Strong Foundations: Building better dialogue between landlords and tenants

A new report from LGiU and Mears, out today, focusses on the impact of welfare reform and other long-term trends on the relationship between tenants and landlords in social housing. Read the report here.

Residents of social and council housing are far more likely to be affected by welfare changes than the wider population. As a result the risk of rent arrears and related problems are far more potent. Meanwhile there are significant other long-term developments, such as an ageing population, the drive towards greater energy efficiency in homes, and the need for digital inclusion, which require households to adapt. This adaptation cannot be a one-way street, however. Only through strong, collaborative relationships between landlords and tenants can we meet challenges of this scale and nature.

It is therefore welcome news that, as a report from LGiU shows, providers of social housing have been increasing the money they spend on the relationships with their tenants. A survey for Strong Foundations: Building Better Dialogue Between Landlords and Tenants, produced in association with Mears, found that 60% of councils and housing associations have spent more on tenant engagement in 2013/14 compared with the previous year. Welfare reform was seen as the most significant driver of change, with 98.1% of respondents saying it was very or fairly important, though fuel poverty, energy efficiency, and maintenance costs were also seen as important.

Landlords have responded to these challenges in various ways. Moat, a housing association, has a clear approach to developing a balanced relationship with tenants, which acknowledges rights and responsibilities on both sides. One of its established policies is that if a tenant fails to be at home for a pre- arranged appointment or repair visit, they can be charged £20. However, the tenant can charge Moat £20 in turn if its employees do not arrive on time for an appointment.

Plus Dane, a housing association, has trained community champions to talk to other tenants on their behalf. Face-to-face contact with someone you can relate to is more comfortable than an official visit and is seen as a better way to share information and ensure that tenants are aware of the changes that will affect them.

Home Group commissioned ICE Creates to carry out a comprehensive segmentation exercise to help build a clear understanding of its customer groups. This gave a useful foundation for further work through focus groups and one to one interviews, which have helped them to communicate effectively with their tenants.

That tenant engagement has received extra attention at a time when resources are tightly squeezed indicates that landlords see it as a priority. Whether they want to build more mature relationships with their tenants, or for a more practical defence against increasing arrears, it is encouraging that they recognise the ensuing challenge.

Of course, strengthening these relationships is a complex process and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Developing the methods and the means will prove challenging and they will need to vary according to circumstances. But the fact that providers recognise the importance of this change, and have already begun to allocate their budgets accordingly, is a very significant shift, which must be both welcomed and encouraged.

Mears

Mears is the leading social housing repairs and maintenance provider in the UK and a major presence in the domiciliary care market – bringing the highest standards of care to people and their homes. Partnering with clients, 17,000 Mears Group employees maintain, repair and upgrade people’s homes, care for individuals and work in communities across the country – from inner city estates to remote rural villages.

For further information on the research please contact:

Andrew Walker, Policy Researcher, LGiU (andrew.walker@lgiu.org.uk)

Abigail Lock, Head of External Communications, Mears (abigail.lock@mearsgroup.co.uk)

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