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Registered providers of social housing review - recommendations

Councillor John Porter

“This review began due to residents contacting councillors for intervention following unsatisfactory responses from their registered providers of social housing. The panel wanted to review the stated service provision from registered providers and compare this with the experience of a sample of their residents.

We also looked at how the registered providers engage with their residents to foster community health and wellbeing, especially during COVID-19.

In addition, the panel looked for opportunities to support productive relationships between the registered providers and housing and environmental health officers at the council.”

- Councillor John Porter, Chair - Environment and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel

Recommendations

Key findings

"I would firstly like to thank my vice chair Cllr Mrs McKenzie-Boyle for her support, as well as all the members of the panel who helped form a fantastic report due to their enthusiasm and knowledge. Our thanks also go to the registered providers who gave honest and open information about their organisational structure and commitment to ensuring a continued excellent working relationship with the officers of Bracknell Forest.

"I would also like to thank the residents who gave an insight into their relationships with the registered providers. Finally I would like to give praise on behalf of all the panel to Jen Lawson who has supported this review with her hard work and passion." - Cllr John Porter, Chair: Environment and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel

The panel recommends that all registered providers review their complaints procedures to create clear and unambiguous timelines for resolution.

For all levels of complaints, these should be:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • realistic

Registered providers are reminded of the requirement of Protocol 1, Article 1 (protection of property, entitlement to peaceful enjoyment) of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The panel suggests that registered providers consider the effectiveness of their general communications to residents, particularly regarding community events and opportunities.

Good practice

The panel were pleased to find that environmental health officers will investigate any complaint against a landlord. This is regardless of social rent, private rent or shared ownership - putting social housing on a level with other tenures.

Registered providers demonstrated the following good practice in support of community wellbeing:

  • membership of TPAS (a tenant engagement service) to support and train residents who are keen to engage with their communities, and
  • resident-led initiatives, such as Southern Group’s newsletter which is created and delivered by residents - which the panel agreed creates stronger bonds in the community

Registered providers described very good working relationships with council officers. The willingness of registered providers to work openly with Bracknell Forest Council and other partners for the benefit of their residents was a real positive observed throughout this review.

Background information

There are 18 registered providers of social housing in Bracknell Forest. They provide 8785 social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership properties. 

We spoke to:

  • Silva: 71% of local social housing - 6194 properties
  • Metropolitan Thames Valley housing: 7% of local social housing - 643 properties
  • Southern Housing: 5% of local social housing - 436 properties
  • Home Group: 2% of local social housing - 215 properties

The white paper on social housing sets out a new charter for social housing residents to:

  • be safe in your home
  • know how your landlord is performing
  • have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly
  • be treated with respect
  • have your voice heard by your landlord
  • have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in
  • be supported to take your first step to ownership

Review findings

“After interviewing the main registered providers in the borough, the panel are confident that the results of our scrutiny will bring changes and better communications, not only between the registered providers and their clients but between the providers and Bracknell Forest Council.” -  Cllr Tina McKenzie-Boyle, Vice chair

How well are residents’ needs being met by registered providers?

Basic needs are met as all the registered providers (RPs) the panel spoke to confirmed that all their homes meet the decent homes standard. They all have a complaints process that is available to residents. Most of the residents who gave evidence knew about the complaints procedures, and they were all aware of the different ways to contact their landlord.

The panel noted some of the RPs’ complaints procedures did not have time frames for resolution. Residents described having to chase issues, multiple teams being involved, lost reports and long periods of no contact from their RP. The panel observed this can cause anxiety, uncertainty and in some cases has a significant effect on the mental health of residents. The panel recommends that all RP complaints procedures establish clear timelines for resolution to give residents more certainty that their concerns will be addressed.

Residents gave examples of unsatisfactory repair or maintenance works, which is also reflected in the complaints to the Public Protection Partnership (PPP). The RPs inspect a percentage of works to ensure quality but clearly some issues remain. In some cases, this may be down to differing expectations of the final outcome.

The panel had concerns over the completion of statutory gas safety checks as one resident mentioned a missed gas check. They were reassured by the robust compliance processes described by the RPs when questioned about this, and later confirmed that the property had been inspected. The review learnt that there is no statutory frequency for electrical safety checks in properties managed by RPs but notes that good practice recommends a full inspection and test at least every 5 years and on every change of occupancy. The panel recommends that the council provides guidance on what tenants can expect from their landlord on the council website.

All the RPs carry out satisfaction surveys after a repair or customer contact, and most do annual or quarterly surveys. In the most recent quarter, Silva had an overall satisfaction score of 89% (exceeding their target of 85%). In their 2019/2020 survey, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) had a customer satisfaction for renters (their largest group of residents) of 70%. The panel were pleased to hear that surveys are carried out and commented that both of these represented very good results.

Apart from one, all the RPs who gave evidence are members of TPAS, a not-for-profit tenant engagement service, which provides support and training for tenants who want to get more involved. It also provides residents with opportunities for peer networking and insights into what other RPs are doing. The panel recognised the benefits that membership of TPAS brings for both residents and RPs.

The review heard that RPs are increasingly using digital methods for customer contact and communications. Bobby Mulheir, Assistant Director Customer Experience, Digital and IT at Bracknell Forest, explained the council’s approach to digital engagement and how this might interact with RP activities. The panel recommends that officers look for opportunities to align digital transformation programmes and share good practice.

How do registered providers engage with residents to foster community health and wellbeing?

RPs use the initial property viewing to tell residents about the area, facilities and activities. They noted that most of their new residents already live in Bracknell and are familiar with the area. They also use approval interviews and settling in visits to identify any support needs such as:

  • education, training or employment advice
  • furniture assistance information
  • referrals to support agencies

All of the RPs have funds and initiatives to support community wellbeing. These include:

  • fun days
  • skip days
  • litter picks
  • a hoarding support group
  • a garden assistance scheme
  • Community Connectors

Community Connectors is a role created at Southern Housing to bring together residents who want to be more involved in their community. They have invested over £12,000 establishing these connectors in Bracknell.

Residents of Southern Housing produce and deliver their own newsletter. They note that resident-to-resident contact (pre-COVID) has increased local understanding and brought communities together. The panel were impressed by this initiative and the level of social cohesion described.

Residents gave mixed responses about whether they felt part of a community. Overall, there wasn’t a strong sense of community cohesion and the residents we spoke to hadn’t been involved in community events. They all felt that social events were beneficial and that communication about them could be improved. The panel recognised the benefits of resident-led initiatives and suggests that RPs review their approach to community communications.

In response to COVID, all the RPs are making welfare phone calls to vulnerable customers and providing tailored support. This includes:

  • help with shopping and medicines
  • weekly phone calls to combat isolation
  • support with energy bills
  • digital equipment to get online
  • wellbeing activities such as games for children

MTVH have supported 951 residents so far and Silva report that their safeguarding referrals are at their highest ever.

The panel recognised this important layer of support for vulnerable residents in these very difficult times.

What are the governance and enforcement arrangements regarding registered providers?

Bracknell Forest Council does not hold any housing stock and all social housing in the borough is provided by RPs. RPs must be registered with the Regulator of Social Housing whose remit is set by the government. Local authorities have no jurisdiction over or ability to monitor the performance of RPs. The panel also heard that the council has no ability to influence the choice of RP for new developments.

The panel noted that the current regulatory approach puts little emphasis on consumer standards, with no clear benchmarking on performance across RPs. The panel agreed that visible performance metrics create accountability. This review welcomes the White Paper on Social Housing for the strong, proactive focus it puts on consumer standards, including easily accessible tenant satisfaction measures.

Environmental health officers from the Public Protection Partnership (PPP) are responsible for enforcing health and safety standards with RPs . They have a duty to investigate any complaint raised with them, regardless of tenure. Most of their cases involve inadequate responses from landlords or unsatisfactory works from contractors. They assess risks using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and the 29 hazards included within it. The PPP reported good success rates once they are in contact with the RP.

The role of the PPP in investigating social housing complaints was a key finding of this review. They will take on any complaint where the complainant feels they are not getting support from their landlord (whether RP or private). Councillors are encouraged to direct any residents needing this type of support to the PPP.

The panel observed that governance and enforcement is complex and involves officers across central government, the PPP and housing. They felt they could now signpost and advocate for residents more effectively. The recommended training will help all councillors understand this complex area, allowing them to better support residents having difficulties. This report doesn’t pre-empt the detailed training, but a quick guide to supporting residents’ complaints is included at the end.

Due to the interactions, this review also recommends regular briefings across housing and PPP to keep councillors updated on current issues.

Most of the RPs described good working relationships with Bracknell Forest Council, and many were involved in multi-agency groups to ensure a holistic approach.

All of the RPs involved in the review were very open to developing further relationships with the council. This panel has established valuable contacts in the RPs and details have been shared with all councillors and relevant officers.

Guide to complaints

1. Residents should raise any issues about their property, environment or personal safety using the landlord’s published complaints procedure in the first instance.

2. If it is not resolved, the issue should be reported to the following for further investigation:

  • PPP for health and safety and environmental issues
  • Community Safety Team for anti-social behaviour

3. If the RP doesn’t resolve the issue, the resident can escalate it to the Housing Ombudsman (this does not apply to private rent and is not a requirement to proceed to step 4)

4. If the issue is still not resolved, residents may consider taking their landlord to court under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018

Review panel

Review panel members were Councillors:

  • Ian Kirke
  • Isabel Mattick
  • John Porter (Chair)
  • Mary Temperton
  • Michael Brossard
  • Moira Gaw
  • Robert Angell
  • Sandra Ingham
  • Tina McKenzie-Boyle (Vice chair)
  • Tricia Brown

Contributors to the review

Residents from Silva, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and Southern Housing contributed to the review. The other contributors are listed below.

Contributors to the review

Name

Organisation

Job title

Bobby Mulheir

Bracknell Forest Council (BFC)

Assistant Director: Customer Experience, Digital and ICT

Damian James

BFC

Assistant Director: Contract Services

Alan Daniels-Smith

Home Group

Local Housing Manager

Ronika Cunningham

Home Group

Group Engagement Manager

Kayleigh Gorrell

Home Group

Community Housing Assistant

Jen Lawson

BFC

Governance & Scrutiny Officer

Lisa Jones

BFC

Senior Housing Resources Officer

Mary Glome

Public Protection Partnership (PPP)

Principle Environmental Health Officer

Glyn Jones

Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing

Regional Director, North London & Central

Kelly Adjetey

Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing

Area Manager

Rosalynd Gater

PPP

Strategic Manager

Sarah Gee

BFC

Assistant Director: Early Help and Communities

Sean Murphy

PPP

PPP Manager

Andrew McDonald

Silva

Lead Customer Relations Partner (Tenancy)

Tom Mason

Silva

Lead Customer relations Partner (Revenue)

Tony Hughes

Southern Housing Group

Head of Home Management – North Region

Alice Webster

Southern Housing Group

Community Investment Services Manager

Emma Barnett-Warden

Southern Housing Group

Area Services Manager

Jeremy Barkway

Southern Housing Group

Partnerships Manager – New Business & Regeneration

Victoria Blades

BFC

Housing Enabling Officer

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