Save Our Services blog: The environmental health officer’s tale

‘We have all the legal tools we need to do the job, but this is impossible without the appropriate staff’

For SOS Day on 6 December, we asked our members working in safety related roles, such as environmental health, trading standards, social services and many others, to tell us about the reality of working to keep their communities safe under years of austerity.

Here is the account of an environmental health officer.

As an environmental health officer, I’m responsible for…

…inspecting homes to make sure that standards are met and to improve the quality of homes.

I conduct criminal investigations to prosecute rogue landlords who rent unlicensed and dangerous shared accommodation.

Increasingly, we are dealing with issues relating to modern slavery and exploitation, particularly people cooped up illegally in overcrowded and usually dangerous houses or buildings.


My typical day…

…is always extremely busy. If I’m the officer on duty, I deal with customer complaints about housing conditions, illegal evictions or harassment.

Otherwise, I prepare for criminal prosecutions and for going on joint raids with other agencies, such as the police or trading standards.

I also inspect properties, serve enforcement notices and comment on housing planning applications to ensure that tiny and windowless bedrooms are not given planning permission.


The best part of my job…

…is when we make a house safe for someone to live in, and also getting a successful prosecution through the courts and naming and shaming an exploitative rogue landlord.


I am most proud of…

…successful prosecutions of rogue landlords, and empowering tenants with the knowledge that they have a right to complain.


Local spending cuts have…

…led to stress and feelings of failure because of lack of staff and resources. We have all the legal tools we need to do the job, but this is impossible without the appropriate staff.

There has been a large increase in requests and complaints into the service in recent years, as people have nowhere else to go with their concerns. All the services they relied on have had their funding withdrawn.

We have a “duty” to investigate every complaint, but cannot provide all the solutions.

This leads to a feeling of failure that we cannot do our jobs to the best of our abilities. This is incredibly stressful, especially when you are dealing with vulnerable tenants and rogue landlords.

You never get your workload to a manageable level.

The general public blame local government for the increasing pressures, when in fact it is the fault of central government cuts.

It is very disheartening and tiresome as a council officer, being blamed for all that is going wrong locally – our jobs do not appear to be viewed as valuable. Nobody seems to be asking us about housing issues nationally, even though we are working at the coal face.

I feel downtrodden and increasingly frustrated.

My job, which I loved, is now beginning to go from “I care about doing a great job” to “I care but I can’t do a good job because of the cuts”.


I would like to see…

…more resources from central government for professional staff, to enable us to do our jobs properly and professionally, without extreme stress, making more homes safe to live in.

With one step, the government could make our work easier by introducing a law that makes it obligatory to licence all housing landlords (like they do in Wales, where all landlords have to do a housing training course and must be registered).