Tenant Voice, the White Paper and the Future of Social Housing

In November, the much-anticipated Social Housing White Paper, intended to protect social housing tenants and create clarity, transparency and accountability across the entire social housing sector, was finally published.

The Charter for Social Housing Residents, as it is also referred to, is a welcome set of measures and commitments which have been developed since the publication of the Green Paper back in 2018, after the tragic events of the Grenfell Fire.

There are seven main focal points that the charter encompasses (many of which already existed in the form of the National Housing Federation’s Together With Tenants Charter, a sector-wide initiative focused on strengthening the relationship between residents and housing association landlords), which will sit alongside an additional framework for ensuring clear cut accountability cross-sector and a new set of regulatory standards and performance related assessments based on tenant voice, satisfaction and engagement. The seven focal points are:

  • To be safe in your home
  • To know how your landlord is performing, including on repairs, complaints and safety, and how it spends its money
  • To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly (with access to a strong Ombudsman)
  • To be treated with respect (backed by a strong consumer regulator and improved consumer standards for tenants)
  • To have your voice heard by your landlord
  • To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in
  • To be supported to take your first step to ownership

The industry has widely welcomed the changes, with many providers already having set their own course for tenant-led strategy over the past two years, as a response to the changing socio-environmental landscape post-Grenfell. However, the new measures, which are intended to provide much needed clarity, have also raised several concerns over what has not yet been concisely set out; namely, addressing the urgency of social housing supply and demand, the vehicles with which to transfer tenant voice into tangible action, the continuation of the groundwork done previously to tackle social stigma and potential financial concerns which may affect successful implementation.

The Building Safety Bill, the Fire Safety Bill and the 5 year electrical safety checks are all crucial updated regulatory adjustments that will be instrumental in combining a joint approach by regulatory bodies, along with a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’, which aims to ensure the efficient sharing and acting upon of information, concerns and evidence of safety related issues.

What does the White Paper mean for recruitment planning and strategic impact?

There’s no escaping the fact that these new requirements come into play at a time when the workplace is undergoing rapid transformational change. As organisations become more agile and start to lean towards the trend of taking on shorter term project management style partnerships for many developmental schemes as well as traditional longer-term employment, there will be challenges in creating new sets of safety related roles and responsibilities, which will need to adhere to stringent frameworks and accountability procedures. It will be difficult to measure the immediate effect of these necessary changes on employment and contractual processes, although combined with the upcoming IR35 changes, and as yet unmeasured impact on industries across the country post Covid and post Brexit, the unchartered waters ahead were already looking slightly choppy.

Previous confusion over roles and responsibilities had resulted in a frustrating lack of action for tenants, which confounded efforts to address safety issues and concerns, and led to mistrust and disengagement. The new requirements of a ‘Responsible Person’, an ‘Accountable Person’ and  Building Safety Manager’ means new and existing roles will need to be regulatory compliant as well as be efficient at navigating the (at present) unclear terms of the charter, which currently do not appear to define the areas of responsibility for each role. This could potentially risk, at best, confusion, and at worst, creating an even more complex accountability process, which, if not clarified solidly, could end up undermining the very purpose of the charter.

Clarity, cohesion and cross-sector collaboration

Effective navigation and participation will require adaptive, responsive and collaborative leadership, and thankfully, the social housing industry not only has some exceptionally talented existing and up and coming leaders, but also happens to be very adept at collaboration, all of which will play a crucial part in shaping and shifting the roles that will be needed to comply with industry requirements.

To ensure clarity and cohesion, the government will need to work closely with housing and tenant bodies such as NHF, CIH, TPas and national tenants.org, and will need to take care that the pre-existing and ongoing hard work to eradicate social stigma is not jettisoned in the overriding process, which must continue to be driven alongside the emphasis on positive safety culture, tenant voice and cross-sector collaboration. Innovation and an up to date grasp of data management, compliance and technology will also need to play a big part as feedback, analysis and quantifiable action become the necessary tools for monitoring and improving services.

It’s important to embrace these challenges, which have the potential to not only drastically improve the lives of social housing tenants in a number of ways, but also provides the opportunity to recognise the social housing industry as a leading change maker, that remains a stable and safe socio-economic investment, instils confidence and social values through uncertain times and offers a much needed bridge between the top level decision makers and the people those decisions affect the most.

 

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