Social Housing Green Paper takes one step forward – but slowly

When it comes to tenant engagement, the Social Housing Green Paper is headed in the right direction, but it’s going to be a glacially slow journey, writes Phil Morgan

Phil Morgan
Phil Morgan

THE Social Housing Green Paper, released after the flurry of press releases, offers elements of progress and welcome recognition of past mistakes.

Devised following Grenfell Tower and informed by a series of roadshows with tenants, it offers the best way forward for tenant involvement for nearly a decade.

Firstly, there is some progress on tenant safety, including the implementation of recommendations from the Hackitt Review. This includes a pilot trialing options to improve communication and engagement with residents on safety issues.

The pilot is welcome. The sector understands that sharing information is important but simply sending copies of Fire Risk Assessments may confuse as much as enlighten.

Next there is some welcome recognition that the Government got it wrong on complaints. The convoluted “designated person’” mechanism means that tenants are the only group unable to directly access an Ombudsman.

It is poorly understood and only used in 7% of complaints reaching the Housing Ombudsman. It brings in a delay of eight weeks for no purpose. Consideration will be given to this being reduced or removed.

There is also some progress towards tightening up requirements on landlords’ approach to complaints in terms of both awareness and speed of resolution. However, there will need to be care taken that some issues are treated as service failures and ignored within the complaints process.

As one of the instigators of the National Tenant Voice I’m pleased to see recognition that creating a tenant voice at a national level is being reconsidered alongside support for tenant leadership.

The proposal to create league tables for key performance indicators is also welcome, subject to the obvious caveat that it must measure the same things in the same way. The progress made with the Sector Scorecard means that this can be a basis for sharing information with tenants.

One of the achievements of the 2010 Regulatory Framework was the inclusion of requirements on tenant involvement and scrutiny and more widely services to tenants.

Requiring the regulator to reactively regulate these has undermined this achievement. Action has been taken in only a couple of dozen cases of failure on the consumer standards, primarily on health and safety grounds.

The Government has belatedly recognised that its own barriers need to be reviewed or removed to allow the regulator to be more proactive on the issues raised in the Green Paper on tenant services, information to tenants, tenant complaints and tenant safety.

Progress on the above remains glacially slow. Pilots, consideration of changing previous mistakes, calls for evidence and then implementation will be protracted and frustrating.

However, the Green Paper is a step forward for tenants and landlords alike.

NH

Phil Morgan is a leading authority on tenant and resident engagement and the former executive director of tenant services at the Regulator of Social Housing

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