The problems experienced by tenants and residents living in housing association properties come in many guises, from extortionate service charging to slum landlordism. From failures to comply with equalities law to a dereliction of their duty of care.
All problems have two distinct common threads. The first is the relentless commercialisation of social housing, and the second is a lack of accountability.
These are the twin evils turning once socially beneficial organisations into a hybrid form of private landlord that benefits from large awards of public funding to provide services which are too often worse than those of the average commercial landlord.
As such, political engagement is needed to attack the systemic roots of poor housing alongside the work being done to expose and challenge the devastating effects on the lives of tenants and residents.
Meeting Lucy Powell MP, Shadow Housing Secretary
As part of this agenda, SHAC held a successful meeting with Lucy Powell MP, Shadow Housing Secretary on the 28th October.
The primary driver for the meeting had been our Report on Service Charge Abuse, but we we added disrepairs, the slum conditions on some estates, fire safety and housing law.
From our work with the Disability Visibility group, we highlighted housing association failures to implement their Statutory Equality Duty and make reasonable adjustments, including where required for mental health conditions.
We also discussed the loss of social and affordable rented homes, which have declined by 280,000 over the last eight years through conversions from social and affordable rents to more expensive market rates.
Our points were illustrated with the lived experiences of tenants and residents as relayed at our meetings.
No Effective Redress
As a long-standing constituency MP, Lucy was familiar with the lack of accountability that has developed in the housing association sector, and the difficulties experienced by tenants and residents attempting to get redress through the landlord’s own complaints procedures, the courts, the Regulator, or the Ombudsman.
We stressed that these problems are set to get worse. A leaked paper from a Riverside executive meeting described how they were attempting to get the law changed, making it harder for tenants to bring disrepairs claims. They admit that this legislation protects tenants from unscrupulous landlords but feel no qualms about attempting to weaken it (see Riverside Leads United Front Against Tenants and Residents).
Meeting and Supporting Our Members
Among the many actions discussed, we invited Lucy to meet with our members to listen to some of their issues. Lucy was keen to do this and said that she believed other MPs with an interest in housing would be interested in joining. We are now liaising with the Shadow Housing Office over a date.
Lucy offered to ask Parliamentary Questions of Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government. SHAC is now in the process of compiling questions for Lucy to ask on our behalf. If there are issues you would like us to raise, please email email@example.com.
The Housing Select Committee
There are many Parliamentary processes alongside the discussions that take place in the main chamber. Lucy highlighted the Housing Select Committee as offering the best opportunity to raise the issues concerning our members. She suggested engaging with this committee, whether to give evidence directly, or supply information that would enable its members to interrogate housing association executives effectively.
Lucy encouraged SHAC members who live in the constituencies of the MPs involved to contact them about drawing on SHAC’s expertise. The members of the Committee are listed below alongside their constituency and contact details. A template text is also provided that can be used in an email or letter.
Contact Housing Select Committee MPs
If you are unsure who has been elected as your local MP, find out by entering your postcode on the Parliamentary website.
|Clive Betts MP||Sheffield South East|
|Ian Byrne MP||Liverpool, West Derby|
|Florence Eshalomi MP||Vauxhall|
|Rachel Hopkins MP||Luton South|
|Mary Robinson MP||Cheadle|
|Mohammad Yasin MP||Bedford|
|Bob Blackman MP||Harrow East|
|Brendan Clarke-Smith MP||Bassetlaw|
|Ben Everitt MP||Milton Keynes North|
|Andrew Lewer MP||Northampton South|
|Matt Vickers MP||Stockton South|
Suggested text for an email or letter is available here.
In May 2022, some councils will be holding elections, and housing will no doubt take centre stage in many election campaigns.
This offers an important opportunity to hold councillors to account for their actions on housing.
This is particularly the case where councils outsource housing supply or services through partnerships with housing associations. These always benefit the landlord far more than local residents.
Often, the number of affordable homes diminishes rapidly between the planning stage and delivery, sometimes dwindling to zero. Councillors must take responsibility for the decisions they have made over the last five years.
The political agenda will be discussed at future SHAC meetings. We will also continue to engage with Lucy Powell MP over the issues raised in our first meeting.
29 October 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.