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Jl 12 May22 74

The story of Mobile Justlife: Working with people living in Manchester's Unsupported Temporary Accommodation

  • 4 min read |
  • Posted by David
  • On 09 December 2022

Our first visit to an Unsupported Temporary Accommodation (UTA) in Rochdale

It’s June 2022 and we are out on the road again visiting properties across Greater Manchester. This time we have opted to visit 3 properties in Rochdale, we don’t know what to expect. Colette (Justlife Specialist Support Worker and captain of the Justlife van) and I have just been reflecting on all the visits to the numerous other properties in the past 12 months during the 13 mile trip from the Justlife Centre.

We find the property from the address details provided by previous Justlife research, and knock on the door of the terraced house. Gerry, a resident, answers and is at first very wary of us, demanding to see our identification. The fresh logo on the van parked opposite and our naturally warm smile eventually convinces him that we are friendly people from a legitimate charity and he invites us in.

The accommodation is certainly better than others we have seen during our recent visits, but it’s by no means decent and after a while hearing Gerry’s story, it’s clear he is not happy living there. We stay for just under an hour as he shares stories about his life (most of which was spent in care), and his current situation and what he could do with. His landlord has recently asked for the room back and he also wants to be nearer his sister who lives elsewhere.

Why we visit UTA properties

You may be wondering (just like Gerry was) why we were there, and what exactly were we doing?

Justlife has been running a service supporting residents of unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA) across Manchester for 15 years and following on from a year long research project to identify other similar properties across Greater Manchester, we were keen to follow these up. We applied for funding from the Nationwide Foundation’s Fair Housing Future’s Test and Learn Grant in order to do that.

The properties in question are typically HMOs, housing vulnerable adults where licence agreements are used instead of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. When we started the project in 2020, we had a list of 48 properties that we believed fitted this description. Our in-person visits were part fact-finding, part engagement of landlords and residents, and conversations would usually be around how many residents occupied the property, what kind of support may be available. Whilst the pandemic restrictions were still in place we had phoned and written to landlords providing information about our support service and also asking them to complete a survey for the purpose of the Test and Learn Evaluation.

The picture that was emerging from the visits and phone conversations was a TA sector that was complex, varied and ever changing. This was a great learning experience for us as we came across hotels being used by different borough councils, exempt accommodation, and even a bed and breakfast run by a spritely 90 year old.

What we learned about supporting people in UTA

All these changes in temporary accommodation in Manchester coincided with changes we were making to the way we were delivering Justlife work in Manchester. Two of our core approaches are to “Inform” and “Innovate”, and by going out and reaching people in their own places and speaking to new landlords, we had the opportunity to live out these approaches.

As well as visits to new properties by Colette and I, the frontline team has been visiting some other properties on a regular basis to offer support (this includes anything from a warm drink, housing and benefits advice, signposting to wellbeing or ex-offender support groups or provision of digital devices to get online).

The last couple of years has been an exciting time for Justlife Manchester, and it's been great to see us go ‘mobile’ and give support to people on their doorstep (or in our nice warm van which has seating, wifi, charging points and studio lighting - whoosh).

Over that time, we connected with so many more people than would have been possible previously and learned about the most effective ways to provide support. But we were also interested in knowing what doesn’t work. The assessment of an intensive approach to support versus an ‘arms -length’ approach was the subject of the Test and Learn evaluation (funded by Fair Housing Futures, Nationwide Foundation). Arms-length work was defined as the provision of information, visits to properties and signposting whereas intense support was relational in nature and required multiple appointments and engagement from the client.

As expected, we saw the most impact where support was intensive although we have highlighted examples of effective arms-length support in the report, such as clients being able to locate local services such as food banks themselves. This funding has helped understand landlord attitudes and knowledge on things such housing rights, complaints and eviction processes. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s given us the impetus to go out there and see people in different parts of Manchester, who otherwise might never have engaged with us or any other service.

Insecure housing, poor conditions, isolation, ill health and poverty are certainly not new to the people we have met, and the pandemic has of course compounded these problems, but by going out and visiting people right where they are, we help someone achieve their first step in their journey of change and can make a real difference in time.

We'll continue to visit Unsupported Temporary Accommodation properties every week, taking our services to people's doorsteps across Greater Manchester.