In the first part of this blog I highlighted how recent ITV News coverage of serious damp and mould problems in council and housing association homes has thrust social providers into the spotlight with some uncomfortable headlines.
Take note that it’s ITV’s Political Correspondent, Daniel Hewitt, who’s been leading the coverage and asking housing leaders difficult (but entirely justified) questions. This is not just a consumer matter or quality of service issue for residents and staff. It puts the focus onto another important group of players: local councillors and housing association board members.
Contrary to how they’re sometimes depicted in films or television, few if any people go into local politics or non-executive roles to do bad things. There are far easier and more rewarding ways to do harm if that’s what you really want to achieve. But if the basic values, attitudes, behaviours, systems and safeguards below aren’t up to scratch, then it leaves councillors and board members horribly exposed. That said, it’s their responsibility and that of the executives they appoint to make sure this isn’t the case. So they too need to ask penetrating questions, insist on robust, comprehensive answers and check that what they’re told is correct.
Council and other public services being cut to the bone since 2010 partly explains the current position. But it cannot be an allowable excuse. Treating customers with dignity and respect costs nothing and should come naturally to those working in social housing. ITV reported in June that all top ten housing associations had declined to speak to them about their report that month into disrepair. This reflects poorly on the sector and will win it few friends.
Anyone who’s worked in housing knows that it can be a complex, difficult and frustrating business, often beset by barriers and unintended outcomes that make progress elusive. In this kind of environment, it’s both inevitable and predictable that things go wrong. Everyone – residents included – understands that. It’s how organisations react, behave under pressure and put problems right that counts.
By allowing cases of serious disrepair to persist, housing providers and their representative trade bodies are simply not doing themselves justice. Apart from damaging people’s health, it undermines public trust and gives hostile political viewpoints ammunition to attack the sector. As a result, the good news and great achievements across the vast majority of the sector’s homes and tenancies get drowned out by the few bad examples.
If you aren’t already well underway in following the ARK action plan to prepare for much tougher scrutiny and stricter accountability in light of the proposals in the Government’s Housing White Paper, then it’s time to get busy. Otherwise yours might be the next organisation to have ITV News making contact.
The action plan recommends sixty-plus compliance and best practice points. On top of these you need to be ready to explain how some organisational basics relate to the failures about which the media are rightly calling landlords to account:
- Who owns and is responsible for damp, condensation and mould in your business?
- How many and what proportion of your homes experience or are at risk of the problem, and which homes are they?
- How do damp, condensation and mould figure in your corporate risk map and asset management strategy?
- What levels of training and competence do customer service and other frontline staff have in diagnosing and advising on damp, condensation and mould?
- How do you cover damp, condensation and mould in your information to new residents, early-stage management and tenancy sustainment?
- How does your response to damp, condensation and mould relate to your work on financial inclusion, energy use/efficiency and affordable warmth?
- What money and other resources have you made available to respond to damp, condensation and mould?
Housing has always been about people, property and performance. To make news for the right reasons, it’s time to give much more care and attention to the first of those.
Chris Seeley, Director
Chris has a strong track record in sourcing, delivering and selling homes; strategic asset management; project and programme management; and in mentoring individuals and supporting teams to maximise their success. He is passionate about working with people and about the importance of building strong relationships with delivery teams, residents and stakeholders.
Chris has undertaken a wide variety of interim and project management roles across development-site sourcing, business development and project management as well as procurement and research projects.