Posted on 25 October 2023
We shadowed a Hyde Empty Homes and Lettings Advisor, to find out what happens when they hand over keys to new homes.
Michelle works in our Empty Homes and Lettings team (EHL) and has the wonderful job of handing customers the keys to their new homes.
It was an early start as Michelle was completing sign-up of four homes. Our EHL team ‘took handover’ of 17 flats and nine houses at Canterbury Riverside on 16 October, and customers were collecting their keys over three days that week.
The homes are ‘social housing rent’ and had been allocated to people on waiting lists – either via the local council housing register or Hyde residents moving via Jigsaw – our open waiting list platform.
Michelle has been with Hyde for 20 years and says: “I love my job. I can honestly say that no two days are the same. And I’m learning all the time, for example, if new housing laws come in, I need to learn about them. Some customers cry with joy when they see their new home for the first time – and that makes you feel so good.”
Michelle explained more about how the EHL process works:
“We advertise our properties through the local council or Jigsaw, or request a nomination from an external agency depending on the type of scheme and the nomination agreement.
"The EHL Officers work on the shortlist in priority order, and then it gets passed to the EHL Advisors. For these homes in Canterbury, people bid via the local council housing register or Jigsaw.”
The next stage is assessing the applicant for suitability, and criteria such as affordability. This includes an interview where the EHL Advisor speaks to the person who has been nominated.
“Conversations with prospective tenants are extremely important. Some applications can be straightforward – it could be due to overcrowding or end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Others are more complex – an applicant could be a domestic abuse survivor or have mental health issues.
"Going through the application is a good opportunity to determine the suitability of the property, although the information provided can be upsetting.”
Step by step to a new home
The new homes (social housing flats and houses) at Canterbury Riverside are packed full of green technology, staying cool in the height of summer and warm in the winter.
Each sign up follows a similar process – an application form is completed, approved and the home is offered depending on the applicant’s suitability and affordability.
“Doing this over the phone enables us to sign up more tenancies on newly-built developments on the same day. The first time the customer sees the property is at sign-up. People can refuse a property – we don’t want anybody to live where they don’t want to. These are newly-built homes, and there aren’t many refusals on new properties. So, fingers crossed they all get signed up today”.
The process for each sign-up involves:
- Each customer has an appointment with Michelle (around 30 minutes)
- First steps are showing new customers where the outside letter box, bin store and bike shed are
- Michelle takes our customers through where the meters are and how to take the readings
- Now for the exciting bit – walking into their new homes for the first time. Michelle takes the new resident on a tour of their new home, pointing out everything – even the water sprinklers and stopcocks
- Michelle lets our Income Officers know how the rent is going to be paid. As this is a newly built home, Michelle reminds the customers that they aren’t allowed to decorate or fix anything to the walls in the first year. Customers are also reminded that they can’t put down laminate or hardwood flooring due to this being ‘the biggest noise nuisance complaint’
- Then it’s the all important ‘handing over the keys’ and their tenancy begins
- Our Property Maintenance team then carry out a ‘gas turn on’ and test for each property – a big job when there is a high volume of new build homes.
It’s a real team effort – a colleague from our Income team was also there to welcome our new customers, along with a colleague from Hyde Foundation – both there to offer ongoing advice and support.
Our happy customers
Steven is ex army and has been rough sleeping. His main concern was whether he could put a gazebo up on his terrace. Michelle explained that building safety could be an issue, but pointed out that the balcony was under cover.
Rachel was living in a one-bedroom flat across the road from the new development. Her niece has started living with her, so she is now moving to a two-bedroom flat, which she bid for through the local council housing register (Kent Homechoice).
TJ a young customer, who was living in care. He was thrilled to be moving into his new home. He said all he had to move in with was a duvet and pillows, and couldn’t wait to furnish his new home. He will get help from social services with furnishing his flat.
David was the only Hyde resident to pick up keys that day (all the other residents are local to Canterbury). He bid through Jigsaw. He is 80 years old and had a heart bypass operation a few years ago. David wanted to move from his third floor flat in Lewisham, to a ground floor flat – and had come to Canterbury that morning on the coach. He said: “I’ve lived in London for 65 years, it’s time for a change. I love Hyde, and have even taken part in resident involvement activities. It’s so good to know that I’ve got an assured tenancy for life.”
Our colleague from our Income team offered some valuable advice around Housing Benefit. David was thinking of taking a job to pay the extra rent, but we assured him that the extra rent would be covered by Housing Benefit.
Once the customers are signed up and the keys handed over, Michelle sends out the tenancy documentation to the resident and also fills in a ‘government log’. The EHL Team Leader then creates the tenancy agreement.
Thanks to Michelle and all the teams, who play a vital role in helping our customers move into their wonderful new homes.
*Our customers’ names have been changed.