Housing associations are customer service organisations with a social purpose. As such, there is not much that is more important than ensuring tenants have their voices heard and that their views are sought and acted on. This is happening across the housing association community, under the framework of Together with Tenants.
Ian Gilders – Director of Housing at Advance Housing and Support Ltd
25 September 2019
At Advance, as an early adopter of Together with Tenants, we mapped out what we do now against each of the charter commitments. We then looked at what we could do more of in future. What quickly became apparent was that we were already doing a lot. Not that we don’t have areas to improve upon – we certainly do and we certainly will. But what struck us was how much we do now – and that’s primarily down to our customer base.
Advance specialises in housing and support for people with long-term disabilities or mental health conditions. The range of needs within those terms is enormous, from profound learning disability and autism, to complex physical disabilities, to recurring mental health needs, to substance misuse and offending. As well as rented housing, we are the leading provider of shared ownership specifically tailored to people with long-term disabilities.
Our customers face many disadvantages in their lives. Access to employment and education can be challenging – so we have used our own expertise to raise awareness and encourage customers to explore work or volunteering. Fair and consistent access to health and wellbeing services is mixed – with life expectancy for people with learning disabilities getting shorter not longer – hence our signing up to the Equally Well initiative and STOMP programme, to name but two. Being able to pursue an active love life isn’t as easy as it should be – hence our taking part and supporting the Supported Loving campaign.
Given these challenges, we’ve always worked extra hard to make sure that our customers’ experience of good housing and being listened to is paramount. And it is crucial that Together with Tenants caters for people with all kinds of disabilities and communication needs.
So – what insights might we have for others in the general needs sector to help achieve the charter commitments?
- Keep it simple – documents we produce are written following Plain English standards and produced in Easy Read or other formats – short, simple, clear communication is key, whoever you’re communicating with.
- Be brave – give control to your tenants – our customers pull together our annual Customer Report and tenants edit our customer magazine – they include the information our customers want to know, in an accessible format - we never manage to predict everything they want to know more about!
- Make involvement meaningful for everyone – we find ways for our customers to be involved in all recruitment, whether it be directly participating on interview panels or organising a chat and a cuppa with potential new recruits – everyone can take part whatever their ability.
- Be prepared to take all feedback – our customers are not afraid to say what they think – if we’re not clear what we’re saying or asking, we will be called out on it – as should we all.
- Don’t ever think something isn’t possible – our customers have overcome all sorts of disadvantages in their lives – so we never underestimate their determination to make an idea work – our current Tenant Inspector programme is a good example – where tenants with a variety of needs are going out and inspecting our repairs and quality of maintenance work because it really matters to them.
I hope this gives others the confidence to do and try more – even with a general needs tenants base and that together we can all make great strides towards the Together with Tenants Charter commitments.