Your coronavirus concerns, and how we're helping
The word unprecedented has been thrown around a lot in recent months and weeks but the fact is, there has never been a period quite like this for the support staff at LionHeart.
Even times of recession which have impacted on the property industry and its people don’t quite compare, because the Covid-19 pandemic has literally affected how everyone lives their lives.
During the first six to eight weeks of the lockdown in the UK, calls to the LionHeart helpline and requests for help were up by over 40% on the same time last year.
So what are the main reasons RICS professionals are calling us for right now, and what are they concerned about? More importantly, how are we supporting them?
Possibly the biggest number of calls we are taking is from those who want a referral to our legal helpline (LionHeart offers a referral for free initial legal advice to RICS professionals in the UK and certain European countries). People are feeling vulnerable and fear losing their jobs; they are worried about their future and putting their family’s stability at risk. They often want to know what their rights are in the workplace and where they might stand if their company decides to make redundancies following the initial furloughing help being offered by the government.
We have had some requests for financial help - this includes grants if their income has dried up completely, particularly among the self-employed or contractors who have felt an immediate effect of the lockdown and being unable to work normally.
Our support officers have also been helping people determine any government support or benefits they may be entitled to claim.
We’ve heard from APC candidates struggling with the additional stress of either working remotely and maybe facing the prospect of sitting for their APC panels virtually rather than in person. Possibly what is even more stressful is those APC candidates who have been furloughed and their plans for career progression put on hold, with no way of knowing when or if things will return to normal for them.
We’ve received some requests for our counselling service, which has continued as normal remotely, from RICS professionals who are finding this time difficult for various reasons. Our counsellors were already specialist trained in delivering therapy sessions online; however, since lockdown they have also been offering support to clients via secure email and text talk, as they have discovered that with more people at home it has sometimes been difficult for their clients to find private space to access sessions.
What makes this situation unique is that it’s affecting RICS professionals everywhere, to varying degrees. We’ve had calls from all over the UK, Europe, Canada, India and Africa and have authorised a number of grants to help those who are struggling financially, especially in some areas where state support has been limited.
THOSE BETWEEN JOBS
We have had some enquiries for help from people who have found themselves in the very difficult position of being between jobs - not eligible for furlough because they have technically left their old employer on or before a certain date, but then find their new position has been put on hold or they haven’t been there long enough to claim furlough through their new employer. In some cases, this has left people with no income at all, simply because they made a career step at the wrong time.
Our team are also managing their usual caseloads, checking in with the people we’ve been supporting since before lockdown to see how they’re doing, and following up with those who rang us for help early on in lockdown. This support will continue for as long as necessary.
It’s hard to know what the future will hold. We’ve had our first flurry of calls from the people who have been immediately affected by the current situation. However, we are expecting demand to stay the same or go up in future. Many people feel like they are ‘on hold’ at the moment, but the longer-term effects of the economic uncertainty are still unknown.
Will there be jobs lost? How soon will people’s businesses recover?
There is also the longer-term impact on people’s mental health from this long period of isolation - people may struggle with depression, feel anxious, be experiencing strain in their relationships. These are all things that might linger long after the lockdown is eased.
Sadly, there is also likely to be a good deal of unprocessed grief as a result of this time. People may have lost loved ones they’ve been unable to say goodbye to, unable to hold proper funerals or be with wider family while they grieve. We support many people with bereavement counselling and our experience tells us that sometimes the effects of grief may not be felt until months or even years later.
We are in the fortunate position of being able to be very flexible in the way we respond to people’s needs. We have been here for RICS professionals for well over 100 years and plan to be here for many more, through good times and bad.
If you’re struggling with anything at the moment, or know a colleague who is, please know you can pick up the phone and speak to us in confidence and we will do all we can to help you weather the storm.
Bena Kansara is LionHeart’s support services manager, overseeing our team of support officers and counsellors, and has worked for the charity for well over 20 years.