A day in the life of a housing officer
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Written by: Linda Jones
Housing officer roles are the most widely known entry level career in the housing sector. ethicalcareers.org talk to people working as housing officers to find out more about what they do, how they got into the job and where their careers are going.
Just five years ago, 34-year-old Giles Conlon was earning a hefty salary managing three estate agent offices for a big UK firm in the north of England. Bombarded by targets, he was unhappy in his career and wanted to find a more fulfilling job, even if it meant taking an entry level position in a different sector and a cut in salary.
Now Giles works as a housing officer, a role which pays, on average, £20,000 a year. He manages 450 rented properties for Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust in York, which employs 491 staff and specialises in providing retirement care homes.
Conlon says he's finally found a job he loves.
I saw the move as a step forward because I was able to take up the opportunity to do a professional housing studies degree at Sheffield Hallam University, he says.
Working in social housing is very different from the private sector. There, the sole concentration is money. Here, its people. That's a big difference and I prefer it.
It's not a glamorous job
Many people, like Conlon, become housing officers because they're looking for more fulfilling work and the role is a great route into the sector.
Different housing organisations have different titles to summarise the duties of the role. But whether they are called neighbourhood or tenancy service officers, generally, housing officers manage a certain number of properties within a geographical area. They gain experience in a range of issues including housing management, dealing with rent arrears and tackling anti-social behaviour.
It's not really a glamorous job, says Royston Betts, recruitment manager at People Unlimited. But it's a good starting point for a career in housing because it will develop key skills like negotiation, prioritisation and communication. It offers an insight into housing legislation and provides the foundation you need to build a career in the sector.
These days, housing associations have more housing officer roles than local authorities. The Hyde Group, for example, which manages 36,000 homes, employs 60 housing officers while the Brent Partnership ALMO, which manages 10,000 homes, has a housing officer staff of 15. There's also housing officer opportunities in charities like Shelter and voluntary organisations.
Entry requirements for housing officer jobs are flexible. Housing organisations will often employ assistant housing officers who have no previous experience of working in housing or no relevant academic qualification. Others will employ housing officers who, like Conlon, have gained relevant transferable skills in the private sector.
However, many housing organisation will look to fill housing officer roles with people who have a relevant Charted Institute of Housing (CIH) qualification, a BTEC, Higher National Certificate (HNC), HND, or a degree.
Emma Sartorius, 30, is a senior tenancy services officer at London & Quadrant Group, which manages 43,000 homes, employs 800 staff and specialises in supported housing. She says you don't really need relevant qualifications to be a housing officer but doing a basic level HNC would help.
Sartorius began working for London & Quadrant in an administrative post in 2002 and worked her way up through the organisation. She says the best thing about being a housing officer is that every day is different.
I have my usual cases which I deal with day-to-day but if that phone rings, I don't know if I'm going to be dealing with a tenant complaint about racial harassment or a nuisance neighbour, she says.
A typical week
Most weeks, Sartorius will spend three days working in the office and two days out on the Epping estates she manages. She works from 9am to 5pm and rarely has to do overtime, although attending tenant meetings in the evenings now and again is a job requirement. Mostly, she deals with anti-social behaviour - everything from neighbourhood disputes to dumped rubbish and abandoned vehicles.
When she's working in the office, Sartorius investigates these complaints, talking to witnesses on the phone to get an overall idea of what has happened. Out of the office, she may offer mediation to resolve situations. Sartorius also has to liaise with the police or social services or sometimes, environmental health. Another part of her job is to explain tenancy agreements and ensure empty properties are suitable for re-letting.
I also check estates once a month to make sure gardens are kept tidy and everywhere is clean and neat, says Emma. You've got to have good communication skills and be assertive to get things done in this job.
Different housing association, different job
Patrick Dwanka works as a housing officer with the Guinness Trust, which manages 31,000 homes in the south of England and the Midlands and employs 1,000 people. He says 80% of his contact with tenants is on the phone. He deals with rent arrears and often has to prepare cases for court if a tenant has received an eviction order. Every Tuesday though, Patrick is out of the office and has an open surgery at the largest estate he manages in Islington.
I'm there from 10am until 4pm and tenants can come and see me about anything they want, says Dwanka, 40. Often it's an anti-social behaviour issue or they may want to move or report a repair. You get a lot of job satisfaction when you help someone by going that extra mile.
Working with vulnerable people
Similarly, housing officer positions in supported housing are very rewarding. Supported housing offers vulnerable people including the elderly, those with mental health problems and the homeless, with on-site support in the estate where they live or with floating advice and assistance when they need it.
Many organisations specialising in this housing field employ staff who have done some volunteering in a related field. Bushra Hussain has worked as a housing case worker at Shelter's Manchester Housing Aid Centre since March 2004. Before she got her current job, she volunteered for two days a week at Shelter for a few months and at the Citizens Advice Bureau for two years. Volunteering is a good chance to get an idea of the level of commitment involved, says Hussain, 43.
Graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in law in 2000, Hussain has been homeless herself and wanted to use her experience to help others.
When people tell me they've had to leave their home because they were in arrears of, say £300, I can really empathise with them because I know myself that that level of poverty can cause homelessness, she says.
Hussain's job is to try and keep people in accommodation, if possible, and if they are homeless, to help them back into housing. She works 28 hours a week on flexi-time. The first task of her day is to go through the post to check responses about housing benefit enquires and she provides telephone, email and face-to-face advice for people with housing problems.
At least once a week, I'll work on a case where someone has been threatened with imminent eviction and I'll have to go to court to speak up for them, says Hussain. It's harrowing when you are about to lose your home so people can be crying and need a lot of support.
You need to be able to communicate with people on all levels because you may be dealing with a client who has learning difficulties one day and be in front of a judge in court the next. You have to be adaptable.
With a couple of years' experience of developing these key skills in a housing officer role there are plenty of opportunities for promotion and development. The clear promotion path is from housing officer to senior officer level and on to management, then assistant and director posts.
Former estate agent Conlon will graduate with a degree in housing studies in November. He's hoping to become a senior housing officer or move into supported housing.
Sartorius is also ambitious. She's just started a training management course at Oxford Brookes University. It's funded by her housing association which is commonplace; many offer to pay for part-time CIH accredited courses. Sartorius says she'd like to be a team leader and then a housing manager in the next few years
Dwanka and Hussain are, for the moment, happy in their current roles. Patrick says his job is always changing because housing management is an evolving sector. And Hussain is extremely passionate about the work she does.
I know how homelessness can ruin lives so when my work gets a good result and I help someone stay in their home, I can actually see them changing in themselves, she says. They seem more in control of their life and that gives me a great sense of job satisfaction.
Top tips on how to get a housing officer job
- Do some background research and see what areas of housing you're interested in. Then approach housing organisations whose staff will be more than willing to give you help and advice.
- Apply for as many jobs as you can that interest you - housing is such a big field, there's a lots of different housing officer roles out there, many with different titles.
- If you have no qualifications, no relevant experience and no voluntary work behind you, start at the bottom of a housing organisation, perhaps in an admin role, and work your way up - be confident that you can do it.
- Go to Charted Institute of Housing events and talk to housing professionals to ask them what they do and how they got into their roles.
- Get lots of relevant voluntary work experience.
- Carry out regular inspections of housing estates, meet tenants and organise maintenance work where needed.
- Work to ensure rent arrears are kept to a minimum by chasing tenants for payment and putting in measures for when they don't.
- Inspect empty properties and interview for new tenants to occupy them.
- Respond to resident enquires which can include everything from a complaint about a neighbour to a request to move homes
- If a tenant is behind with their rent and they are taken to court by to be evicted, a housing officer prepares cases to represent their organisation in court.
- Respond and deal with reports of squatters and unauthorised occupiers.
- Attend tenants groups and provide support where required.
- Offer general housing advice and assistance with housing benefit.
- Log repairs queries and liaise with maintenance contractors.