, housing officers and even maintenance workers are sent on courses that cost up to £300 per person, teaching participants how to judge whether someone is suicidal or suffering from mental-health problems. 

Housing associations are  experiencing an increase in mental distress among social tenants facing eviction or struggling to keep up with rent and other bills due to benefit cuts and the overhaul of the welfare system.

The development comes amid evidence of growing desperation in Britain’s poorest regions as austerity bites. Last week Stephanie Bottrill, 53, took her own life, leaving a note for her children blaming her misery over the “bedroom tax”. She had been expected to find another £20 a week towards her rent to remain in her home and faced moving to a new property at short notice.

Christine Clark, a trainer in mental health issues, is experiencing a rush in demand for her services from social landlords. She is working with major housing providers in the North of England which are together responsible for managing more than 55,000 tenancies.

Ms Clark said housing associations – including her clients in Liverpool, Lancashire and Stockport – felt the need to prepare staff for the personal impact of dealing with tenants’ troubled lives.

“It’s awful to be hearing difficult things and not really know how to respond. You need to know as the employee that you did what you could [for a tenant],” she said. “Most of my work has been for housing providers that have seen this coming. They are trying to make sure their staff are better prepared – both for tenants who are in crisis, with a lot more talk about suicide, and for each other.”

Employees are also trained to cope with the gaps left by other services withdrawing from communities due to lack of funding. “I’m training people who traditionally had good relationships with other [mental health] services, when crisis teams were available. Now housing officers, who have their normal job role, are dealing with these things and making decisions. It’s quite scary.”

John Bailey, health and safety manager at Helena Homes, which manages 13,000 social rented properties in Merseyside, has made sure frontline staff such as maintenance and repairs teams have gone through the training alongside those working in traditional care and support jobs.

“A lot of our tenants live in really difficult situations. What we’re seeing now is even more desperate people,” he said.

One member of staff working for Helena Homes reported entering the home of an older tenant living in sheltered housing to discover he had hanged himself on the back of the bathroom door.

“We do have some of the very most deprived people in the whole country. These people have more or less just given up. Some of them are just starving to death. It’s very distressing when someone stops paying their rent, and you go and find them in these circumstances. It’s going to back to something like Victorian times.”

As well as putting greater strain on housing staff, cuts to community services that local people rely upon are also increasing the risk of isolation for residents. “This increases the misery of our tenants. Many of them just can’t cope with change.”

Paul Turner has worked as a plasterer for Helena Housing for five years. He was one of the first to be trained in mental health first aid and has encouraged colleagues to follow his lead. “If you see someone who has got a problem you can basically talk to them and you can see if they’re having suicidal thoughts without actually bringing the word up,” he said.

As well as spotting those in mental turmoil, Mr Turner said he now feels equipped to give advice to those who may be suffering, such as avoiding alcohol because it is a depressant.

“I think everybody, at one part of their life, has suicidal thoughts – I know I have. It could be a workmate, it could be a member of your family, a resident. It could be anyone.”

Charities have lobbied the Government, warning that welfare reform could have a severe impact on already impoverished communities hardest hit by the changes.

The mental health charity Mind warned that many people with underlying mental health problems would be specifically affected by the overhaul of the benefits system, including the replacement of the disability living allowance and cuts to housing benefit.

“We know that people’s homes are important to them,” said senior policy and campaigns officer Tom Pollard. “There’s a lot going on and people are very worried about what the impact is going to be. They feel very unsettled and that the future is uncertain. That will have a significant impact on people’s mental health.”

The Chartered Institute of Housing, which represents staff working for social landlords, is preparing organisations for the staggered introduction of welfare reforms and has encouraged them to offer training for all staff to cope with the shift in their responsibilities and workload.

But Ms Clark says the problem of mental illness in social-housing communities – and among staff dealing with distressed tenants – will only get worse as benefit cuts bite.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss