Housing issues.


More need advice on housing

Legal & General Network has agreed to continue funding Shelter’s West Sussex Advisory Service in Crawley, for a further three years.

This is a walk in and outreach service, giving housing advice to tenants and homeowners who are facing housing difficulties in and around the area between our Kingswood and Hove offices.

The demand for the service has increased over the last three years. 2012 saw record numbers of people approaching the service for advice – from people threatened with eviction from their rented property or from their own owned homes, through to people who simply can’t get the benefits or assistance they are entitled to from local authorities due to learning or mental health difficulties.

Stephen Smith, Director, Housing and External Affairs, Legal & General Network said,

On the visits we make to Crawley, we have been shocked to hear of people unable to get or keep a roof over their heads, due to no fault of their own. Every day there are people sleeping rough, sharing with friends or relatives in overcrowded homes, or at risk of losing their homes through bureaucracy and delays. Our support for Shelter here helps at least some of these problems get sorted out.”

SEEING HOUSING ISSUES FIRST HAND

Duncan Crocker, Managing Director, Legal & General Network talks about his enlightening and memorable day at a Shelter Centre:

Some days I remember more than others: do these things really happen in West Sussex?

Having laboured with burning lungs and exhausted legs up 940 steps of Tower 42 as part of our ‘Vertical Rush’ team I wanted to explore what Shelter does. Shelter is the adopted, and hugely deserving charity, which we support – and boy, oh boy, was the story below an eye opener!

I became aware of almost a parallel world in the leafy acres and tree-lined streets of West Sussex and Surrey. A world, unlike the one which most of us who work at Legal & General experience, where people don’t have safe, warm and secure homes to go to at the end of the day; where landlords and lenders are chasing people through the courts to repossess or evict them from their homes.

I visited the Shelter center. Accompanying me were Terry McCutcheon, the CEO of one of our largest Network firms, Finance Planning, and Stephen Smith our Director for Housing and External Affairs.

The Shelter West Sussex Service is in the Broadfield part of Crawley – only 20 minutes from Kingswood. But some things they’re dealing with are a world away.

We met Kim Holborn, the Service Manager, and two caseworkers, they told us about the sort of case they were dealing with daily. A man with learning difficulties found living in a park in Crawley, who’d been evicted by his landlord because he didn’t understand the letters he’d been receiving and didn’t know housing benefit would have been able to help him pay his rent.

Another man, this time that owned his home, he’d put his flat up for sale to meet his share of the repair bill the freeholder required to re-roof the block.

Shelter helped him to show he could spread the payment, and negotiated with the freeholder for him. He didn’t need to sell his home at all. We also heard many stories of landlords ignoring the need for repairs, bullying tenants, and of local authority housing departments who seem to look for all the reasons not to help.

The service employs seven advisers, providing both simple and complex advice, out of local council offices or Citizens Advice Bureaus or, perhaps most importantly, at the court desks in the County Courts where repossession and eviction hearings are held. Because of these desks, the service has ensured nobody needs to go into Court without representation or advice. Shelter can help sort out their case, tell them their options and basically prevent them from being steamrollered by the legal representatives of the landlord or lender. Shelter makes sure they’re not alone.

Now, we make our livings out of the housing market don’t we? It’s people buying or renting homes that buy our insurance products. We benefit. We have our jobs and homes. This visit convinced me that what we do to support Shelter is so connected with our business. Homes, housing, money, and what all these mean for peoples lives. It’s part of how we try to be a ‘force for good’ in society.

This was a memorable day, meeting some unsung heroes who deal with a mass of complex rules and regulations, which would tax the brains of a genius.

I went home to a beautiful house, a hot meal and a warm bed. But in West Sussex, many people still don’t. Our support is needed, and we should be proud to give it."

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