Engaging and empowering tenants in council-owned housing highlights the crucial role of local leadership in developing a culture of tenant involvement. The report explores what ‘good’ involvement looks like from both a council and tenant perspective, including examples of positive action. LABM takes a look.
Commissioned by the Local Government Association partnering with Tpas, the tenant engagement experts, Engaging and empowering tenants in council-owned housing comes at a crucial time as the outcome from the Social Housing Green Paper consultation is awaited and the consultation into regulatory standards that will determine how housing services are provided in the future. Not only that but the report showcases how councils are working to involve and empower tenants of council owned housing, and as is stated ‘there is always room for improvement’. While working on the contents of the report it was found that the simple act of sharing good practice and talking about tenant involvement was well received by the people contributing to the research — the LGA plans to build on this.
What is good practice?
As partners with the LGA, Tpas investigated, captured and reported on good practice in tenant engagement delivered by councils in tenant engagement delivered by councils across the country. To garner information Tpas carried out four roundtable discussions and promoted a survey to capture feedback from residents, staff and councillors. The LGA wants to understand and highlight good practice, and the review features a definition from an English dictionary that ‘good practice’ is: ‘A working method that is officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular business or industry usually described formally and in detail.”
Good practice key findings
One of the key findings in the review is there is a need for more networking opportunities and good practice information regarding tenant engagement to be shared. During the review, tenants, staff and councillors developed a set of key principles that would elevate an approach as an example of good practice so organisations can learn from each other. Examples of some of the good practice principles for engagement are:
• A clearly identified issue and a desired outcome as part of the activity set out at the start.
• Engagement activity is clearly set out so it can be easily replicated by other organisations.
• Engagement activity demonstrates responsiveness to the issue, showing good design and practice.
• Barriers to successful engagement activity have been addressed agter being identified at the start.
• Activity actually provides a solution to the issue identified demonstrating good planning.
In addition to the principles for engagement, work in the sector and findings from this review shows that good practice must also be part of a resident engagement approach that:
• Has a positive resident centred culture.
• Has firm foundations and strategic base for engagement.
• Ensures residents and staff are trained and well resourced.
• Ensures organisations know who lives in their homes.
• Has a range of activities to involve residents.
• Has an effective complaints service.
• Has effective ways to measure and report on outcomes
• Has a wider role in improving communities.
Each of these eight important points to resident engagement is dealt with in depth in separate chapters in the review. LABM takes a brief look at some of the suggestions, ideas and findings covered in the chapters:
Chapter 6: a positive resident-centred culture
‘Resident engagement works best when it is embedded across an organisation and truly at the heart of that organisational culture. Why would an organisation or business not listen to its customers and work with them to improve.’ The report goes on to say that the benefits of placing customer experience as a priority are endless. As an example of ‘learning from others’ Homes in Sedgemoor (ALMO – Sedgemoor District Council) has a ‘Customer First’ model that sets out a clear mission, vision and values. The corporate strategy clearly emphasises ‘customer first’ culture and ways they will achieve, measure and celebrate it.
Dartford Borough Council has a resident engagement agreement developed with tenants and leaseholders which is a partnership model setting out their commitment to involvement in design, delivery, monitoring and review.
Chapter 9: Ensure organisations know who lives in their homes
Tenancy audits can help engagement and recruitment to an involvement framework as well as provide valuable insight that enables a greater understanding of tenants. Tenancy audits are only one way to gather information however, what is important is how this is turned into insight to improve services.
Colchester Borough Homes as part of their tenancy audit policy carry out regular tenancy audits funded by Colchester Council. This policy was developed with a task and finish group of tenants. The audits identify residents who need support, dangerous works that need to be put right, tenancy fraud and empty homes.
Hull City Council collects profile information of active tenants on a quarterly basis, and compares findings with the overall customer profile. This is then used by the Tenant Performance Panel to identify gaps and develop and action a plan of areas for improvement. By comparing profile data, resident engagement officers are then able to target and work with groups that are under–represented; this may mean working with individuals or by working with partners and stakeholders.
Chapter 18: In the community
The review found that there is an area of excellence for local authorities in their place shaping role, and goes on to say that there is a real body of evidence that demonstrates a commitment to improving quality of life and addressing health, financial and environmental concerns.
Suggestions for improving local authorities’ community involvement include: targeting experience and encouraging and using the knowledge in the community, community leaders, existing organisations and anchors; ensuring you know who lives in your communities (see Chapter 12); consider a community mapping exercise to identify key issues facing communities and neighbourhoods in partnership with residents, and consider a targeted community strategy through neighbourhood agreements or charters that set out how you will commit to tackling key issues and concerns.
Stockport Homes create self-sustaining projects eg community cafes and a domestic violence network, they tap into what external funders are looking for and secure grants to support projects. Many projects provide work skills for tenants.
Engaging and empowering tenants in council-owned housing presents an overview of findings and themes that emerged from the review, alongside good practice examples, questions for self-reflection across some chapters and recommendations for improvement. The review is essential reading for all those in local government concerned with successful place making.