Tenant Voice – Ensuring we’re held to account

Martyn Hague, Director of Neighbourhoods at ForHousing, reflects on the progress made in giving tenants a greater say in how services are delivered. 

Over the past two years we’ve spoken to thousands of tenants about giving them greater powers over how services are delivered and more influence over the decisions that impact their lives and communities.

We want to be held accountable for the actions we take, but tenants were telling us they didn’t always feel they could get their message across.

We knew we had to make ForHousing more open and make it easier for people to have their say.

Our Tenant Voice Strategy has been the template for making that happen. It was launched in 2020, and since then a lot has happened.

We’ve faced the challenges of a global pandemic and have seen big legislative changes with the launch of the Social Housing White Paper.

Despite this, our aims have always been the same – and we’ve become more determined than ever to make sure it is tenants that shape how services are delivered.

Relationships

A big part of our plans has been to get out and speak to tenants where they live. It’s not been easy during lockdown, but our housing officers and frontline teams have been out talking to tenants, community groups and everyone else in communities wherever possible.

The aim was to try and get a better understanding about what people loved about where they live, and how we could empower them to make the changes they want to see.

Whether it’s a quick chat over a brew and a biscuit or a full-on community meeting, every conversation has been vital and we’re so grateful people have given up their time.

ForHousing’s Community Conversations programme brought together 95 people – including 23 who had never engaged with us before – to talk about how services in local areas are currently run, what people would want to improve, and what they needed from us to make those changes.

We also had more than 200 responses to our feedback survey and held five workshops for tenants, including one with 15 schoolchildren.

On the back of these conversations, tenants set up three new local action groups to develop community-led projects. We listened to what people wanted to do, and then gave them the resources to make the changes they wanted with more than £60,000 in grants handed out to over 100 groups and volunteers to deliver activities, benefitting around 1,400 people.

New community partnerships have been built, such as working with the Fitton Hill Bulldogs group to develop a new community hub, and with Onwards and Upwards in Irlam to deliver the Play Streets school holiday activity programme.

In Stockbridge Village in Knowsley, tenants have led the creation of the Our Times local newsletter to help keep people updated with what’s happening in their community, and more people have agreed to join Community Voice Groups, helping to influence and support delivery of services in their local areas.

This is a great start, but we know we can do more. Our plans for the next year include a survey to 5,000 tenants to gather even more information about what they want to change, and empowering people to take more control over local services and events.

We’ll also be undertaking ‘root cause’ exercises to understand tenants’ experiences of lettings and issues like damp, so we know we’re delivering in the areas that matter most.

Putting things right 

To have a good relationship with tenants, we need to put things right when we get them wrong.

It’s really positive that 99.6% of the complaints we received during the first year of the strategy (2020/21) were resolved internally. This year, tenants led on the development of a new Redress Policy to improve response times and offer more choice on how complaints are handled.

When complaints are escalated we now deal with them much quicker – within four days compared to ten days last year – and tenants are already telling us they are more satisfied with how they are handled.

Holding us to account

In 2021, we asked tenants to hold us to account via ForHousing’s Complaints Panel, Tenant Scrutiny Panel and by regularly monitoring our service standards.

People got involved in loads of different ways, from overseeing Complaints Panel hearings to examining ForHousing’s repairs service and meeting quarterly to check if we had the right service standards.

We made ten improvements based on this feedback, including hiring new contractors and shortening timescales when tenants told us there were delays in door and window installations.

We worked with a focus group of 20 tenants who had long-standing complaints with the repairs service to hear their stories. This led to us transforming our communications with tenants on repairs, including creating an Automated Repairs Update System to keep tenants up to speed with their repair every step of the way.

Other improvements we made included working in partnership with young people leaving care and Salford City Council to improve how homes were let to them.

Influencing decisions 

Tenants supported the recruitment of ForHousing’s new Chair of the Board and four new Board members.

The appointments mean we now have greater diversity and variety of knowledge and skills on our Board. Increasing equity, diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us, so it’s an important step forward to see BAME membership has increased from 10% to 20% and LGBT membership from 10% to 30%.

We are proud to be introducing the Together with Tenants Charter as part of the National Housing Federation’s nationwide initiative to champion the voice of tenants.

We’re continuing to give more power to tenants.  Our new Customer Committee will be a massive part of our governance structure at ForHousing going forward and put tenants’ voices at the top of the decision-making process – right where they belong.

We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has spoken to us so far. We’ll keep doing all we can to give people the opportunity to influence our work on the things that matter most.

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