It's easy to become cynical or world weary about codes of conduct, especially now, with trust in all kinds of institutions and authority at an all-time low.
Paradoxically, that is the very reason that the launch of the NHF’s new and reenergised Code of Conduct comes at the right moment. When trust is a scarce commodity, its value to the holder surely increases. To prosper, housing associations need the trust of residents, politicians, charities, civil servants and the general public besides. Within their own structures, trust and confidence are also vital, from the board through to the frontline. We all know that reputation and trust are hard won, and easily lost.
The new Code of Conduct, substantially updated and reorganised, and written in plain language, sets a high standard for the behaviour of those who work or serve in the housing association sector. Of course, that is a standard that most concerned reach in any case, often instinctively, based on their personal values, and their sense of what is right and what is not.
For instance, we know not to take bribes, whether there is a code to that effect or not. Most of us are kind and considerate in our dealings with others, at least most of the time. A strong organisational culture, based on trust, will reinforce the positives in human nature, and trump any formal guidance that may be to hand. A code sets a baseline, and the context for developing the culture that is needed.
Importantly too, a code of conduct gives a mechanism whereby unacceptable behaviour can be challenged and remedied. Very occasionally, a breach of the code can be the trigger for someone to receive a reprimand, or even having to end their connection with a housing association – of course after due investigation and process. The new code is written in a way that enables clear and easy interpretation – avoiding grey areas as much as possible. Once the new code has been adopted, organisations need to support all their people to understand and follow its guidance, and to ensure that there is good compliance.
For housing associations generally, the new code – alongside its older sibling, the NHF Code of Governance – helps to show the world that housing associations mean what they say. That they are social purpose organisations. That they hold themselves to high standards, well above those set out in statute and regulation. That they can be trusted to serve those in need well, and to use public funds wisely.
Of course, codes are only part of that picture. Organisations – and people – are judged more on what they actually do and what they deliver, rather than on what they say they do. But a strong and clear Code of Conduct is a good start, an evident moral compass for all to behold. With good governance, effective leadership and positive organisational culture, housing associations can continue from strength to strength.
James Tickell is a Partner at Campbell Tickell and will be chairing the session ‘Assurance and codes: an update to the code of conduct’ at our Housing Governance Conference on Thursday 23 June at 11:50. He will be joined on the session by Victor da Cunha, Group Chief Executive, Curo and Claire Howe, Executive Director Corporate Services, B3Living
On 10 May 2022, we recorded a webinar about the Code of Conduct for smaller housing associations.Find out more