Creating great places to live is at the heart the sector’s Ambition to Deliver. But only by listening to and learning from the people who live in our homes will we be able to realise this vision.
Catherine Ryder is Head of Policy at National Housing Federation
17 November 2017
Many of us will have been encouraged by the positive announcements we’ve heard in recent weeks: money for social rent, a return to an inflation-plus rent settlement, scrapping the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap for social and supported housing, and housing associations being rightly reclassified as private bodies.
Progress on these key issues has opened up space for a new conversation, both with the Government and with our members. So, we have been asking ourselves, what can we best use that space for?
Ambition to Deliver sets out three main strands to our sector ambition: increasing supply, broadening our offer, and quality – or creating great places to live. Together we have made huge strides on the first two, and now seems the right time to properly turn our attention to the third.
So, where do we start? The first step is to talk to our tenants. What is their experience of living in one of our homes and of social housing in general? What matters most to them? We carried out a similar exercise in 2006, but we know expectations and relationships have moved on significantly since then.
We want to learn from other industries that are experienced at talking to their customers on a large scale to find the best way of capturing the views of thousands of ours. We want to get a better understanding of what our customers expect from us and whether we are currently meeting those expectations.
This will undoubtedly uncover areas where, as a sector, we can still make progress.
Of course, not all the factors affecting tenants’ experiences will be within housing associations’ control. For those who rely on benefit to pay their rent, the support they receive from the Government is crucial. For others who are not yet social housing tenants but would like to be, the availability of homes is an issue.
We can't solve these challenges alone, but we can use our leadership and influence to work with our partners in national and local government to carve out an improved offer for social housing tenants.
Our members are of course at the heart of this initiative. We'll be setting up a member steering group to guide our work, and talking to chief executives and regional chairs to get their views on the early stages of the work. In the new year, we'll take the insights and views of tenants and open up a national conversation with the sector about how we take these forward.
Our tenants often have limited power over their housing choices. They can't, at least very easily, chose to ‘switch supplier’. So, there isn’t the same competition, which can act to drive up standards, as there is in other markets. This isn't about creating new structures or arrangements for tenant engagement, but if we want to be the best landlords we can be, we need to speak to, listen to, and celebrate the people who live in our homes. That's what we do. It's why we exist.
This will be a significant piece of work with our members – developing a strong sector-wide offer setting out how we will meet the expectations of our customers and make living in a housing association home the most positive experience it can be.