004 Juliet Smithson of Lionheart: Support for Surveyors

Juliet Smithson is Head of Operations at Lionheart, the RICS benevolent fund which supports RICS surveyors and their families. Juliet introduces us to what Lionheart does, and how they can help and support surveyors in the time of crisis.

What Is Lionheart And What They Do

Juliet gives an overview of when and why Lionheart was founded, what benevolent fund exactly is, and who is eligible for Lionheart support.

“We’ve been around for over 130 years, supporting RICS members of their families with a range of life challenges. We can deal with all sorts of things, from income issues and legal questions, whether you’re a small employer with part-time staff, or you’ve got a contract in your hand and you need to understand it. We offer a range of training, webinars and workshops, our Help Desk staff are also trainers and coaches, and they can help other coaches with their issues. We’ve got counsellors on staff who offer mental health support. We also offer back-to-work support, so if somebody is struggling to get back into work, we can help with that, whether it’s helping with a CV, or perhaps with being unconfident around an interview.”

She goes on to explain what a benevolent fund is.

“Benevolent funds are Victorian in origin, and most of them were set up to look after widows and orphans in a world where men went out and did the breadwinning. We’re not in those days anymore, but we’ve evolved from that as a safety net. We now offer a huge range of services for anybody who is connected to the RICS community. As soon as somebody registers for the APC, they’re eligible for everything that we have to offer, and that remains for life. So if they walk away from their career and they never come back as a surveyor, they could come back 20 or 30 years later and still be eligible for help. So broadly, if you’ve ever paid a membership fee to RICS, you should be eligible for us. And as a benevolent fund we’re very generous, and we tailor our support to individuals. Nobody is a number, you don’t get a standard package of support, you get something that works exactly for you at the moment you need it. It really is that flexible.”

What Lionheart Are Doing For SME Surveyors

“Our team has been helping people who’ve suddenly had their incomes fall off a cliff,” Juliet continues, “and helping them understand how to submit applications for support for the self-employed. And then, of course, there is our grants program, which we’ve recently reviewed. Our criteria have always been very generous, and now the thresholds are even more generous, as well as the benefit system. We’ve looked at what evidence we would normally ask for, understanding that everything people might have is an email saying ‘I’ve got no more work for the foreseeable future’ and we’ll look at that as evidence. In a normal circumstance we need more than that, but we have relaxed criteria since this is a fast moving situation. If people have been made redundant, often they’ve got a number of weeks’ knowledge that this is going to happen. It rarely happens that their income just stops, so we’re aware that some people may not have all the evidence in place.”

Raising Awareness Among Surveyors About Lionheart’s Support

Often surveyors are surprised to learn about the many ways in which Lionheart can support them. Many of them never had to fill out any benefits forms in their career. Juliet thinks that is because surveyors are generally quite resilient.

“Surveyors’ profession is really broad. Many people have some sort of a side hustle. They might run a small property portfolio, or they might have a property they rent out, so when surveying work has been dry, they’ve been able to diversify and do something else. Now we’re finding that we’re getting those people call us, because their side hustle has dried up as well. They’ve always been able to bridge those gaps, and now there’s no gig for them. They have seamlessly moved from university into work roles, and they might switch from a corporate career into working for themselves, and they might have moved between the two a few times. So we have had a very adaptable and resilient profession, and hence we were getting calls from people who have no idea where to start with working out what they’re eligible for, because they’ve never needed to.”

Lionheart’s Partnership with Estate Gazette

“We’re currently partnering with Estate Gazette to get the mental health message out there,” Juliet continues. “We’re doing a lot of mental health awareness training, educating people on what depression looks like, or what anxiety looks like. How might someone who has bipolar disorder behave, or what might be difficult for them? And we’ve also got a level of training for managers, which goes into more depth about the responsible things that you should be doing as an employer. What are the reasonable adjustments to help someone perform at work? We want people to come to work, to be themselves, to perform, and for employers, colleagues and managers to support people to do the very best that they can, understanding that there are different aspects of our personalities and our lives that they need to be more open about,” she concludes.

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The Surveyor Hub is a proud partner of  Lionheart, the benevolent fund which supports RICS members and their families.