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Safe as houses: concerns about personal safety in the housing sector

Posted on 2016-12-02

Written by Suzy Lamplugh Trust

In 1986, Suzy Lamplugh, a young estate agent, disappeared while showing a client around a house in Fulham. No trace of her has ever been found. Suzy Lamplugh Trust was founded by Diana and Paul Lamplugh following Suzy’s disappearance and, since then, the Trust has pioneered personal safety as a life skill and a public policy priority.

National Personal Safety Day, run by the charity, is an annual event aimed at highlighting some of the simple, practical solutions that everyone can use to help minimise personal safety risks. It’s about helping people live safer, more confident lives.

To mark the 30th anniversary of Suzy’s disappearance Suzy Lamplugh Trust has carried out research into personal safety issues within the housing sector and is proposing that estate agencies sign up to ‘Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety’ to ensure that their employees are as ‘Safe as Houses’ while at work.

According to the English Housing Survey 2014-151, there are 22.5 million households in England. Almost everyone will visit a prospective property at some point in their lifetime.

Suzy Lamplugh Trust is concerned that everyone who is planning to rent or buy a property, or is working in the housing sector, should feel as ‘Safe as Houses’ if they have to visit a property.

Worryingly, Suzy Lamplugh Trust has found that both employers and consumers remain at risk when buying, selling and managing houses. Research carried out by ComRes in September 2016 on behalf of the charity surveyed 250 estate agents to assess the extent to which employees in this sector feel at risk while at work.

One in five said they had conducted a property viewing where they felt unsafe and for female estate agents this was nearly a third. A further 7% stated that they had been threatened.

Issues of safety concerns included verbal abuse by a client and properties being located in a remote location. Almost half of all estate agents have been made to feel uncomfortable or uneasy by a client whilst on a viewing.

One estate agent explains how she felt unsafe when conducting a property viewing on her own:

“I was at a viewing and the client locked the door when I asked him not to. He then continued to ask if I was feeling nervous which unnerved me. He then proceeded to take off his tie. I felt threatened by his behaviour and unsure as to what would happen next."

One in ten estate agents think viewings should be made safer and the same number stated that estate agents themselves should be responsible for ensuring this. Suzy Lamplugh Trust is therefore calling for all estate agencies to sign up to Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety to take steps to minimise personal safety risks for all their employees:

Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety

  • Implement a buddy system (so colleagues always know each other’s whereabouts and contact details. This should include checking in and out when meeting, arriving at and leaving the property, including out of normal office hours)
  • Have a system in place for colleagues to raise the alarm back at the office in case of an emergency while working alone
  • Have a clear procedure to follow if someone does not return or check in when they were expected
  • Where possible arrange for viewers to visit the office before meeting them at the property so that colleagues have also seen them
  • Offer all staff a personal safety alarm and have discreet lone worker devices available
  • Before conducting a viewing, find out who else will be present in the property (current tenant, contractors etc.) when you visit
  • Finally, make sure all staff are aware of and have access to the personal safety measures available

Members of the public also report safety concerns when viewing properties. Research carried out by YouGov on behalf of Suzy Lamplugh Trust in August 2016, which looked at the experience of 2044 members of the public, has found that over a quarter think that property viewings need to be made safer for the person looking to buy or rent the property.

Of those, almost three quarters think that estate agents should be responsible for making property viewings safer than they currently are, while 39% of those think housing associations and councils should be responsible.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 dictates that employers have a duty to ensure the safety and welfare of their employees (so far as is reasonably practicable). Every organisation with five or more employees is required to have a Health and Safety Policy.

In addition, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require every organisation in the UK to undergo a pro-active process of risk management. Organisations must assess risk, create safe systems of working, communicate these to their employees and monitor and review their systems on a regular basis.

Suzy Lamplugh Trust is greatly concerned by all these findings, and urges both employers and consumers in this sector to take steps to improve personal safety in the workplace and in all aspects of life.

Suzy Lamplugh Trust delivers ongoing, comprehensive training courses for employers to highlight and address personal safety risks in the workplace, including lone working and online safety.

We provide personal safety advice on a range of issues including safety tips for estate agents and people selling their own houses. We also run the National Stalking Helpline to advise people who believe they are being stalked.

Suzys code logo AW 01

Further information on training and resources can be found on the Suzy Lamplugh Trust website at:

www.suzylamplugh.org/npsd-2016

info@suzylamplugh.org

0207 091 0014

With thanks to research sponsors: Savills, Knight Frank, SoloProtect, Guild of Lettings Management.

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