A group of tenants from housing associations nationwide met at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester in June. The team aimed to scrutinise three key areas indicated as priorities in a recent survey carried out by National Tenant Organisations:
- Social housing supply
- Tenant involvement
The conclusive report that followed outlined five key findings and recommendations that will enable landlords and policy makers to greatly improve tenant engagement, ensuring that residents’ voices are heard. A lively conversation followed on Twitter at the live launch of the report.
— Chartered Institute of Housing (@CIHhousing) July 23, 2015
FINDING 1: Tenants have valuable opinions and insight, but are not being heard in national policy debates. It is the duty of, and in the interests of, housing providers to support their tenants to get their voices heard.
Survey results showed that only 14% of tenants consider that they are consulted enough about national policies that impact upon them. At the CIH Scrutiny Sessions, it was noted that there is limited evidence that landlords are supporting their tenants as ambassadors on national policies that affect social housing, with a misconception that tenants are not interested in such issues.
Proof that this is a mistaken notion was provided at the TPAS Conference where the response to Scrutiny Live’s findings was enthusiastic, and it was made clear that tenants wanted to be involved in, ‘policy-making, agenda-setting and…framing a message about what being a social housing tenant is really like.’
Tenants were keen to work with landlords to improve social housing, with one tenant commenting,
“In the dark days that we can expect to face in social housing…we need to work in partnership with our landlords, as they also face uncertain times and difficult decision-making.”
Landlords have also reported benefits in tenant involvement; some highlights are shown below:
- Cost savings – 20 landlords reported saving £29 per property due to tenant involvement
- Significant improvements to tenant satisfaction
- Service benefits
- Improvements to communications with tenants
- An increase in social value relating to developing communities, social networks, tackling isolation and furthering schemes for young people
Recommendation to government: Scrutiny Live are sending their report to the Communities and Housing Ministers asking them to meet with national tenant representatives.
Recommendation to landlords: Engage with your tenants on national issues. Support them to have their say. Don’t assume you know what they want to say.
FINDING 2: The biggest barrier to successful housing is the attitude of the press, politicians and the public to social housing tenants.
This finding is a direct quote from panellist Alison Inman, and reinforces the prevalence of issues raised in our previous blog. Many tenants felt that the public were forming negative views of social housing tenants based purely upon biased media portrayals.
Tenants were keen to see members of the press, politicians and the public spend time ‘on the ground’ to discover the reality of social housing; the significant lack of positive press was noted. Scrutiny Live heard how some tenants are upset at persistently negative portrayals, with one tenant questioning biased coverage,
“There are many people in common with myself, who have worked throughout their lives to support the British economy…surely I should have the expectation to the right of fairness and dignity in my choice of social housing?”
Don't demonise people in the social housing sector – it's not OK and it's not true! #scrutinylive
— Scrutiny Live (@ScrutinyLive) July 30, 2015
Recommendation to government: Understand and present the positive benefits of social housing. Combat the prevailing blanket myths about the people living in social housing.
Recommendation to landlords: Work with your tenants to publicise tenant achievements and the strength of tenant communities rather than just focussing on the achievements of the landlord.
FINDING 3: There is a need for debate about what social housing is, and who it is for. Where will the poor, weak and vulnerable live in future if housing providers end up solely targeting higher income customers?
78% of survey respondents agreed that social housing should be for anyone who needs it. Many tenants and panellists at CIH Scrutiny sessions believed that social housing is likely to become unaffordable in the near future.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation raised their proposal for a Living Rent, linking local salaries to social rents. JRF research shows that if social rents continue to rise toward market levels, by 2014 1.5 million more people will be living in poverty.
FINDING 4: The growing lack of affordability and support in social housing could result in increases in homelessness – particularly amongst young people – as well as community breakdown, poor health, more crime and other social problems.
Affordability was a top priority for survey respondents, who strongly believed that rents should be set in relation to local earnings levels – as outlined by the JRF Living Rent proposal. 80% of all respondents agreed.
The difficult balance of the need to build more social housing juxtaposed with the need to provide affordable rent was discussed at the CIH Scrutiny sessions. Many felt that so-called ‘affordable rents’ were not actually affordable, and were concerned that the proposed benefit cuts outlined in the recent budget would only exacerbate the problem.
The cut in housing benefit for young people was of particular concern, with attendees stating that,
“Young people are the future and need the same help as everyone else.”
FINDING 5: The UK needs a longer term view on housing to avoid short-term savings against long-term costs to society. Social housing should play an important role alongside other tenures.
Survey results here showed that all respondents agree that the government should be building more social housing, with supply as the top priority; 97% agreed that the government should increase the supply of social homes.
Extending the Right to Buy policy proved controversial, with 35% of respondents in agreement with the policy and 46% disagreeing.
Tenants were concerned that governments had a short-sighted view on social housing, and were focusing purely on targets to be met during their term in office. Active tenants, on the other hand, take a long-term view on housing and believe in a balanced and sustainable national housing strategy.
Recommendation to government: Re-evaluate and understand the important role that social housing plays in society. Develop a balanced and sustainable national housing strategy that supports all tenured, including social housing.
Recommendation to landlords: Remain true to the values of the social housing sector to provide homes to the weak and vulnerable in society.
To read the full Scrutiny Live report, please click here.
— Scrutiny Live (@ScrutinyLive) July 30, 2015
To find out how our TP Tracker can help you to engage with your tenants and ensure that their voices are heard, please call us on 01603 813932 or email email@example.com to discuss a software package tailor-made for your needs. You can also book a free demonstration of TP Tracker – this can take place online or face-to-face at your office.