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Agencies & People

Three decades after Suzy Lamplugh do we take safety seriously enough?

Trust set up in her name still thinks housing sector has a long way to go

The Negotiator

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30 years ago, 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 minimize personal safety risks. It’s about helping people live safer, more confident lives.

NEW RESEARCH

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.

At a viewing, the client locked the door, he kept asking if I was nervous, then he took off his tie. I felt threatened by his behaviour.

According to the English Housing Survey 2014-15, there are 22.5million 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’ when 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 seven per cent 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 had 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 that colleagues always know each other’s whereabouts and contact details.

These 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.
PUBLIC SAFETY MATTERS TOO

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, found that over a quarter think that property viewings need to be made safer for the person looking to buy or rent the property.

If you have 5+ employees, you must have a Health & Safety Policy and assess risk, create safe systems and review them regularly.

Of those, almost three quarters think that estate agents should be responsible for making property viewings safer than they currently are.

Suzy Lamplugh Trust logoWhile only 52 respondents stated that they had ever felt unsafe while viewing a property (3 per cent of those surveyed who had ever viewed a property), Suzy Lamplugh Trust is concerned that incidents compromising personal safety are not always reported, some of which amount to criminal offences such as stalking, harassment or malicious communication. Only 5 per cent of those experiencing a feeling of being unsafe reported the incident to the company or individual who organised the viewing and nearly a third didn’t tell anyone about their experience, raising the concern that both consumers and employees in the housing sector may be unaware of the scale of incidents and concerns experienced by those viewing prospective properties.

Respondents who said they felt unsafe mentioned concerns including that the property was located in a remote area while over a quarter were concerned about travelling in a private vehicle with an estate agent, landlord or housing agency worker.

WIDER RISKS

Suzy Lamplugh Trust has found that risks to personal safety extend to others in the housing sector including housing association employees. Inside Housing Magazine has revealed concerning statistics about assaults against frontline housing workers. By carrying out a series of surveys and Freedom of Information Act requests to councils and surveying housing associations across Britain, Inside Housing revealed 2,367 instances of assault on housing workers in 2015. Of these, 90 per cent of assaults were verbal and 10 per cent were recorded as physical assaults.

Research carried out in August 2016 by The National Landlords Association highlights similar concerns. A survey of 777 members reveals that 31 per cent of landlords have been verbally abused by a tenant before while 5 per cent of landlords have been physically abused by a tenant. 23 per cent reported their tenants’ actions to the police or other enforcement bodies which raises concerns about the remaining three quarters of incidents which may not be being reported.

RESPONSIBILITIES

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. They also run the National Stalking Helpline to advise people who believe they are being stalked.

SAFETY FIRST

Suzy Lamplugh Trust suggests some top tips for visiting a property if you have to visit a property alone:

  • Take a charged phone
  • Let someone know where you are going and who you are meeting
  • Plan your journey by viewing Google maps/streetview
  • Try to arrange to visit in daytime hours
  • Carry a personal alarm or discreet lone worker device.

Further information and resources: https://www.suzylamplugh.org/npsd-2016 

December 1, 2016

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