A day in the life of... a housing officer

We continue our series of articles where we speak to various members of staff from across the organisation about their role and what their typical day (or week) is like.

Ben Williams is a housing officer for our North Region.

When and why did you join NHG?
I started in January 2020 after a short break doing some volunteering at another housing association and charity. My role there was more office-based and I wanted to work with people in a more social aspect. I still wanted to work in social housing, especially with the housing crisis at the moment, so this was a key driver in working here.

What is your role?
I’m a housing officer in the borough of Camden. Most of my ‘patch’ is in West Hampstead, with some properties in Finchley Road, Belsize Park and Kilburn. I currently manage about 187 homes.

What can a typical day look like?
It’s hard to know exactly how each day will pan-out but it’s split between community work (which incorporates housing maintenance and repairs) and visiting residents at their properties to discuss financial and social issues. Taking time to deal with any paperwork and also dealing with any transfers that are going on is more office-based. I have a quite a few older properties on my ‘patch’ so there are issues associated with that which involve being in touch with the assets team and contractors. Keeping residents informed as to the progress of, say, upgrades to kitchens or bathrooms is part of my week.

How has the current lockdown or COVID-19 conditions changed your job?
It has been a lot harder to go out and visit residents during the (last three) major lockdowns we’ve had. A visit can help diagnose what the issue is quicker than a phone call or email. Also going to someone’s home and listening shows a commitment and opens up a line of trust. Because I’m relatively new, I have volunteered to meet quite a few of my residents over the last year and a half, as it helps to build up trust when you can put a name to a face. For example, a vulnerable resident didn’t know how to use Locata for a housing transfer so I was able to help her with this.

What do you find the most rewarding?
I enjoy meeting people and although you can’t be everyone’s best friend, showing you are enthusiastic and willing to listen means you can start to better manage problems, especially ones that have existed for some time. I also find that being honest about what I can do helps to manage expectations.

What are the frustrations?
Obviously, I would like to only give residents good news and work towards a joint success ,but unfortunately in my role you can’t always deliver what residents want because this is not always feasible. Those conversations can be challenging and I have to prepare myself in advance. For example, explaining the consequences of long-term rent arrears can be a difficult part of my job.

Is there a situation with a resident that stayed with you?
Just before Christmas last year there was an incident in a block I manage where all 23 residents had to be moved out of the property. It was a major incident and just two weeks before Christmas, so it was incredibly difficult to manage especially at a time when everyone wanted to be with their families. Thankfully, by working incredibly hard, living and breathing work, we managed with our contractors to get all the essential work done and make the property safe for all the residents to move back in for Christmas. It was a huge relief.

What do you do in your spare time?
I have a good work/life balance and I’m a big sports fan. I love football and cricket, especially Swansea City and I try to see them as much as possible (pandemic permitting). I’m also a big fan of comedy and the open mic scene - I love to join in and get behind the mic on an amateur and friendly level. With venues slowly opening up now, I’ll try and visit once or twice a week hopefully. Plus meeting with family and friends and going out to have nice meals.

One thing you would like residents to know about where your work?
That majority of staff care about the residents they work with and really do want to help them. It may not always appear that way and as a resident of another housing association myself I can see where some issues arise. For example, items left in hallways and communal areas. These can be dangerous and it’s for residents’ safety that they can’t stay there.

Funniest thing a resident has said to you?
I went to visit someone for the first time and he said to me “Oh it’s Big Ben. I thought you’d be much bigger” which I found amusing. I’m 6’2” / 6’3” and skinny so I assume she thought I’d be broader.