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Feature: New tenant satisfaction measures in social housing must cater for vulnerable people

In this feature, Billy Harding, Policy and Research Manager at Centrepoint, talks about why the new tenant satisfaction measures in social housing are so important and why rating satisfaction alone is not enough when looking after the country’s most vulnerable people.

Mr Harding argues that the new regulations need to focus not only on whether or not repairs are handled sufficiently and anti-social behaviour is addressed, but also be tailored enough to individual needs, rather than using a ‘one size fits all’ approach. 

Moving into your first home is a life-changing experience, particularly for those escaping homelessness. However, too many young people are left feeling disappointed and infuriated when they move on from hostel accommodation into social housing, which too often falls below the standards they need.

What should be a pivotal and affirming moment in these young people’s lives risks turning into one of stress. We hear from young people after they’ve lived in their new home for only a few weeks, when they realise things like repairs to appliances are needed, or damp starts to appear, and their landlord shows no urgency in handling these requests.

Tenants are often left feeling exasperated in their living situation and can feel powerless about getting their landlord to do anything about it.

It is for these reasons that new tenant satisfaction measures would be a welcome way to ensure that all landlords and providers are supplying a more comfortable living space for their tenants.

The new measures in a consultation that very recently closed, proposed that landlords with more than 1,000 homes run a tenant satisfaction survey yearly, while landlords with fewer than 1,000 homes have the option of running the tenant survey every one or two years. Following the results, all social landlords will be expected to publish their performance to all tenants each year.

Hearing from the tenants themselves is a vital part of the process as these are the people who are most affected by disrepair and interacting with landlords when something goes wrong.

This is also why the monitoring of both how the landlord handles complaints and the timescales of repairs are really important. The tenants must have a voice and be able to raise a complaint, while feeling listened to.

These changes are long overdue and should be implemented within the earliest possible timeframe.

That said, the proposed tenant satisfaction measures are not without their limitations.

Currently, the proposed measures intend to monitor the number of anti-social behaviour cases relative to the landlord, as a measure of overall performance. We’re worried that this measure could see some providers punished unfairly.

This is because the measures will be the same across all models of social housing, including supported accommodation providers like Centrepoint. We provide vulnerable young people, many of whom are escaping homelessness, with not only a bed but access to education, training, life skills and mental health support. Providers like us are delivering a service to vulnerable people with specific support needs, not just a roof over their heads.

Landlords like Centrepoint are dealing with some of the country’s most vulnerable people and may therefore be dealing with a higher proportion of anti-social behaviour cases.

We are concerned that results would misrepresent the overall performance of supported accommodation providers and fail to paint a true picture of tenant satisfaction. The new measures must take this into account and not rate landlords on simply the number of anti-social behaviour cases.

The proposals also don’t go far enough to prioritise that the resident’s voices are being heard, to ensure supported accommodation providers are seeing to their tenants specific support needs in an effective and appropriate way.

The vulnerability of tenants and their support needs mustn’t be forgotten. For example, we think the measures should include the landlord’s contribution to tenant support and development; if the provider is offering support around employment, education and/or training. They should also include the landlord’s contribution to helping tenants access wider services, if these are also on offer. This extra support cannot go unmonitored and fly under the radar of assessment.

The current structure of the proposed measures rightly focus on what is happening in the home being inhabited. With vulnerable groups, alongside monitoring the quality of support being offered, outcomes should also be looked at. Why not include what respective landlord are doing to help tenant’s maintain tenancies and preventing repeat homelessness, for example?

Everyone must have the right to feel safe in their own home and that they’re not at risk of being left without a roof over their heads.

We know that anyone can become homeless and that it’s not a choice, but a circumstance someone can find themselves in. If these past couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that anyone can lose their job, have their educational plans fall through, or be forced to leave their family home due to unforeseen circumstances. The measures must take this into account and assess whether a vulnerable tenant’s landlord really does “have their back” in such a changeable climate.

For those leaving homelessness behind, a new home is a new start and a chance to move on with their lives and achieve their ambitions. Poor quality housing or unsupportive landlords are a hindrance to that – we welcome any tenant satisfaction measures that help remove those blockages to tenants’ success.

That said, if these measures are to be a ‘one size fits all’ for all types of social housing providers, then they could be doomed to fail. We need measures that recognise the special services supported accommodation providers are offering and challenges them to provide the best service they can. The proposals are an important step. But new tenant satisfaction measures are only going to be effective if they empower residents to address the barriers stopping them from enjoying and thriving in their homes.

Photo by Ben Allan

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