If a tenants’ union is to get off the ground it will need a strategy – from the outset – on how it handles casework.
It’s clear that many potential members might reach out to the union and/or join to get specific help with a problem they are having with their landlord, property or property manager. But if the tenants’ union is to bring about meaningful change for tenants its effort and energy need to be focused on recruitment, campaigning and organising.
Casework can be very draining on resources, both in terms of time and emotionally and a clear plan needs to be in place as to how individual cases can be used to recruit, empower local activists and build the capacity of the union to take action.
People I’ve talked to so far have suggested a number of ways this could be handled:
Regular clinics could be established. These could be at a publicised time and location and inquiries outside these times could be directed to them. This could help keep the amount of work manageable, especially if referrals and resources (see below) are employed well. These could be run by volunteers/activists with a particular interest in doing casework.
One obvious question about this approach would be how often should they be held? What if a member has an urgent issue or can’t make it to a clinic?
An organising union should always be seeking to develop its activists so they can provide help and support to their networks. Good training can go a long way to giving activists the tool and confidence they need, especially when it’s supported by experience.
The strength of this approach is it should reinforce local organisation and networks over time.
Resources for self-empowerment
A bank of practical resources could be developed. These could be designed to empower members to resolve matters for themselves. For example, model letters, checklists, model tenancy agreements (with better than the legal minimums) and step-by-step guides to resolving common issues.
The right piece of casework could be taken on as a case study to attempt to establish a new formal or informal precedent. as it stands less than 10% of cases brought to the Tenancy Tribunal are brought by tenants and where tenants win it is rarely publicised or reported in the media. In contrast, even small wins in Employment Court are heavily publicised by trade unions and you’d hope this makes other employers think twice before repeating those actions.
I’m sure there are many other options to consider, get in touch and I’ll trade you a coffee for your ideas.
Photo credit: Mark Crossfield via Flickr.