How to be a good lockdown neighbour

With everyone spending more time in their homes because of lockdown, the work of staff at housing associations is even more important in helping make sure everyone carries on being a good neighbour

UNISON member Lynn Gillespie works for a housing association in Coventry as a Safer Neighbourhoods Officer. Her job involves responding to tenant complaints about anti-social behaviour and she organises injunctions and possessions.

Lynn is on the frontline of housing, and the job isn’t always easy.

“Anti-social behaviour is behaviour that affects a community, like drug dealing, noise nuisance, or racial harassment,” says Lynn. “We have various means of tackling it, and some of those tools include legal procedures.”

Lynn responds to tenants’ complaints about their neighbours. Her role has become suddenly even more important at a time when people are spending prolonged periods of time in their homes and can’t do anything to escape neighbours who behave antisocially.

But when the government announced a suspension of evictions and possessions, Lynn was worried she wouldn’t be able to do her job.

“At first we were told that evictions would still happen,” she says. “Then Boris announced the legislation that all evictions were cancelled, including rental and anti-social behaviour evictions.”

Against all odds, Lynn’s team became one of the first housing associations in the country to obtain injunctions under lockdown.

“We had a couple of serious cases where two tenants were letting drug dealers and working girls into the blocks – putting social distancing and other residents at risk.

“The people who were being allowed in were causing terrible issues, like taking drugs in the stairs. Thankfully, myself and my colleague Ian were still able to get two emergency injunctions with the help of our solicitors at Anthony Collins.”

An injunction is a legal warning that restricts someone’s behaviour. If they breach the injunction, they risk being arrested. Within a short space of time, Lynn discovered that courts had adapted to COVID-19 and injunctions can now be issued by email and heard via phone.

“I want other housing associations around the country to understand that it is possible. Don’t give up. There is a way around things and you can still access emergency injunctions.”

Lynn attributes her positivity at work to the support her employer, Citizen, has given her. Her team were able to move swiftly into different ways of working under lockdown. At a time when so many employers are failing workers, Lynn feels grateful for how Citizen have managed COVID-19.

“As soon as the lockdown happened, our head of HR produced a coronavirus policy change document. She went through all the policies and procedures that we had and picked out the bits that needed to be altered and put them all in one document.

“For example, our sickness policy now clearly states that if you’ve got COVID-19, it doesn’t count towards your sickness absence.

“Even though 50 workers have been furloughed, the organisation is paying them 100% of their wages, and all cleaners and maintenance workers have been given full PPE.”

At a time where lockdown is introducing disruption, barriers and risk for many local government workers, Lynn’s experience is refreshing.