Does your organisation measure up?

If proactive consumer regulation were to start tomorrow, how would your culture stand up?

With progress on legislation now well under way, the vision of the Social Housing White Paper is coming into sharper focus. This is good news – for tenants and the social housing sector as a whole.

The white paper contains a range of proposals for a number of players, but ultimately it’s about a culture shift that improves and strengthens the relationship between landlords and their tenants, focuses on the quality of homes and landlord services, and builds trust through professional and customer-friendly interaction.

For the regulator, this will mean a shift from our current reactive consumer remit to a proactive approach.

We’re already working on this shift, which will include revised consumer standards and a new approach to assessing how providers meet them, supported by collecting new data. We’ve already shared our thinking on the last of these.

Tenant satisfaction measures (TSMs) will allow us and tenants to scrutinise landlords and understand how they are performing.

We received 1,100 submissions to our recent consultation – 55% from tenants. This will take a little time to analyse in full and reflect on the range of views. But, in a nutshell, respondents felt that TSMs were a good thing and broadly in the right

Next we’ll revise the current consumer standards to better reflect the themes of the white paper. Again, we’ll be out talking to stakeholders and tenants and then holding another consultation. Once the standards are finalised, we’ll set out how we’ll gain assurance against them.

Many will have heard us say “don’t wait” for the ink to dry on standards or assessment. Our chief executive Fiona MacGregor’s recent letter to landlords couldn’t have been clearer. Boards, councillors and management teams should be asking themselves what gaps they need to fill and taking the necessary steps now.

The vision of the white paper is both realistic and achievable now by good landlords. So far, we’ve spoken to more than 1,000 tenants at events and facilitated workshops.

Overwhelmingly, the two most frequent concerns were about communication and repairs. Getting the right focus at board and councillor level now will go a long way to helping landlords when the proactive regime goes live.

Data will be crucial – both that which shines a light on the condition of homes and that which gives insight to the tenants living in them.

We’ve talked at length over the past six months about diverse needs. Boards and local councillors should understand whether needs are being met among all tenants – and know whether this is a universally good experience across demography, ethnicity, vulnerability etc. If not, then what’s the plan for improvement?

We’ll seek insight from tenants as part of our assessments. One of the many interesting discussions we’ve had with stakeholders recently has been about the difference between involvement and engagement.

Developing effective structures and vehicles for meaningful tenant involvement is an obvious way to listen to those who know first-hand about their homes and landlord services. And, from my experience in the sector previously, it’s an effective way to co-create solutions.

But it’s not enough.

The other essential element is engaging with tenants who simply want to report a leak and get it fixed via a helpful and professional service. Landlords must be on top of this.

We’ve seen examples in our own casework and the media where this hasn’t been the case. On too many occasions, tenants have simply given up trying to get their issues resolved. Poor communication from landlords or a lack of joined-up support contribute to this problem.

How do boards and local councillors achieve clear lines of sight to frontline issues? And how do they hear the messages their tenants are trying to give them?

What needs to change within organisational culture now to ensure problems aren’t overlooked, but surfaced and solved – with issues around non-compliance uncovered and self-referred to the regulator?

Good governance means seeking assurance on consumer matters. The regulator will be doing just that, so boards and local councillors will want to develop their own means ahead of us.

Finally, trade-offs. We know this is an uncertain and complex time. A look through our latest Sector Risk Profile reinforces the long list of storms on the horizon. But providing good-quality homes and landlord services isn’t an additional thing to do. It’s the core purpose of social housing providers.

Listening to tenants and being accountable is at the heart of well-run businesses and service delivery. If proactive consumer regulation were to start tomorrow, how would your culture stand up?

Regulation, as ever, will deal with poor performance, and we’ll have new tools in the box to do that. There is a clear direction of travel. Culture shift takes time – don’t run out of it.