This email which was sent to one of my clients recently by one of London's largest housing associations is a good example of the "pick up your bed and walk" approach staff at public bodies often take towards mental health problems.
In case you didn't know, the phrase "pick up your bed and walk" comes from the Bible story about one of Jesus' miracles where he healed a sick man just by telling him to pick up his sick bed and walk. The Bible reports (John 5:19 to be precise) that the man was immediately able to get up and walk. Problem solved. This approach is all very well if you can perform miracles but for the rest of us it won't work and really amounts to going through the motions or paying lip service to resolving the person's problem. It is likely to alienate you from the person you are trying to help. They are likely to be aware that if the problem was so simple that it could be solved that easily they would not have needed your help in the first place.
My client in this case suffers from a number of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. These conditions tend to lead people to become withdrawn and afraid to deal with strangers especially where (as in this case) they may have already received what they consider to be threatening calls, emails or letters from their landlords about their rent arrears and how these might lead to eviction. As such there is a very strong likelihood that someone suffering from these conditions will not call back at all or within the 5 working day deadline provided.
This was in fact the sixth time that such a message had been sent to the client. The housing association's solicitor had informed me (without any apparent sense of irony) that referrals to support had been sent in August 2018, March 2021, June 2021 and February 2022 but that the client had failed to engage. In the meantime the housing association had issued possession proceedings due to the rent arrears. The client is defending the claim and counterclaiming for damages for disability discrimination.
I appreciate that it is difficult for social landlords with limited resources to engage with and provide support for clients who appear to be ignoring their approaches and offers of help. However, I think that more can definitely be done than sending emails such as this one. For instance the email itself could give more information about the reason for its being sent and about the support which might be available. It might state that the sender is aware that people may have health or other problems which make it difficult for them to manage their tenancies and pay the rent and say what the landlord can do to help them. A link to a website with more detailed information could be provided. This might be followed up with another call and/or text message and even a home visit. I also think that all staff dealing with the rent arrears issue should be thinking in terms of tenancy sustainment rather than treating it as the responsibility of a particular person or team while they take steps to evict the tenant.
It seems clear to me that we are still at the very early stages of the evolution of mental health awareness in the provision of both public and private sector services and that this email is an example of that. I think that the next step in the evolution is for service providers to ensure that all staff are considering what the causes problems faced by users who not engaging might be and how to provide genuine support in resolving them. Until this is happens social landlords taking possession proceedings against tenants with rent arrears are likely be at risk of behaving like bullies and to be found to be unlawfully discriminating against their tenants for the purposes of Equality Act 2010.