Opinion: Tenant scrutiny, landlords’ decision-making, and teeth
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Regulation
Standard housing pictureImage: Housing via Shutterstock
By Phil Morgan, consultant and former TSA executive director for tenant services
Throughout my time at the social housing regulator I was consistently asked “will the new arrangements on scrutiny have teeth?” Just as consistently, I answered that scrutiny panels could have no power to make decisions but it would have the ability to hold landlords to account through its work.
Over three years later I still get asked the same question. This is normally from tenants interested in joining scrutiny panels and wanting to know if it was going to make a difference. And the answer is broadly the same – scrutiny panels cannot make decisions (otherwise they are not scrutiny) but they can hold landlords to account. And in doing so they help nurture cultural change in landlords to be more accountable to tenants.
Experience over those three years has highlighted the importance of terms of reference. These help define the role of scrutiny panels, and the support they are given, in black and white. But just as importantly they represent the formal engagement of scrutiny with decision-making structures within landlords. Be it councils, ALMOs or housing associations fixing the role of scrutiny within their structures is the only way of ensuring scrutiny is meaningful.
Codes of conduct should be included within these terms of references. These help ensure staff are confident in working with panel members, protect panel members from any issues from other members and give decision makers within landlords reassurance about panels.
It is also important to recognise that boards or committees are used to receiving reports from professionals, and to take advice from professionals. So scrutiny panel reports needs to be of a similar standard, not too long, backed up by evidence and with clear recommendations. And given that senior managers will be asked to offer advice it makes sense for panels to discuss and agree those reports and recommendations with them before formal meetings. It also helps to draw up Action Plans that allow the agreed recommendations to be implemented.
Although the social housing regulator is mostly silent on tenant scrutiny these days there are important provisions in the regulatory framework requiring landlords to set up, support and respond in a timely and constructive way to scrutiny panels. Failure to do so still constitutes serious detriment and any board or council taking their governance seriously will pick this up through a thorough approach to governance.
Yet the driver for landlords should be the incredibly positive work that scrutiny panels are doing in terms of raising standards, improving value for money and cementing cultural change. Not teeth perhaps but making real changes for the better.