SHAC and CIH Correspondence: UK Housing Awards

In September, once we approached 50,000 signatories to our petition calling on organisers Inside Housing and the Chartered Institute of Housing to cancel the event, we wrote to Pete Apps, Editor in Chief at Inside Housing, and Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of the CIH.

Gavin wrote back explaining the CIH’s position. Martin Hilditch responded on behalf of Inside Housing.

The petition has now exceeded 53,000 signatories.

The full email correspondence is copied below.


From SHAC to Pete Apps (Inside Housing) and Gavin Smart (CIH)
27 September 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Pete and Gavin

By close of play this evening, we anticipate that our petition will hit another milestone – 50,000 signatures.

The reasons for signing are varied. Kiki Frankie said “2 year battle for basic requirements after 8 year battle to move for health reasons. Friends living in damp mould & infested housing. These housing associations need to sort themselves out and work with tenants having advocates so tenants aren’t fighting a losing battle”. Ann Mann said “The whole system is made for the benefit of profiteers, private and inside the council, not the people it’s supposed to be actually helping.”

The common thread is that all signatories think it is wrong for this lavish extravaganza to take place while so many housing association tenants and residents are about to fall over a financial cliff edge.

SHAC is urging you as organisers to cancel the event this year. If you did want to celebrate something, it should be the tenacity and persistence of tenants and residents who have to do battle to get themselves heard by their own landlords, and who do so with barely any resource at their disposal. We noticed that none of the awards are for tenants and residents.

On behalf of almost 50,000 signatories, we look forward to hearing from you.

Regards

Suz
Suzanne Muna
SHAC Secretary

From Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of the CIH to SHAC
30 September 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Suzanne,

Thanks again for getting in touch. I promised to respond more fully to your email asking CIH and Inside Housing to cancel the UK housing awards.

I wanted to give the points you raised the properly considered and thoughtful response they deserve.

With that in mind I have, as well as responding directly to your question, explained my thoughts about the role of awards and the relationship they have to CIH’s role as the professional body in housing.

You asked us to cancel the awards, I don’t believe that this is the right thing to do. I understand this will not be the answer you wanted and you may not ever be convinced that our decision is the right one. But I think a straight question deserves a straight answer.

The points below are lifted from a blog I’ve written which we will publish on our website and which try to explain why we run awards and how we think about and approach them. I thought it was important, and hopefully helpful, that we publicly set out our thinking and approach so that it’s part of the wider conversation that is happening right now.

I don’t expect everyone to agree, I know some people will strongly disagree, but I hope it at least contributes to the debate.

Housing industry awards are the subject of regular debate in the sector and it’s clear that this debate has intensified recently as the cost of living crisis deepens, with questions rightly being asked as to whether these events are justifiable in such a context.

At CIH as part of our role as the housing sectors professional body we run a number of awards ceremonies. I’ve tried to set out below why we do this.

At CIH we try hard to challenge ourselves to ensure that what we do directly contributes to our purpose and our charitable objectives. If it doesn’t, we don’t do it. Our Royal Charter says that our purpose is to “promote the art and science of housing” and that we must act not just in the interest of our members, but in the wider public interest. That is the test against which we measure everything we do.

A large part of the work we do at CIH is about identifying, recognising and disseminating knowledge, skills and good practice. Awards are one of the ways we do this. Entries highlight excellent or innovative practice which directly impacts the homes and services experienced by tenants, resident and communities. We promote that work to share learning as well as to highlight and celebrate individuals and organisations who are making a positive difference.

At their best our awards offer an opportunity to identify and share the very best of what the housing profession does, inspiring others to innovate and adopt the good practices shared.

But although we host award ceremonies, this does not mean that we take the view that everything in the housing sector is perfect. Far from it. Even within awards competitions themselves, some entrants fall well short of the mark and are brought face to face with the need to radically improve.

Good organisations can get things wrong too. They can deliver great services in some areas whilst not meeting the standard in another. I can understand that, if people have received a service which wasn’t of the right standard, then it will be frustrating to see that organisation celebrated in other areas. In our policy and good practice work, CIH does not shy away from being clear about where things need to change for the better. That too is part of our purpose.

Since we began hosting awards, we have regularly taken steps to evolve the way in which we run these events, and we will continue to do that in the future. We know right now there is a lot of scrutiny around how the ceremonies are run, and we are looking will look at how we can adjust things so that we are better aligned to the world we are living in. We take all comments and feedback we receive, whether they are positive or negative very seriously, which is why we’ll continue to engage with and be informed by our members, tenants and residents and the wider sector.

I also think I owe you the honesty of recognising that CIH does benefit financially from running awards. Like all not-for-profit organisations and charities we need to earn income from a variety of sources. Most professional bodies, CIH included, are small organisations that run on tight margins with constrained resources. We work to support the housing sector to work towards a future in which everyone has a place to call home, to make the case for high standards of professional competence and behaviour and to be a voice for housing, shaping the debate and the future of housing policy. These are all ways in which we try to meet out charitable purpose, but they also need us to earn the resources to support that work.

I know this will not be the answer that you wanted and I’m sorry about that. I chose to work in the housing sector because I wanted to make a difference not because I wanted to annoy or upset people. I hope that I have at least managed to do your request justice.

Thanks again for getting in touch.

Gavin
Gavin Smart CIHCM
Chief Executive

From SHAC to Pete Apps (Inside Housing) and Gavin Smart (CIH)
1 October 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Gavin

Thank you for your fuller response. I have posted it on the petition page which alerts all those who have signed – now almost 52,000 individuals. We will shortly add it to our website and send it out to our membership too, so that all can see the arguments you have put forward.

It is startling that CIH and IH have not taken account of the cost of a tarnished reputation weighing against the income stream flowing from the awards ceremony. Whilst recognising that organisations like yours operate on tight margins, an immoral activity cannot be justified on the basis that the organisers need the money. There are other ways to generate income.

Your response does not disappoint our members, it just makes them angrier and more determined to fight for housing justice. Unfortunately, the CIH and Inside Housing appear to have chosen the wrong side.

Regards

Suz
Suzanne Muna
SHAC Secretary

From Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of the CIH to SHAC
1 October 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Suzanne,

Thanks very much for your reply. As I said in my original reply to you I thought it was very unlikely we would agree but I hoped that we might at least have a proper discussion about what I know is a very controversial subject.

To that end I just wanted to reinforce one very important point which I’d hoped I’d made clear in my original reply. CIH’s primary motivation for running awards is absolutely not the income they earn. As I’d hoped I’d explained we look to our purpose when deciding what to do, not to profit.

That said I felt it would have been dishonest and a disservice to you and your members if I had not been clear that CIH does earn some income from awards.

I understand that, for at least some of the audience for our discussion, there is a risk of reputational damage to CIH from continuing to run awards. If this decision was about money it would, as you rightly point out, make no sense to take that risk in return for a minor income stream. But that is not the case, our decision to run awards is about purpose not profit. As the professional body for housing we take our role in identifying and promoting good practice seriously. As I’ve explained awards are one of the ways we do that.

Awards competitions are used across many sectors and organsiations to recognise, celebrate and promote good work, in that sense the work we do at CIH a is not unusual. I know you have had colleagues who have won awards at the recent TUC awards and I hope that they were delighted by their success and that their great work has served to inspire others. I assume that similar thinking will have been behind the decision of your colleagues at Unite to be the headline sponsor of the Leeds College of Building Awards.

I know that you will be very busy so I don’t want to draw you into an extended discussion that takes your time away from more important work, but I hope my reply has clarified an important point.

Thanks
Gavin
Gavin Smart CIHCM
Chief Executive

From SHAC to Pete Apps (Inside Housing) and Gavin Smart (CIH)
1 October 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Gavin

Thank you for your further explanation, and I appreciate your time when I know that you also must be extremely busy.

I have to correct one misunderstanding however. We have absolutely no opposition to the awards themselves (although we do question the worthiness of some recipients). It is the extravagant, rent-funded party that we oppose.

I wanted to make sure that this was clear.

Regards for now

Suz
Suzanne Muna
SHAC Secretary


From SHAC to Pete Apps (Inside Housing) and Gavin Smart (CIH)
27 September 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Pete and Gavin

By close of play this evening, we anticipate that our petition will hit another milestone – 50,000 signatures.

The reasons for signing are varied. Kiki Frankie said “2 year battle for basic requirements after 8 year battle to move for health reasons. Friends living in damp mould & infested housing. These housing associations need to sort themselves out and work with tenants having advocates so tenants aren’t fighting a losing battle”. Ann Mann said “The whole system is made for the benefit of profiteers, private and inside the council, not the people it’s supposed to be actually helping.”

The common thread is that all signatories think it is wrong for this lavish extravaganza to take place while so many housing association tenants and residents are about to fall over a financial cliff edge.

SHAC is urging you as organisers to cancel the event this year. If you did want to celebrate something, it should be the tenacity and persistence of tenants and residents who have to do battle to get themselves heard by their own landlords, and who do so with barely any resource at their disposal. We noticed that none of the awards are for tenants and residents.

On behalf of almost 50,000 signatories, we look forward to hearing from you.

Regards

Suz
Suzanne Muna
SHAC Secretary

From Martin Hilditch, Group Editor of Inside Housing to SHAC
3 October 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Suzanne,
Good to hear from you – I hope all is well. Thank you for your email about the petition to cancel the UK Housing Awards.
I acknowledge the concerns raised in your petition and would like to take a moment to respond and hopefully address some of the issues raised. I should say that I’ve read the response to the petition from the CIH and I think that sums things up well too.

The UK Housing Awards exist to uncover and share learning about outstanding practice in the social housing sector. Their prime purpose is to promote everything from new ways of working that improve services to tenants and residents, to teams that are improving on existing practice. They look to share stories about excellence in a range of different fields, from homelessness to tackling climate change, home building to training initiatives. If we get it right, that means that ideas for improving services or excellent practice in individual organisations or teams will be highlighted and replicated in other providers across the UK in years to come. This could and should mean better services.

The awards see shortlisted entrants scrutinized in person by a panel of judges before a winner is eventually picked in order to test claims made in entries and level the playing field between organisations of different scale and sizes.

The event itself also serves as an opportunity to pay tribute to the professionalism and dedication of individuals and teams within the sector – and bring their work to the attention of a wider audience. Attendees include staff and residents, involved in delivery at different levels in councils, housing associations, charities and other delivery partners. It also gives teams the chance to network and share ideas and details about the winning entries are shared both at the event and also in Inside Housing magazine afterwards. We agree that there are many important issues that it is important that the sector collectively works to tackle, including tackling homelessness and delivering new homes at social rents for people in housing need. As the biggest awards in the sector, attracting hundreds of entries each year, we believe this is one of the most effective ways of looking at existing practice at scale and identifying approaches that might improve delivery of these important agendas if they were adopted more widely.

More widely, this year we have made several changes to the awards format to stress its function as a networking and learning event, including delivering the ceremony over lunch and removing the formal dress code, ensuring the event is more accessible to all. Alongside the Chartered Institute of Housing’s presidential charity, the event will also be supporting the Trussell Trust this year.

As a sector, we believe social landlords should look to do even more than they currently do to scrutinise performance and share information about good practice and we believe that the UK Housing Awards plays an important part in doing so.

I hope this provides you with some reassurance about the nature of the event and addresses some of your concerns.


Thanks,
Martin

From SHAC to Martin Hilditch (Inside Housing)
4 October 2022
Subject: The UK Housing Awards

Dear Martin

Thanks for your response which we will share with our members and on our website shortly.

There are two separate issues here which I think should be untangled. The first is the awards themselves. The petition does not call for these to be rescinded, although as I said to Gavin, some of the nominees, and indeed winners in previous years, have certainly raised eyebrows. Those who know the reality of living with Hyde, Clarion, OHG, Riverside, L&Q, and NHG for example, would not agree that they deserve plaudits.
The second and more pertinent issue at the moment is the ceremony. The fact that you have dropped the dress code and intend to hold the event at lunchtime does not detract from the fact that every penny spent by housing associations on sending a delegation to the ceremony will be funded by rental income. That includes funds for travel, hotel stays, and tickets to the ceremony. The attendees are often on much higher salaries than the average tenant too. The rents by contrast are collected from people facing the deepest financial crisis the UK has experienced for more than 40 years.

Nearly 53,000 people have signed the petition because they disagree that organisers should even contemplate such an extravaganza so soon after people will have received notice of energy costs, mortgages (for shared owners), and social rent rises.

It is of course a positive thing to reward ‘good behaviour’. But if Inside Housing and the Chartered Institute of Housing really want to see sustained improvement across the sector, they should work with SHAC and other campaign groups to truly empower tenants and residents to hold their landlords to account when performance is less than acceptable. The field is already tilted so sharply in favour of landlords that we question whether they really need any additional help. Tenants and residents on the other hand, are disadvantaged in every possible way by the loss of protections, rights, and access to justice that is the legacy of two decades of housing sector de-regulation.

Thanks again for getting in touch and I hope you will give these points consideration.

Regards

Suz
Suzanne Muna
SHAC Secretary


7 October 2022

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