Horton Housing Association CEO Paul Gartland discusses the importance of adopting the Together with Tenants Charter and the benefits it will have on the social housing sector.
Helping to embed a culture across the social housing sector that values the voice and experience of residents and strengthens the relationship between tenants and housing association landlords is a vital step forward in maintaining, and further building on, our values of transparency and providing outstanding service to the people we house and support.
“Together with Tenants” is a sector-wide initiative focused on strengthening the relationship between residents and housing association landlords. Developed by the National Housing Federation in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Together with Tenants embodies all the great work happening across the sector, whilst challenging us to go further in building trust and positive relationships with our tenants.
Thirty years after developing from a homeless day shelter, Horton Housing Association provide 597 units of specialist, supported accommodation across Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale and North Yorkshire. We work closely with people who have complex needs, ranging from people experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, addiction, refugees, people fleeing domestic violence, young people and Gypsies and Travellers.
In December 2020, we became one of the 130 organisations to adopt the Charter and commenced our Together with Tenants Focus Group in February 2021, within COVID-19 guidelines. Listening to our tenants and implementing any appropriate changes they’d like to see within our services has always been crucial in maintaining strong relationships with the people we house and support.
The charter requires six themes to be upheld within Housing Associations.
- Relationships: Housing associations will treat all residents with respect in all of their interactions. Relationships between residents and housing associations will be based on openness, honesty and transparency.
- Communication: Residents will receive clear, accessible and timely information from their housing association on the issues that matter to them, including important information about their homes and local community, how the organisation is working to address problems, how the organisation is run, and information about performance on key issues.
- Voice and influence: Housing associations will seek and value the views of residents, and will use this information to inform decisions. Every individual resident will feel listened to by their housing association on the issues that matter to them and can speak without fear.
- Accountability: Collectively, residents will work in partnership with their housing association to independently scrutinise and hold their housing association to account for the decisions that affect the quality of their homes and services.
- Quality: Residents can expect their homes to be good quality, well maintained, safe and well managed.
- When things go wrong: Residents will have simple and accessible routes for raising issues, making complaints and seeking redress. Residents will receive timely advice and support when things go wrong.
Keeping clear communication and valuing the voices of tenants has been vital during the pandemic, as the Government announces the latest rules and restrictions, roll-out of vaccine programmes and plans to open the economy back up. Communicating this information to tenants in an accessible and understandable manner has been important to ensure they feel informed and, most importantly, safe.
We welcome feedback and suggestions and actively encourage complaints so that we can improve our services. As an organisation following the Charter, valuing the voice and influence of tenants maintains quality of service by making us accountable and transparent.
In our initial Together with Tenants Focus Group meeting, we started by welcoming new members before responding to feedback and laying out plans for making improvements.
For instance, feedback was passed on to the Horton Housing Communications Team to look at our website and ways to make it more accessible to clients. Also, tenants suggested that we consider using standard templates for other forms of communication such as agendas for meetings and easy-read documents. We have also produced posters to help tenants pass on their thoughts, running with three themes of Compliments, Comments and Complaints.
Discussing ideas on how to make it easier for people we house and support to be able to make a complaint is important. A tenant recently said that she once had a support worker who made a comment that she was not happy with, but she didn’t really know how to complain about it. Even though she had been given the service handbook, it became apparent that a simpler process would be more helpful. The tenant also asked that Equality and Diversity be a standard agenda item at the Focus Group meetings which we have agreed to.
From the meeting, one of our tenants commented: “I think that it’s important to be heard because if there’s an issue for anyone then they can be sorted out before they escalate. I hope peoples’ voices can be heard to make positive decisions and any changes if necessary.”
Following the Homes at the Heart Campaign from the National Housing Federation closely, we recognise that our role is more than simply providing accommodation for residents. As a supported housing landlord, we also feel that it will be beneficial to share good practice and have put plans in place for employees to reach out to people in different organisations that have adopted the Charter.