A council housing cabinet member threatened with homelessness says he was left “on the verge of crying” after requesting help from a local housing association.
Danny Meredith, cabinet member for highways and housing at Rochdale Borough Council, has criticised the service provided by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) when he approached its homelessness team last week, describing the phone handler as “patronising” and “unwilling to help”.
RBH said its homelessness team are “selfless, dedicated and hard-working” and that they operate in line with a contract agreed with the council and its allocations policy.
Mr Meredith was appointed cabinet member for highways and housing following the local elections in early May.
The councillor was in the process of moving house around the same time, prompted by the stamp duty holiday.
Because of the new responsibilities associated with his cabinet role, he decided to change his job as an NHS emergency care nurse to become part-time.
But the resulting drop in income not covered by his council expenses allowance meant his mortgage provider would no longer lend to him to fund the purchase of his new home, causing the sale to fall through in May.
Having already sold his house, Mr Meredith and his family moved into a bedroom in his father’s home while seeking accommodation in the private rented sector.
After having viewed 20 homes over a two-month period, Mr Meredith said he has been unable to find a property to rent – suspecting landlords were reluctant to let to him because he has two young children.
Meanwhile, his father faced taking a hit to his benefits because of the change in his household circumstances caused by Mr Meredith living with him, with his landlord also demanding more rent now that the family is in the property.
Mr Meredith said this means his family would have had to move out by September with nowhere to go.
As a result, he contacted RBH, which is contracted by the council to handle homelessness services.
He was seeking a referral to The Bond Board, a local charity which helps struggling families secure private tenancies.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 places a duty on housing authorities to work with people who are threatened with homelessness within 56 days to help prevent them from becoming homeless.
Mr Meredith told Inside Housing: “I spoke to RBH [on Thursday] and it was a short conversation. I explained my situation and that I will be homeless by September.
“The person I spoke to was very unwilling to help and quite patronising.
“They said that I’m not homeless right now, that there is a housing crisis on, that we would have to renegotiate with the landlord, and would have to go and join the housing register and call back in August.
“I was saying by August it would be too late and that my dad would be really struggling.
“They didn’t know who I was. I could have flashed my council card but I never thought I would be in this situation and I wanted to experience what a resident would go through.
“That phone call was really upsetting and it made me on the verge of crying because of the way they spoke to me. I did not think it was a good service at all.”
Having since contacted officers at the council, Mr Meredith has now been referred to The Bond Board, which has offered him a short-term let while his family finds longer-term accommodation.
He added: “The system needs to change. We have agreed to have a meeting with council officers and RBH to talk about what other services we can offer to people during that phone call, so that going forward we can have a more holistic approach.”
RBH is the country’s largest social housing mutual with around 13,000 homes, having been formed through a stock transfer from the council in 2012.
In a statement, RBH said: “RBH’s homelessness team is made up of selfless, dedicated and hard-working individuals who every day work with and support families and individuals who have found themselves in the most difficult and challenging circumstances.
“They have done an extraordinary job throughout the pandemic. They work under huge pressure with residents who often have nothing and nobody else to help them.
“The team operate within a very clear framework provided by homelessness legislation, RBH’s homelessness contract with Rochdale Borough Council, the council’s allocations policy, and associated agreed procedures.
“Team members make sure that within this framework those who need help the most, receive it soonest. All team members are trained to carry out sensitive and often difficult conversations, which involve taking full details of a household’s situation and then offering advice based on the details given.
“We are aware of Councillor Meredith’s personal circumstances and the timescales regarding his current housing and financial situation, and that is why he was advised that we would carry out a full housing assessment in August.
“While we sympathise with his situation, the team need to prioritise other families whose needs are much more pressing.
“In view of his wider comments, we have invited him to meet the team to find out more about how they work and the pressures that the service is under and that the team deal with every day.”
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