Being a front line housing worker has never been so risky, according to an exclusive investigation carried out by Inside Housing. Lydia Stockdale examines why verbal and physical assaults are rising.
‘There is an air of tension,’ begins one housing and homelessness manager, describing their increasingly hostile working environment.‘We’re seeing more people at crisis point and under extreme stress,’ they continue. ‘We have to give extremely bad news to people already at the end of their tether.’
As the government’s welfare reforms begin to kick in, housing professionals are reporting that their relationships with some tenants are growing increasingly hostile. Inside Housing ran an anonymous online survey asking housing officers and managers to give accounts of the assaults they have experienced while doing their jobs over the past 12 months. During that time – between May 2012 and May 2013 – the bedroom tax has come into force. Council tax benefit has been abolished and the total benefits cap was introduced in four local authority areas.
More than 110 individuals responded to our survey. Many of whom reported that they had, in the words of one anti-social behaviour manager from the south west, been on the receiving end of ‘increased anger and resentment’. More than three quarters of respondents have been verbally assaulted during the past year. Fourteen per cent have been threatened in writing and 7 per cent have been punched, kicked or pushed.
‘On a weekly basis, I am shouted and sworn at,’ says one housing officer. Another housing officer was ‘shoved by a gentleman, and kicked by another tenant’. Finally, a supported housing worker recalls how on one occasion, they were ‘punched five or six times’.
In serious danger
Other incidents have been potentially fatal. A housing officer working in the east of England explains how they were ‘shot at with an air-gun’. They also had a bowling ball thrown at them ‘off a high-rise block of flats’. These are just a few excerpts from the many personal accounts of incidents that have occurred over the past year. Further research carried out by Inside Housing reveals how much abuse staff deal with on a daily basis.
Over the past two months we have conducted an extensive investigation via freedom of information requests to local authorities and emailed questionnaires to housing associations across the UK.
Feedback from more than 220 councils, arm’s-length management organisations and housing associations in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, shows that between 1 January 2012 and March 2013, 4,876 assaults were reported – that is an average of 11 per day.
On average, at least one of these daily incidents was a physical attack. Front line workers have endured 630 physical assaults since the beginning of last year.
This research builds on the work Inside Housing did this time last year, when it asked organisations to provide details of incidents that had occurred between January 2009 and March 2012. It showed that the number of incidents of verbal assault rose by 13 per cent between 2010 and 2011. The number of reported physical attacks rose by 35 per cent.
Now we can reveal that this worrying trend is continuing. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of verbal assaults jumped by a further 12 per cent. Physical assaults have risen by another 2 per cent. When taking into account only the 189 organisations that responded to FOI requests and questionnaires both this year and last year, the number of verbal assaults have jumped from 2,307 in 2011 to 2,593 in 2012. The number of physical assaults has increased from 417 to 427 per year.