Council and unions appeal for end to abuse and aggression towards hard working housing staff
17 November 2023
Neath Port Talbot Council's housing staff who work tirelessly to find accommodation solutions in the midst of a worsening homelessness situation are facing a worrying surge in aggression and abuse.
While their commitment to the community remains strong, their sensitive and difficult work is being made even harder by a rise in unacceptable threats and intimidation directed towards them both face to face and online.
Incidents have included:
- Physical assaults and threats of violence plus ‘asking where a staff member lives’ in order to find them.
- A client following and harassing a staff member
- Regular verbal aggression both on phone calls and face to face
- A staff member being threatened with ‘having their legs broken if they visited again’
- Negative posts on social media – with insults aimed at staff including ‘useless’, ‘uncaring’, ‘brain dead’, ‘not doing their jobs’.
- Threats of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Both Neath Port Talbot Council and trade unions are now appealing to those who have been involved in aggression and abuse to stop as their actions are seriously undermining the morale of dedicated housing staff.
Chele Howard, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Head of Housing and Communities, said: “The current homelessness situation is due to a number of reasons including a chronic lack of affordable accommodation, which has placed immense pressure on local authorities to meet the growing demand for housing solutions.
“The council's housing professionals have found themselves at the front line of this situation and work diligently to ensure people and families in need find safe and suitable accommodation. However, their vital work has been marred by an alarming increase in incidents of aggression and abuse.
“They should not have to endure threats, abuse, and hostility while performing their duties. It is imperative that we all recognise and appreciate the crucial role they play in supporting people that are at risk or become homeless.
"Of course we understand that emotions run high during these challenging times, but we respectfully ask community members to engage in constructive dialogue and appreciate the tireless efforts of our housing staff. They are doing their best to provide housing solutions to those in need."
Mark Fisher, Chair of Neath Port Talbot Council’s Trade Unions and the council’s branch secretary, said: “UNISON fully supports NPTCBC employees’ non tolerance of any forms of abuse or assaults and will support our members with all legal avenues to prosecute “.
Arlene Chaves, Neath Port Talbot Council’s GMB Branch Secretary, added: “GMB will not tolerate their members being verbally or physically abused if this happens, we will be seeking legal advice for our members.”
Some staff have actually left their jobs because of the rising levels of abuse they face making it more difficult for their remaining colleagues to help those in housing need.
Statistics show the vast scale of the homelessness situation with Neath Port Talbot seeing a 341% rise in people in temporary accommodation after Covid (203 in March 31st, 2023) as opposed to before (46 in March 31st, 2019).
There has also been a near 19% rise in homelessness presentations before and after Covid (2,229 in 2019/20 – 2,650 in 2022/23) and a 190% increase in households accessing temporary accommodation and support (267 in 2018/19 compared to 776 in 2022/23).
Despite the pressure, staff have been successful in helping 140 households in housing need to move into their own accommodation so far this financial year and an average of 57% of households seeking help have been successfully prevented from becoming homeless.
A member of the council’s housing staff said: “Very often the abuse and threats and other acts of aggression are down to us not meeting expectations of individuals rather than not meeting our statutory duties. It’s having a devastating effect on morale.”