By Carl Davis
Not just an issue of staff training ..
Last week Eddie Hughes, Minister for Rough Sleeping & Housing confirmed the launch of the Social Housing White Paper Professionalisation Review. The review will look at the qualifications currently available for staff, with landlords, residents and trade bodies invited to put forward recommendations. The review will also consider whether further training is needed to improve services to residents.
Mr Hughes stated that social housing residents will be better protected as part of the review to make sure they are listened to. More generally, government has claimed that its Social Housing White Paper will ensure that tenants are safe, listened to and able to live in good quality homes and have their repairs and complaints dealt with more effectively.
However, as SHAC raised in its evidence to the Levelling Up Housing and Communities select committee on the Regulation of Social Housing last week, unless and until government addresses the fact that many of the larger ‘too big to fail’, social landlords will continue to deliberately manipulate – or game – their internal complaints procedures, and those of the Housing Ombudsman, and nothing will really change.
Soft Touch Regulation
Under the current ‘soft touch’ regulatory regime, it is difficult to see how government can deliver on its social housing promises, or why the larger monolithic providers would even consider changing their manipulative and disrespectful behaviour towards residents. Without proper sanctions for breaches, they face no real pressure to reform.
Politely framing the problem as landlords just lacking the necessary training to better deal with tenants’ complaints and improve standards from the bottom up hasn’t worked in the past. It ignores where the real problem lies, namely within the executive layer. The culture in the boardroom is increasingly remote from tenants and residents. The corporate executives favoured by providers are answerable to no-one but their investors and themselves.
Except in the most extreme circumstances, the only penalty available to the Regulator of Social Housing is to downgrade the governance rating of a housing association. The Ombudsman can make orders against these landlords but a search of the Ombudsman’s decisions against housing associations shows its woeful inadequacy.
The first ten entries show that LiveWest was asked to pay a £400 fine (turnover £186 million), OneManchester was asked to pay £350 compensation (turnover £60 million), Tafford Trust was ordered to pay £100 (turnover £53 million), and AnchorHanover was levied with a £50 compensation charge (turnover £450 million).
And on it goes.
Tenants have been waiting a long time for culture change in the social housing sector . Following the Grenfell fire in June 2017, government announced that there would be a social housing Green Paper but it didn’t materialise until 2018. Then there was a long wait for the publication of the Social Housing White Paper which finally appeared in autumn 2021.
Throughout this period the sector made all the right noises – remember the ‘Together With Tenants’ initiative, with landlord pampered TPAS being wheeled on stage to create a false impression of engagement? Nothing significantly changed. Indeed, for many tenants, things got significantly worse as Daniel Hewitt’s ITV investigatory team revealed.
To address the current appalling power imbalance in the social landlord tenant-relationship, and address poor service quality, there needs to be a scale of stiffer sanctions.
Professionalistion Under Review
As government is inviting residents to put forward their recommendations to the Professionalisation Review, let’s start that process rolling here by focusing on the very deliberate way the larger social landlords game the system.
In my case, a simple reasonable adjustment request for notice of appointments instead of cold calls was deemed too inconvenient for my giant G15 social landlord L&Q to even acknowledge. Instead, they serially threatened me with eviction claiming I had repeatedly denied their contractors access.
They even told their contractor, Sureserve Group, a TPAS member, to ignore multiple written requests for an appointment time as they instructed their external solicitors to threaten an injunction to gain access to my home. I took this up with the Regulator as my landlord’s behaviour clearly breached the Tenant Empowerment and Involvement Standard which specifically relates to disability.
The Regulator agreed that L&Q’s behaviour had been unreasonable and responded:
“From the information you provided we understand that you received a ‘cold call from L&Q asking to complete your annual gas safety check. We could see that you did not refuse to allow L&Q to complete the gas safety check, but asked them to make an appointment and to do so in writing. At that time, it appears that L&Q initiated its no access procedures, which included threats of legal action, and steps to take out an injunction to gain access to your property. From the information you provided, it was clear that both you and your solicitors indicated that an agreed appointment was required, particularly taking into account your disability. Nevertheless, we could see that L&Q did not adhere to your request and continued to pursue its no access processes to gain access to your home.
From the information you provided, we thought that this matter had not been well-handled by L&Q. It was not clear that L&Q took your requests into account, and we could see that it had instigated its no access processes, including threats of an injunction and issuing a Notice of Possession when this appears to have been unnecessary.“
This would seem to any reasonable person a damning indictment of L&Q. Nonetheless, although L&Q are legally obliged to consider disability, the Regulator decided that L&Q’s actions didn’t constitute a breach of the Standard. In fact, at that time the Standard had never been breached because the bar was set so high as to make it ‘unbreachable’.
In responding to the Regulator, and to another complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) relating to data held about me by L&Q, it was clear that L&Q wilfully ignored the Regulator’s finding and lied to the ICO in the most discriminatory way.
The Steamroller Approach
My own mental health team has also challenged L&Q’s no access claim and its claims to have a meaningful information sharing protocol. L&Q refuses to explain the discrepancies between their narrative and the actual evidence. Nor has the reasonable adjustment requested ever been complied with. L&Q and its contractors continuing to cold call.
So, a multi-billion pound supposedly social housing provider ignored disability and a simple reasonable adjustment request. Their whole approach has been that if a tenant gets in the way, steamroller them.
Tenants have been forced to take their grievances online, into campaigns, and into the courts because the regulatory system is not fit for purpose.
Culture Change Needed
It may well be that the culture change, improvements to services, tenant protections, and representation all promised in the White Paper will only come about through social tenants and their allies coming together to take collective action to target the city investors that social landlords only see themselves as accountable to. Who knows?
For now though if you want to submit recommendations to the Social Housing White Paper Professionalisation Review, details are provided below.
SHAC is urging anyone affected to highlight just how deliberately manipulative, unreasonable and disrespectful their social landlords have been towards them. We must continue to show government that it is not just an issue of training for frontline staff. Real culture change will only come if providers face tougher sanctions for non-compliance.
Smaller providers should consider adopting SHAC’s Disability Visibility Charter.
This matter is not closed..
Social Housing White Paper Professionalisation Review
Landlords, residents and other interested parties can contribute to the Social Housing White Paper Professionalisation Review by the following methods:
Email the Review Professionalisationreview@communities.gov.uk.
Comments or enquiries by post 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
Email enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
General enquiries by phone 030 3444 0000
27 January 2022
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.