Linking jobs, skills and housing in Norwich
Housing problems, lack of skills and unemployment often go hand-in-hand. But housing advisers in Norwich City Council can now offer support on all three issues.
Early in 2009, the dreams of Norwich resident Madjudjo Balde lay in tatters. The 30-year-old had been laid off from his job, becoming one of 4,000 people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA) in the city.
Finding another job during a recession is not easy. Things got worse as Balde was told that his rented room was earmarked for demolition. Without employment, he faced becoming homeless.
Linking training and employment
Balde visited Norwich City Council for housing advice and was referred to Barry Allard, Housing and Worklessness Project Officer. Norwich is one of 12 original trailblazers for the Enhanced Housing Options scheme, launched by Communities and Local Government in 2008.
The idea is that housing teams provide more than just housing advice. Trailblazer councils are developing support for vulnerable people by creating links to opportunities in training and employment.
The idea is to empower councils to offer a more joined-up service. Norwich's scheme is known as LEAP - the learning, employment and accommodation project. Allard explains:
"We are aiming to change the way that the housing strategy works here at Norwich. It's really important that we can offer different types of support as well as housing advice."
Help with accommodation
Every eligible person who approaches the housing team has an initial conversation about worklessness. If they are willing to do job training, they can be linked into secure accommodation through private sector leasing. A dedicated officer has been brought into the team to secure properties for the project.
Clients receive full housing benefit (HB) while in training, along with ongoing support and links to agencies. These include Citizens Advice - for back-to-work calculations - and Business in the Community.
In its first two months, LEAP saw more than 35 people. Six were placed into accommodation, one into a job and 10 into work placements. Those who complete a placement receive a certificate and reference. These can help them secure future employment.
Improving employment prospects
Madjudjo Balde was among the first to be helped by LEAP. When he approached the team they asked whether he would be willing to take on some training. He was only too happy to improve his employment prospects.
The team helped Balde to find accommodation and organised pre-employment training and work experience. He secured a new job in June, working in a book wholesaler's warehouse, and is also doing a computer course. "I cannot express what their help meant to me… I was very, very down," he says. "I'm a lot happier now."
"I think councils should not only look at someone's accommodation but their whole life situation and work issues. If we arrange accommodation but they haven't got the skills to keep it then we're not providing a long-term solution."
Norwich was awarded £350,000 to fund the scheme for three years. Teresa Taylor, who manages the Housing Advice team, is already looking at how LEAP can continue beyond that point. She says it has already gone "way beyond our expectations", and everyone has been surprised at how receptive clients are to the idea of training.
Councillor Brenda Arthur is Norwich's Executive Member for Housing and Adult Services. She says:
"We hope Madjudjo is just the first of many success stories. It is incredibly rewarding that we can help people who have, through no fault of their own, struggled to find a home and maintain their tenancy, by getting them into training and employment."
As lead member, Councillor Arthur says she sees her role in the process as:
"…one of championing the work, raising awareness of its success, and working with officers. We want to see how we can take the lessons learned and experience gained through the process forward and develop the model. This is so that more people can take advantage of what is being offered."
Teresa Taylor, Housing Advice Team Leader
Norwich City Council
Published July 2009.