Be Inspired Series
Court Housing Advisor
Housing Rights Service
Helping people in court who are facing the threat of losing their home due to mortgage or rent arrears
What does your job entail?
Along with my colleague Maria McNally, I provide advice and assistance to people at risk of losing their home due to mortgage or rent arrears in the High Court and various County Courts across NI. This is the first scheme of its kind in Northern Ireland and is available in Northern Ireland for the first time thanks to funding from the Department Of Justice.
My role involves approaching clients who don’t have legal representation on the morning of their hearing to see if I can help. I quickly assess their situation and recommend the best course of action. I then advocate on their behalf of before the judge and endeavour to achieve the best possible outcome.
Is it nine to five?
Definitely not - the various courts usually begin between 9.30-10am. As I have to travel to County Courts across Northern Ireland my working day often begins around 8am. Once court sessions are over for the day I return to the office and catch up on paperwork. I would normally get wrapped up around 6pm.
How did you get into this line of work?
I am from a legal background and qualified as a solicitor in 2011. I have been working in the mortgage litigation sector for the last five years. I was aware of the invaluable work Housing Rights Service was doing and was very keen to work for the organisation when the opportunity arose. I feel the fact that I have experience of both sides of the repossession process is of real benefit to the people I help every day.
Outline your career to date?
From 2005-2007, I worked in the conveyance department of a city centre law firm during the height of the property boom. From the onset of the economic downturn in 2008 until 2011, I worked for a legal firm representing lenders in mortgage litigation and repossession cases. I began working for HRS in December 2011. My working career has come full circle having worked at the height of the property boom to now representing those at risk of losing home.
Tell us about your qualifications and training?
I graduated from Queen’s University in Belfast in 2004 having obtained a 2:1 in my law degree. I then attended UUJ and graduated with a Masters in public relations and communication.
In 2011, I qualified as a solicitor from Institute of Professional Legal Studies.
What qualities are required for your job – personal and professional?
On a personal level it is vital that I am attentive, understanding and empathetic towards my clients. I deal with people at risk of losing their home, one of the most frightening prospects any of us could face on a daily basis. I reassure clients, listen to them and explain in non-legalistic terms the process involved. Ultimately I am there to try and keep people in their homes.
Professionally I usually meet clients a very short time before their hearing so I need to be able to analyse a lot of information quickly. I also need good negotiation and communication skills to help secure agreement with solicitors acting for lenders. As I am often the voice of the client with the judge I need to be able to advocate effectively on their behalf.
What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?
There are a number of challenges. I can only help the people that actually go to court to attend their hearing. Unfortunately many people think all is lost and don’t turn up at all. We always make the point that it is never too late to get help.
The other challenge is meeting clients for first time on the day of their hearing and having a relatively short period of time to discuss matters with them. I am fortunate that Housing Rights Service has built up excellent relationships with the judiciary and the various lenders’ solicitors.
Without a doubt the real reward of my job is successfully keeping people in their homes, whether through securing a realistic repayment proposal or successfully arguing a stay of enforcement application. I have the privilege of being able to help people that are in a very stressful situation. Securing a positive outcome and seeing the anxiety lift from people brings me immense satisfaction.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Going for a nice meal with my girlfriend, play football and spend time with my little nephew.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
I swam with sharks on a recent holiday to Dubai.
Who has inspired you most in your life?
My parents who are always on hand to offer me good advice and give me encouragement. I was also a big Roy Keane fan during his playing days and believe there is a large degree of merit in his often quoted mantra – ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’