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Engagement & Empowerment – Bringing Social & Private Tenants Together Through Positive Involvement..

Submitted by Tony Buchanan

The social aspect of engagement is important and shouldn’t be undervalued or ignored. It can be the very reason why residents decide to get involved in the first place, and it can play a big role in reducing social isolation and improving well-being. As a member of the Oxford City Council Tenant Involvement and Tenant Co-optee for the Oxford City Council Housing Strategy Panel I have seen first hand how tenants can improve local services and shape the way Oxford City Council improves all aspects of their local plan.

Through these difficult times it is vital that we continue to promote, support and champion tenant engagement in social and private housing to bring lasting change to communities. Now is the time to strengthen some of the basics concepts of empowerment to develop a more creative environment and share in the success that we know collaboration can deliver. We should remain committed to encouraging residents, landlords and other partners of interest to work together building a consensus to improve social inclusion in the property market.

1. Involving residents in decision making helps improve the standard of housing services, satisfaction, confidence and self-esteem among tenants, and make substantial cost savings.

2. Getting residents to suggest and shape services, scrutinise existing service providers and new contracts, and help improve governance brought about the most benefit to housing associations and councils.

3. It is important to develop engagement activities that are designed to support tenants to shape and improve their focus and objectives and this is best achieved through building a consensus of what is needed to address the tenant concerns.

4. With the collaboration between support services and tenants, a combination of insight and experience is generated, to understand the need for clear and transparent information about how a landlord’s performance compares with others as it will feed into this process of scrutiny-led improvement.

5. Experience has shown us that tenant involvement can bring a new perspective on what can bring major benefits – culturally, operationally and financially. Tenants have the lived experience and transferable skills to know what changes can improve the services that they receive.

Covid-19 has highlighted deep economic disparities between the different forms of housing providers, and this has had a negative impact on tenants who either have been furloughed or lost their jobs. Tenants feel that their voices are being silenced by the unsympathetic landlords who are concerned more about their rent then supporting those who are in desperate need of help. The demographic spectrum of those affected are from all walks of life, whether that’s social, ethnicity or age. Support groups are inundated with people requiring help to deal with problematic landlords and to know their rights in these difficult times. Now is the time bring about change within the housing market and to give the tenant the right to have a voice on how their housing provider delivers the services and support that is needed.

Oxford has many great housing support groups, both for social and private tenants. Collaboration between support groups is vital to develop an engagement framework to assess and evaluate the efficiency and performance of the housing provider and to re-align our vision, goals and priorities with the needs and expectations of the tenants. It is through this collaboration that we can come together and contribute our experiences and expertise for the benefit of a shared objective to bring about changes to how our housing is managed and maintained. How well we collaborate with others will greatly impact the outcome to improve local services.

Understanding the bigger picture of what is needed within our housing providers ensures our engagement framework is fit for purpose and meets the social housing regulatory standards as well as the organisational drivers for change. We need to develop engagement activities that are designed to support tenants to shape and improve their focus and objectives and this is best achieved through building a consensus of what is needed to address the tenant concerns.

Extract from the Government Green Paper on Tenant Involvement

What the Green Paper says about tenant involvement and performance data:

"We want residents to be able to compare performance more easily".

"We want landlords to be assessed against standards that matter to residents. To achieve this, performance data needs to be published in a clear, regular and consistent format. We consider that the most effective way of doing this is for the performance of all landlords to be assessed against a number of agreed and meaningful key performance indicators which will be made publically available in a way that enables easy comparison".

"We think that any key performance indicators should be focused on issues of key importance to

· residents, covering those identified through our engagement, such as:

· keeping properties in good repair.

· maintaining the safety of buildings.

· effective handling of complaints.

· respectful and helpful engagement with residents.

· responsible neighbourhood management, including tackling anti-social behaviour"

The Government’s Green Paper clearly and precisely outline the key areas that tenant should have a say on and it is the primary gaol for us to work on and implement into a working strategy to take forward. In today’s society Tenant Involvement should be a compulsory act and not a voluntary one, we need to ensure that all interested parties dealing with tenant issues come together and ensure that the Green Paper is fully enacted, giving the tenants the protection that they deserve.

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