Steve's recent comments in - March 2019

Balance of power

When we talk about empowerment through customer service choices we are not actually giving tenants power

In a recent Inside Housing editorial welcoming the launch of the National Housing Federation’s ‘Together with Tenants’ campaign, Martin Hilditch argued that this approach sought to “transform the balance of power between tenants and associations”.
The idea that the relationship can be characterised as involving a ‘balance of power’ is at odds with the self-representation increasingly being offered by the social housing sector. This tells us that what binds landlords and tenants is the nature of the ‘customer experience’ made available to the latter by the former.
The very term ‘power’ is avoided by landlords in characterising their
relationship with tenants. They generally have no difficulty in endorsing the concept of tenant empowerment. Empowerment represents those well-tended uplands permanently lit in benign sunshine, and is a ‘good thing. But power, as in ‘tenant power’, connotes images of association chief executives being drawn on tumbrils to some grisly fate, while being beaten as they pass by tenants carrying the latest Socialist Worker placard. Some may say that giving tenants a positive customer experience must itself be an act of empowerment. Tenants who are subject to that have more ‘choices’ about what services they receive, and how they receive them. But what does this type of power represent? Is it the power over someone or something? Is it the power to achieve some outcome? Or is it the power with others to achieve an outcome? And which of these is present when there is the change in this ‘balance of power’? If we can’t answer that, then we can’t counter the charge that empowering tenants through customer experience only ‘empowers’ by not giving tenants any actual power. However, if tenants have truly now become ‘customers’, does that matter anyway?

Steve Sharples, director, PS Consultants

The 2018 Housing Green Paper raises the likelihood that social landlords will be required to issue annual performance reports to their tenants. Since 2014 we have been working in Perth and Kinross Council in Scotland to help them implement their ‘Reporting to Tenants’ obligations , and we are well placed to advise tenants and landlords in England on how that system can be made to work well, and particularly its link to scrutiny.

Since 2017 we have been acting as ITA in the proposed stock transfer of approximately 280 homes in the Lambeth Council Patmos Road area . This is an unusual proposed transfer in that it was triggered by the serving of a ‘Right to Transfer’ notice by the local tenant-led organization PACCA, and if it happens it would be to a for-profit registered provided. The provisional date for the ballot is September 2019.

We recently worked for Cobalt Housing Association on a tenant consultation exercise to assess tenant support for a proposed de-merger from the Symphony Housing Group. We used a wide mix of methods to assess tenant opinion including ; fun days / carnivals ; interviewing at information meetings and in the Cobalt foyer ; telephone interviews with tenants phoning Cobalt on a variety of issues ; pre-paid response post cards ; and others. Over 50% of tenants responded with a very large majority in favour of the de-merger.

Located in our home village, Steve Sharples and Christine Bailey have supported the development of a new Charitable Incorporated Organisation to take over the day-to-day management of the Centre from Bolton Council. In the 12 months or so since the new community -led management arrangements began , the Centre has increased its income by around 250% and greatly expanded its range of activities.