As helpline advisers for Shelter Scotland, we deal with a wide range of issues every day; from repossession action to disrepair, from problems with antisocial behaviour to homelessness and much in-between. Last year our free helpline answered a total of 16,337 calls from across Scotland. That’s 16,337 individuals or families struggling with bad housing or homelessness.

I arrive at the office, set my phone to available and it starts to ring immediately.

I deliver my usual greeting of ‘Hello Shelter Scotland, Sara speaking’

On the other end of the line is Susan.

Susan is distressed as she explains that she has received a letter from her local council to tell her that they have obtained a court order to evict her from her home. The eviction is scheduled for a week from now.

She is being evicted for rent arrears that occurred when her hours at work were cut and there was a problem with her housing benefit claim. Susan has two children who attend the local primary school. She works part- time and has recently separated from her partner. She is worried about what will happen when she and her children are evicted and keeps asking these questions:

• Where will she go with her children?
• How does she explain to them that they have to leave their home?
• Where will she take all of her belongings?
• How will she find somewhere else to live?

I try to calm Susan and start off the call by talking all of her details and assure her that we’ll do our best to help.

Susan missed the court hearing, where the sheriff granted the eviction order, because of ill health. She was therefore unable to defend herself and to explain to the sheriff why she had got into rent arrears. This was is the first time that she has ever had court action taken against her.

I consider all the information that I have been given and suggest that we might be able to stop the eviction by lodging a minute for recall.

I explain to Susan that a minute for recall is something that can be done where the person being taken to court did not attend and was not represented by anyone at the court. And once the minute for recall is lodged it will stop the eviction from going ahead. She will then be given a new court date for the eviction hearing where she’ll be represented by a solicitor to defend the action.

I end the call and contact the sheriff court and confirm we can lodge a minute for recall. I have to work quickly as it has to be done before the date of the eviction. Next, I arrange an appointment for Susan to come to our office and see one of our caseworkers who will do the minute for recall for her.

Two days later Susan attends her appointment and a caseworker lodges the minute for recall at the sheriff court. Our casework team then passed Susan’s details to our law service. The law service meet with Susan and arrange to represent her at the new court hearing. At the hearing it’s agreed that the case would be sisted to allow Susan time to arrange a repayment plan for the arrears. Susan then spoke to one of our money and debt advisers who managed to arrange an affordable repayment plan with the council to enable Susan to repay the arrears and avoid any further court action. They also gave Susan advice to help her manage her money better and ensure that there are no arrears in the future.

One simple call to our helpline made all the difference to Susan and her family. That one free call to the Shelter Scotland helpline resulted in her eviction being prevented and one less family becoming homeless. Our helpline is available Monday to Friday between 9am – 5pm on 0808 800 4444, if you find yourself with a housing problem, or you know someone who does, please call us. You can also email us for advice using the form on our website.

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