Posted by: Alex Wellman08/02/2012
A BBC programme looking at the role of coroners brought up some interesting and timely topics.
For those who did not see Death Unexplained, I suggest you do your best to catch it on iPlayer or watch the next episode as it is a well made documentary.
It centres on West London Coroners court. A place I know quite well from time spent on local rags in that part of the world.
Forgetting the grisly details of various autopsies ascertaining the cause of death of an individual, the part which most interested me was the death of ‘Fred’.
He was an elderly man who lived alone and did not appear to have any friends or family. He lived a quiet life - chatting occasionally to neighbours - but mostly popped in and out of his home.
He died in his flat and was not discovered for a number of months.
The only people to attend his funeral, paid for by the council, were his neighbour and her mother.
It is a situation that many housing associations will have experience of.
This year we have already had two separate cases where the body of a tenant has been discovered years after their death.
Often these people are not found until a gas check or repair is scheduled or rent arrears occur. In a civilised society it is not good enough.
But, what can be done in the housing sector to stop this from happening? We cannot prevent everyone from dying in their own homes – whether it be from natural causes, accident or crime.
But could the sector do more to prevent a person lying dead in their property for - and it has happened before – anything up to three years?
At the moment hands are tied somewhat. If someone is having full benefit paid to them and they have not been identified as vulnerable, then there is no real reason to get involved in their life. After all, social landlords cannot and must not act as nannies for their tenants – particularly at a time when the government is keen on getting people in and out of social housing as quick as possible.
Could there be better linking up with other ‘partners’ – police, council, contractors etc? Possibly. I don’t imagine it would be too hard for a contractor who maintains an estate or does responsive repairs to liaise with the landlord and identify the properties where people have been identified as isolated.
Surely a quick tap on the door and a good morning every once in a while would not only increase confidence in the landlord and contractor but also open up dialogue with tenants who have previously been under the radar.
This need not just be for contractors or landlords though. The police are frequently on the beat and are eager to foster good relations with ‘communities’ and I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down the chance of a cup of tea and a quick chat.
But then, perhaps this is all too idealistic. With swingeing cuts and belts tightened as ever before, do we expect people to go that extra mile?
I’m not so sure. One thing I am sure about though, it is inhuman to not have concern for our neighbour and for no-one to take responsibility or at least try and make a change is a stain that will take some getting rid of.
If there is genuine concern for ensuring someone lives the best life they can while in a home, then that concern should be equal once that person dies.
From Can we fix it?
Alex Wellman takes a look at what’s going on in the social housing contracting sector