A year as Tenants' Champion
26 July 2022
Author: Cllr Alan Juriansz
Title: Outgoing Tenants’ Champion
On Tuesday 19 July 2022, I was able to present my report to the Council reviewing my year as Tenants’ Champion. The Tenants' Champion service has operated for 11 years now and is a well-established method of support for tenants and leaseholders of housing associations in the borough.
One of the key reasons for its success has been the presence of Penny Dimond, the Council Officer who has supported every Tenants Champion from the start. She provides a wealth of knowledge and experience that ensures the service continues to work efficiently year after year.
It is quite a comprehensive report which you may wish to read in more detail. It describes the type of support the Tenants' Champion service can provide and how we try to explain and find ways to mitigate the effects when problems are more difficult to solve.
We are very fortunate that we have a strong relationship with the management of the various housing providers. We all recognise that our priority is to help residents by finding solutions to what are sometimes long-standing problems.
However, the report shows that there has been a significant increase in complaints from residents about various issues, but mainly the difficulty with getting repairs done quickly, efficiently and completed without snags. As Tenants' Champion, I have sought to highlight these issues and identify where isolated problems have become repeated failings. By doing this we have been able to encourage changes in the customer service structures of the associations, which has started to show improvement.
Many of the problems over the past year have a direct or indirect link with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a challenging one for everyone and all the associations with accommodation in our borough have also been affected, as well as their contractors that carry out the repairs. Staff absence has meant that staff who are working have had to deal with irate customers because of last minute cancellations. Our role has been to try to improve the communication around booking appointments and ensuring that when they are missed, they are followed up with new appointments being made.
All our Local Housing Associations are committed to improving resident engagement and the work to develop the Community Ambassador project is a testament to that. The report does show how this project is progressing within the Council’s communities' team, and how engagement is now at the forefront of most of the associations plans for the future.
Perhaps the most difficult issue we work with is antisocial behaviour. As described in the report it varies widely. Trying to carry out any enforcement action requires a considerable burden of current ongoing proof; this is never easily provided. A big part of our role is reassuring residents that everything that can be done is being done, and of course then monitoring that it is being done.
It should be noted that ultimately it is the courts that decide on enforcement with regard to anti-social behaviour, irrespective of the content of the tenancy agreement. We have found that where there is not overwhelming ongoing evidence, the court will generally side with the tenant as it is their home that is in jeopardy.
As you will see in the report, overcrowding also continues to be a problem. I know we have many affordable homes in the pipeline, and we are very hopeful that these essential developments will soon gain planning permission. This should provide real hope for these families in the near future.
Being Tenants Champion can be quite stressful dealing almost daily with residents who are often at the end of their tether, but it is also enormously rewarding to be able to help people. I now move on to become the Vice Chair of the Policy and Performance Review Board, and I hand the role of Tenants' Champion to my colleague Cllr Paulina Vassileva. I will support her with ongoing cases to ensure a smooth handover, and I look forward to seeing the impact she will make!
Up to: Council blog 2022
Updated: 30 August 2022