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Understanding social housing landlords’ approaches to tenant participation

In this blog CaCHE Co-Investigator, Professor Paul Hickman, and Research Associate, Dr Jenny Preece, provide an overview of the key findings from the CaCHE scoping study, Understanding social housing landlords’ approaches to tenant participation.

Tenant participation, which in broad terms may be understood as how tenants “can influence a social landlord’s activity” (Pawson et al., 2012 p.3), has been a long-standing feature of the UK housing system. In the late 1990s/ early 2000s, it was an important policy priority for Government, but in recent years it has slipped down the policy agenda. The Grenfell fire tragedy, which highlighted in the eyes of many commentators the lack of power and influence tenants have, has changed this, with tenant participation now firmly back as a feature of the policy landscape. However, there has been relatively little recent research on the subject in recent years (Preece, 2019). Therefore, a recently completed CaCHE study which explored landlords’ approaches to tenant participation is timely. This blog highlights some of its key findings.

This study builds on a review of existing research on social housing landlords’ approaches to tenant participation which was published earlier this year (Preece, 2019). The study involved:

  • 10 in-depth interviews with representatives of social housing landlords in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • 11 in-depth interviews with representatives of ‘stakeholder’ organisations operating in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and,
  • A focus group comprising 17 representatives from ‘stakeholder’ organisations.

While reflecting the aims of the research, most participants were officers of social housing landlords and stakeholder organisations, the study captured the views of eight representatives.

The key findings of the research are:

  • The terms commonly used to describe the ways in which tenants are involved in decision-making, performance management, scrutiny, governance and service improvement issues differ. However, whilst there was an acknowledgement that language matters, there was no agreement around the ‘correct’ terminology to use, and some participants argued that the focus should remain on what was achieved rather than the label used to describe it.
  • Most participants viewed tenant participation as crucial, but the extent to which it was perceived as being prioritised by organisations varied – particularly between England and Scotland. There was a view that in England tenant participation had become less of an organisational priority in recent years. By contrast, in Scotland and Wales, the general view of participants was that it had become more of a priority, particularly linked to devolved government agendas and the focus of regulatory guidance.
  • Landlords were asked what they thought the purpose of tenant participation was. ‘Improving the housing service’ was the most common response. Ensuring that tenants had ‘voice’, agency and influence was also identified by many landlords as being a key purpose of tenant participation.
  • The approaches taken by landlords to tenant participation varied. Notwithstanding this, many employed mechanisms that were concerned with empowering their tenants, such as participatory budgeting. And one of the organisations that participated in the study is a tenant and employee mutual housing association. Across the sector as a whole, there are many other examples, such as community-based (and sometimes community-controlled) housing associations, which are prevalent in Scotland and a key feature of the Scottish housing system. However, it was reported that – when viewed nationally – tenants’ powers in relation to ‘mainstream’ tenant participation were relatively limited in England. Wales-based respondents felt that to a lesser extent, the same could be said of the situation in Wales. However, there was also belief that practice was evolving (in a positive way) across the nation as a result of its regulatory framework and the work of its devolved government (and partner agencies).
  • While they continued to play an important role, there was a belief that the importance of TRAs and tenants’ federations had declined in the last decade. One of the key reasons for this has been the growth in ‘new’ engagement mechanisms such as digital engagement. The research found that many landlords are engaging with their tenants ‘digitally’. However, there was a belief that the importance of digital engagement has been overstated.
  • Approaches to tenant participation have shifted in recent years. There are a number of drivers that have contributed to this including: the broad political and regulatory context, beyond specific policy frameworks; organisational culture; and, changes in the demographic profile of tenants

A number of challenges were highlighted by participants, largely falling into four areas:

  • Embedding tenant participation within organisations, to ensure that the responsibility for involving tenants in decision-making was not seen as restricted to a specific person or team (even where such teams were present in organisations).
  • Growing participation, and in doing so, ensuring that the engaged group of tenants were more representative of the broader tenant base.
  • Removing barriers to engagement, for example, by providing skills training.
  • Evaluating the impact of tenant participation activities was noted by many respondents, who highlighted how difficult it was to measure outcomes, particularly around value-for-money, and ‘what worked, when, where, and for whom’.

Learn more

Read the full report: Understanding social housing landlords’ approaches to tenant participation

Professor Paul Hickman is a Co-Investigator at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and Professor of Housing and Social Policy at Sheffield Hallam University. Dr Jenny Preece is a Research Associate at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, based at the University of Sheffield.

 
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Date: December 10, 2019 9:01 am

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