Housing associations like to boast about their tenant and resident engagement, and claim to have a powerful link with those living in their properties. But all too often, these systems are little more than a token gesture. Tenants and residents speak, but housing executives refuse to listen. And it’s getting worse.
Sky, a scrutiny panel member from Clarion has just resigned, and explains what led him to take the step.
I have just resigned as chair of Clarion’s southern region scrutiny panel. I resigned because I no longer feel that the panel is able to operate with integrity. The tenants involved are dedicated and genuine. Unfortunately, Clarion is not.
I became a resident of Clarion just under six years ago. I was interested in getting involved in tenant engagement to make sure that our communities were nice places to live. When I was offered the opportunity to join Clarion’s regional scrutiny committee, I thought it sounded like an excellent initiative. Now, I no longer feel that I can be part of it.
One of the problems is that Clarion has become too big and believes it is above scrutiny.
A scrutiny panel is there to look at different aspects of the landlord’s work. Each time we do a review, we focus on one particular area, for example complaints handling, take an in-depth look, then recommend ways that it could be improved.
Making a Difference
One of the first issues we selected after I joined was the process of communication between Clarion and its residents. The review covered both getting information from tenants and residents on their problems, and Clarion’s mechanisms for communicating what they were doing as a landlord.
Initially, I enjoyed the work. I could see that it was making a difference. Then things began to change.
The staff started to pressure the panel over what areas to select for review. They didn’t want the panel members – all tenants and residents – to choose what they felt were the most important. For example, we wanted to investigate Clarion’s complaints handling procedures; an area causing a great deal of attrition between tenants and landlord. When we proposed this subject to Clarion, they gave us a categoric refusal to scrutinise this aspect of their work.
I could see we were going to lose our independence. The panel should be there to work collaboratively with the landlord, to find the faults in their systems and help put them right.
Clarion wanted to choose our subjects for us, and to they wanted to choose subjects that just made Clarion look good.
Reducing Independence and Autonomy
This compounded concerns I had about other major problems with the way Clarion was run. The exposure of disrepairs in the media for example, and poor response times to communication from residents.
It deeply bothered me that Clarion was content with low standards. They accepted satisfaction rates of around 80% as being a good result, when I believe they should be aspiring to 100%. It’s as though the 20% who haven’t received a good service don’t matter.
I could also see that ‘Key Performance Indicators’ (KPIs) were being manipulated in Clarion’s favour. In fact, it prompted us to propose doing a scrutiny of the process of collecting KPIs – effectively an audit to make sure they were accurate.
Clarion were completely opposed to it, and refused to give us access to the necessary information. I can only conclude that Clarion knows the process isn’t robust, and didn’t want this to be exposed.
By the start of this year, Clarion were restricting our activity so much that it changed the nature of the group. We no longer had the level of independence and autonomy of a properly run scrutiny panel, meaning our reports wouldn’t have the same level of insight, and there would be little improvement in service.
There are certainly plenty of areas where Clarion could improve its services, and the way in which it handles complaints, but it is dodging responsibility. For example, when data protection laws were strengthened, the new legislation required organisations to get permission before emailing residents.
Clarion didn’t send out a single email to get permission ahead of the new rules. Because of this inaction, Clarion has a ready excuse not to be proactive about encouraging tenants and residents to get involved with engagement activities.
I emailed the Information Commissioner for advice, and he responded that Clarion could still send out a simple request letter to all tenants and residents. I put this option to Clarion, but they refused to act on it saying that it would cost too much. As the organisation enjoys vast wealth and resources, I can only conclude that they don’t have any real interest in what tenants want or need.
The Eastfields Estate
There was a report on how Clarion had received a Decent Homes Standard waiver. This allowed Clarion to similarly dodge its responsibilities to tenants on the Eastfield estate, meaning that their homes fell into terrible disrepairs. There are roughly 500 properties on the estate. Clarion is saying that these tenants just don’t matter.
Another incident stood out for me. A number of tenants on short-term lets complained about the terrible state of squalor in the homes they were renting. Clarion’s response was that the tenants knew what they were getting into when they took the tenancies on. Clarion was taking money in exchange for these squalid living conditions, but that didn’t matter to the executives – the suffering of the people involved didn’t matter.
The culmination of all these factors led me to tender my resignation. It was a combination of bad press on the poor state of disrepairs in some parts of the country and the increasingly tight control of the scrutiny panel. It didn’t used to be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this. They have chosen to be like this.
I am now an active member of the SHAC@Clarion group which meets monthly to get updates on local issues and plan collective, tenant and resident led campaigning for improvements. You can see their meeting dates on our Events page, and will automatically receive notices by registering with SHAC.
14 October 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.