Although Wayne Gethings, Group Chief Executive of The Wrekin Housing Group, is pleased the Social Housing White Paper is finally here, he warns that without widespread collaboration the needs of residents will not be fully met
The government’s long-awaited Social Housing White Paper was released earlier this month, alongside the introduction of a charter for social housing residents.
These documents set out the steps required to ensure that social housing residents are safe, listened to, live in good quality homes, and have access to redress when things go wrong.
I certainly welcome the thrust of the proposals. However, if we are to make housing safe, sustainable, and affordable for all, then it will require more than greater regulation of the landlord-resident relationship. It demands deep collaboration across the social housing sector and beyond.
Amplifying the voice of the customer is paramount to the new charter. It is something that many in the sector have been proactive in, introducing initiatives such as the National Housing Federation’s Together with Tenants, which was embraced by Wrekin as early adopters.
That the white paper provides some consistency and clarity on what residents should expect in this regard to their voice and their future is positive. But it could, and should, go further, because embracing the customer voice should be about much more than addressing complaints and handling crises. It needs to be woven into the fabric of every part of social housing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the importance of regular dialogue to the fore. The housing providers who have listened and reacted to the needs of their residents throughout a testing 2020 will have been able to maintain a level of trust and, in some cases, build an even stronger community.
At Wrekin, this meant going the extra mile to support our people with information on accessing finance, employment, and mental health support should they need it. We do this because of our fundamental belief that the role of a social housing provider is more than just a safe bundle of bricks and mortar. It is a commitment to supporting the communities you build.
Which brings me to the myriad positives to be found for providers who make the extra effort to listen.
Being from a more rural part of the UK, our own social housing developments are in villages and market towns. These smaller places tend to have an incredibly strong sense of community and, with that, a veritable gold mine of ideas on how to make good plans even better.
The input of our direct customers, our neighbours, and local partners not only helps to prevent future problems, but can be lent on to create thriving communities. It is a holistic way of working that can only be achieved through great collaboration beyond the social housing sector.
“If we are to make the customer voice central to the future of social housing, it needs to be all voices that are heard”
Yes, providers of social housing like us have a responsibility to be leaders on this, and we can demand more of our partners to keep our residents at the heart of our decision making. But the white paper should have outlined a framework for how local partners, from councils to schools and the emergency services, can best come together to do that. We are lucky to have the relationships we do, but there are many places where this does not happen.
Nowhere is this collaborative way of working more important than in helping to gather input from those less inclined to come forward. There is a pressing need to actively seek out voices from underrepresented groups and marginalised voices within our social housing community because, if we are to make the customer voice central to the future of social housing, it needs to be all voices that are heard.
I also hope the government listens to voices from across the social housing sector on the issue of aspiring to own a property. We are fully supportive of customers looking to take ownership of property, and have a proud record of doing so, but we would question whether the Right to Shared Ownership is the best way of doing this.
At a time when we are being asked to Build Back Better and tackle the housing crisis as a sector, it could present an obstacle in the delivery of more properties for affordable rent and other ownership tenures. If fewer new developments are undertaken as a result, it is the residents awaiting housing who will suffer most. So, one hopes that the government is equally open to listening to the voices of people across the sector.
Image: Wayne Gethings, group chief executive, The Wrekin Housing Group
Are you a social housing professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.