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Building a new culture in social housing

Date: 23 November 2021
Author: Cllr Jim Millard
Title: Spokesperson for Housing

I am very pleased to be announcing the formal approval of the new Social Housing Resident Participation Charter for Richmond Borough.

This document contains 18 points - joint commitments by the Council and its four main housing association partners, RHP, PA Housing, L&Q and MTVH, on improving resident participation, including a commitment to ensure the involvement of residents in designing landlords’ participation strategies and a commitment to being held to account by enabling resident participation in the scrutiny of housing services. 

View the charter

This is a significant step that lays the foundations for the building of a new culture in social housing in Richmond borough, where listening to and involving tenants and leaseholders is central to the delivery of social housing and housing services. Why is this needed and how will this charter help?

Since I was first elected in 2018, in my time as the borough’s Tenants’ Champion and then, since May, as Lead Member for Housing, I have spoken to hundreds of families living in social housing. What I heard time and time again was that they did not feel listened to or involved in decisions affecting them and their housing. That due to national and local changes over time they felt their housing association landlord had become faceless and remote.

This was having a number of serious and negative effects, not least of which was a feeling of helplessness and marginalisation that worsened other challenges those residents were going through in their lives. It was clear to me then, as it is now, that we have to change that and rebuild a different culture from the ground up with the involvement of social housing residents at its heart.

We started in 2019 by undertaking a review of resident participation as it was then carried out by our housing association partners across the borough. What we found was that while each of our housing association partners undertook good and worthwhile things that could be singled out as examples of ‘best practice’, no one landlord was doing all of those things, and so this was an opportunity to identify best practice and set out expectations for the adoption of that best practice.

We also took a good look at ourselves as a council - we could see we could do more to engage with our social housing residents but that, as a non-stock holding council, we couldn’t do it without our housing association partners. This meant finding new ways to work together. There isnt really a template for this sort of thing — it turns out we are treading relatively new ground in seeking to work together in this way, but the moral imperative to do so was clear.

Initially, we went to our four largest social housing landlord partners, RHP, PA Housing, L&Q and MTVH, and set out our request to work together to find ways we could all do better. It would involve effort and resource but I was very pleased to see that all involved felt the potential benefits for residents meant this was the right thing to do.

To do this, in 2020-21 we held a series of working groups with our housing association partners, which I chaired on behalf of the council, with facilitation by Louise Thompson from TPAS, the tenant engagement experts, to look at the recommendations of the review, share best practice and agree on ways we could work together to improve resident participation. This approach was supported by the national context, with the release of the Social Housing White Paper and the priorities for resident engagement set out in that.

The agreements we reached as a result of our working group process are enshrined in this charter. It has been important to recognise that each housing association is different and each will respond to fulfilling these commitments in their own way. Indeed, part of that will be because they are listening to their particular residents, who will give them their unique input on how participation should be designed. But at the same time there has been unanimous agreement that it is right for us all to commit to a set of standards beneath which our work to listen to and involve residents will not fall and above and beyond which we will seek to innovate and excel.

The report upon resident participation which gave rise to this charter will continue to be updated every year and reported on as part of the Tenants’ Champion Annual Report to full Council so people can monitor progress and can be viewed on the Tenants’ Champion page.  

There are a number of other housing associations that provide a smaller number of homes in the borough but it's still important that they get involved and we will be reaching out to bring them on board too in due course.

The charter has been formally agreed by the Council’s Adult Social Services, Health and Housing Committee and by each of the four housing association landlords involved. This is the foundation upon which we will start to build a new culture of resident involvement in social housing.

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Updated: 24 November 2021