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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Team Leader

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

Recruitment Genius: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Buddy & Team Leader / Buddy

£11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To join a team working with a female in her ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence