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Social housing providers 'failing to effectively involve their tenants' - report

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Social housing providers 'failing to effectively involve their tenants' - report

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing

Eco-towns could become 'slums of the future' Eco-towns could become 'slums of the future'

Social housing providers are failing to effectively involve their tenants in major reform processes due to ineffective support and a lack of trust, according to new research published today.

Research by the Building and Social Housing Foundation, which included in-depth interviews with tenants involved in stock transfers across the UK, revealed several issues which prevented effective engagement with stakeholders and limited their ability to influence change.

The report found:

  • Trust was the top priority for tenants, but housing providers were often perceived to act in ways that gave reason for mistrust;
  • In focusing on practicalities and moving the process forward, housing providers failed to properly acknowledge and address the experiences and values of tenants;
  • Despite seeking genuine dialogue with housing providers that could lead to change, tenants often found that opportunities for effective discussion were limited and that the agenda for debate was inflexible;
  • Tenants had limited awareness of the competing interests of different stakeholders, which prevented them from obtaining a complete picture of the transfer process and therefore from effective critical engagement in discussions;
  • There was limited support for tenants to access specialist knowledge, or to gain an awareness of the significance of technical issues for their community;
  • Questions were raised about whether current structures assist Independent Tenant Advisors (ITAs) to be independent and effective;
  • Most tenants were motivated by the desire to support their community, rather than by self-interest. This is at odds with the emphasis by government and housing providers on providing consumer choice for tenants, which was seen to be more focused on personal benefits.

Dr John McCormack, the report's author, said: “The current structure of tenant support fails to help tenants make a real difference. Policy guidance doesn’t support the kind of critical engagement necessary for tenants to influence significantly their housing situation, especially in circumstances where their interests are in tension with those of other, more powerful stakeholders."

The research report, entitled 'Tenant Involvement in Stock Transfer: Improving education to unlock potential', makes recommendations for how this situation can be significantly improved by restructuring the guidance on tenant support.

It also highlights that Independent Tenant Advisors (ITAs) could play a significantly more effective role in addressing these issues than they do at present.

Dr McCormack added: “My initial research further argues that the role of ITAs has the potential to be far more significant and effective than it is, but this involves re-casting this role significantly, with the ITA acting as a community-based adult educator, actively promoting critical thinking amongst tenants."

Alongside the role of advisors, the report calls for housing providers to engage in a more wide-ranging and open dialogue with tenants as a significant number of interviewees expressed frustration that housing providers seemed unwilling to a) volunteer information that might alter the balance of power in landlord-tenant relations to the advantage of tenants, and b) listen carefully to the concerns of tenants which, in several cases, has led to them feeling mistrustful of housing providers.

The research also identified that tenants are keen to be involved in improving the communities in which they live, and not simply their own private living conditions. By recognising and supporting this, advisors and housing providers can unlock this potential and see local communities benefit as a result.

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