Safeguarding customers through the cost-of-living crisis

Recent research by affordable housing provider Orbit revealed that the cost-of-living crisis has left more than 60% of its customers in ‘relative poverty’* with 27% saying it’s impacted their physical health and 50% saying it’s impacted their mental health.

Guy Woodford, Senior Safeguarding Officer

And with such a strong link between physical and mental health and safeguarding, it’s concerning but unfortunately not surprising that Orbit’s dedicated Safeguarding Team has also seen an increase of over 25% in referrals so far this year.

As part of National Safeguarding Adults Week 2023, Guy Woodford, Senior Safeguarding Officer for Orbit explains how the affordable housing provider has challenged the typical definition of safeguarding and incorporated it as part of its holistic approach to ensure that customers get the right help to support their wellbeing.

“Whilst the increase in number of safeguarding referrals is a worrying outcome of the continuing impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the complex issues our customers face, it’s also a reflection of the fact that safeguarding is woven into our customer centred approach at Orbit, with colleagues taking a proactive attitude to raising any safeguarding concerns,” says Guy.

“We are proud to be one of a few housing associations to be accredited as Leaders in Safeguarding, which to us, is much more than just a badge but affirms we are delivering a robust and resilient approach to keeping our customers safe.

“As a leading provider of affordable housing, we know the significant role safeguarding has in creating a better society, and recognise the important responsibility we have in this area, both to our customers and to our colleagues. By making sure everyone feels secure, valued, and heard, we can not only make a difference to individuals, but we can help provide the positive experiences creating an improved customer journey, safer communities and sustained tenancies. 

“The Safeguarding Team is part of the Tenancy Sustainment Team within Orbit, meaning that we are very much seen as an integral part of helping customers to maintain their tenancies and live safe, independent, fulfilled lives. We focus on providing quick and reactive contact with a customer to identify risk, manage our obligation as a landlord, and deliver experience led advice. We help customers who may be having suicidal thoughts, experiencing domestic abuse, severe declines in mental health, self-neglect and other safeguarding risk areas. We can refer customers into the Tenancy Sustainment Team for bespoke support to maintain their tenancies or into Orbit’s Better Days programme, which offers free guidance on a range of issues such as mental health, managing finances, employability and skills.

“We’ve challenged the typical definition of safeguarding – seeing it as an opportunity to proactively engage with customers and offer early interventions for better outcomes, not a passive or reactive approach that only kicks in when issues become significant or meet an agreed definition of what constitutes a safeguarding issue.

“Throughout the organisation, our message to colleagues has been simple: if in your work you can answer ‘yes’ to the question: “Am I worried about this person’s safety and wellbeing?” then you need to raise a concern so that action can be taken. This will usually involve the Safeguarding Team sensitively contacting the customer to provide a check-in, signposting and guidance.

“We have an Organisational Safeguarding Forum (OSF) made up of Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) who are colleagues from across the business, able to provide advice and signposting to their individual service areas. All new Orbit starters have mandatory safeguarding training, and our DSLs are helping to roll out additional bespoke training Orbit wide.

“I’m proud to be part of an organisation that understands Safeguarding is not just a responsibility but an opportunity to make a real difference. Together we can save and improve lives and deliver customer service we can be proud of.”

*Savanta “Cost of Living Poll –BBC –16 January 2023” –January 2023