Housing Needs Officer

You cannot just ask the council for a home and be given one automatically.  All local authorities except for county councils have officer posts that have been created to manage all the housing property the authority owns.  Most authorities still provide the majority of rental houses and flats, despite a growing trend for the responsibility for new housing being taken over by housing associations and private companies.  They also manage sheltered housing and hostels.  But housing is not a straightforward issue and there are many different elements to the service, one of which involves housing needs officers who investigate and assess applications for housing and accommodation and provide care and support.

Work Environment
This is usually the office but also involves visits to tenants, inspecting properties and attending meetings. At times the physical and mental condition of clients with special needs can be distressing and there is always the outside possibility of aggression from aggrieved applicants.  Thirty seven hours is the standard working week and this can involve anti-social shifts.

Daily Activities
Duties include visiting customers at their homes, assessing their urgency to move - because of financial difficulties perhaps - and matching their situation to vacancies in council and housing association owned property.  Assessing local housing requirements and the needs of special groups such as the elderly, disabled, women at risk, the homeless, ethnic minority groups is wide ranging work.  Often, housing needs officers specialise in one or more of these areas.  For example a specialist re-housing officer will process applications for sheltered housing and wheelchair-adapted housing and provide advice to older and disabled clients.  But, in general, the officer will spend time checking the eligibility of all persons seeking accommodation through the housing needs register, assist applicants and offer specific care and support to the homeless: enabling the council to maximize the housing options available to everybody.  This will mean working with other housing providers and colleagues such as those who specialise in emergency measures.  Identifying suitable properties in terms of the individual's needs is also important.  For example, are the properties furnished adequately and appropriately?  Are they in good repair, clean, safe and secure?  The housing needs officer is the key worker ensuring that the client's needs are accurately assessed and satisfied.  Other responsibilities entail:

  • making sure that the necessary benefit claims are made and the customer;
  • helping with the monitoring of subsequent events, including rent payments, and offering advice to colleagues when any remedial action becomes necessary;
  • visiting customers in order to provide practical support and counselling;
  • maintaining records;
  • assisting with any future moves into alternative accommodation where appropriate;
  • liaising with the Department of Social Services, health authorities and trusts and support agencies such as community groups, welfare benefits, social care and counselling services;
  • to ensure adequate advice and information is available from other agencies, to signpost these services to the client when appropriate and to refer the client to agencies and to work with these agencies to ensure the best support is provide to each client;
  • to make appropriate referrals to the Council's Homelessness Service where all other housing options and homelessness prevention initiatives have been explored.

Skills & Interests
It is essential to be able to:

  • communicate verbally and in writing with customers, colleagues and external agencies and this may require a working command of minority languages such as Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi or Urdu;
  • create effective liaison with a variety of agencies;
  • provide practical and personal support to people with housing needs;
  • work in a team;
  • solve problems in a constructive manner;
  • use individual initiative;
  • write clear, concise reports;
  • exercise counselling skills in individual interviews;
  • commit to a respectful and caring attitude to vulnerable members of society: a non-judgmental approach;
  • be flexible, resilient and adaptable.

These are minimum requirements and applicants lacking these attributes will usually not be considered for the post.  Having the following desirable qualities will add weight to any application:

  • ability to organise and prepare accommodation for letting;
  • working knowledge of financial regulations;
  • knowledge of voluntary agencies operating in the area working with people of special needs;
  • knowledge of services provided by other local authority departments;
  • knowledge of welfare and benefits systems;
  • understanding of basic systems such as record keeping, stock control and rent collection;
  • previous experience of working in housing;
  • knowledge of health and safety issues, financial and complaints procedures and the government's current proposals for housing.

Entry Requirements
Because confidentiality is essential, experience of working with homeless people, benefits claimants and members of the public or in social work/advice/residential care/community work/counselling/recruitment and selection is highly valued.  Specific knowledge of relevant housing and homelessness legislation is desirable.  Entry is by a number of routes and many housing officers start as trainees or assistants and work for professional qualifications part-time.  Many entrants have a degree (in housing, business studies, estate management, public administration, social sciences or the law), A-Levels/Higher Grades or the equivalent. Many authorities accept mature applicants with experience rather than qualifications, for example by working with Shelter or women's refuges.  Most authorities expect housing officers to acquire the Diploma of the Chartered Institute of Housing via a 2 year part-time course.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
There is a clear promotion path, from housing officer to senior and principal officer level and up to assistant and director posts.  It may be necessary to move to another authority to advance your career.  There are also opportunities to work in Housing Associations, or move across to other housing specialisms both within and outside the public sector.

Further Information & Services
Association of Retirement Housing Managers www.arhm.org
Chartered Institute of Housing www.cih.org
Homes & Communities Agency www.homesandcommunities.co.uk
Inside Housing www.insidehousing.co.uk

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales (www.careerswales.com/) or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

Related Links