Black’s Blog: What does tenant participation look like in practice?
Jimmy Black rounds up a lively discussion on the Scottish Housing News Podcast about tenant participation and how it has evolved since the pandemic.
Who gets to have housing fun? Not the staff and not the board members at their very serious conferences. It’s the tenants who have the fun.
I know this having attended many a Tenant Participation Advisory Conference event with game shows, fancy dress and general nonsense, which tenant representatives clearly enjoy. At the same time, they are attending training sessions and learning about the housing business.
Tenant participation is like openness and transparency; a good thing which everyone believes in, but finds difficult to do in practice. That’s presumably why we have a law giving tenants a statutory right to participate in the management of their homes.
The latest Scottish Housing News podcast features a tenant, a landlord, and a tenant participation practitioner from TPAS, all of whom got along famously. But there are some bumps in the road.
It seems that Covid has interrupted tenant participation and some of the people who used to be involved are no longer active. Colin Stewart, a tenant from Castlehill Housing Association in Aberdeen, is enthusiastic about the role of regional tenant participation networks, but says that the North East network which he chairs is running low on members.
Colin says the networks have a big role in policy making, reporting tenants’ views directly to ministers, including cabinet secretary Shona Robison and housing minister Patrick Harvie. The subjects covered include rent affordability, evictions, the Housing Revenue Account, communications… important stuff.
Policy aside, tenants are involved locally in monitoring good practice and scrutinising the activity of their landlords. Since 2015, Scottish Borders Housing Association (SBHA) has been working with tenants to scrutinise any areas of work which may need improvement.
Louise McNeilage of SBHA says their scrutiny model involves customer audit teams which include people from registered tenants organisations and other tenants with an interest. With the help of an intern, often a student or a graduate, they have looked at seven projects, including their empty homes lettable standard, repairs and maintenance, planned maintenance, complaints handling and much else.
TPAS has launched a Back on Track programme to help landlords rejuvenate their tenant participation programmes. Helen Barton, an associate with TPAS, says she passionately believes that communities have to have a say in decisions that affect them, and housing has one of the biggest impacts on people’s lives. TPAS want to help landlords work out how best to engage tenants in participation after a couple of years when people have stepped back from involvement, and face-to-face meetings were put on hold.
On an optimistic note, Colin Stewart believes that while some people found using video calling technology in the lockdowns to be a barrier, others were able to attend meetings and take part for the first time.
If you think about it, parents, carers, people with disabilities, remote workers, folk who won’t come out in the dark, and people who live too far away are not well served by face-to-face meetings. Maybe Covid has opened our eyes to those we’ve missed in the past, and can include in the future.
More information on Regional Networks is available at https://www.regionalnetworks.org.uk/
The link to the Back on Track programme as well as TPAS’s other services can be found here: https://tpasscotland.org.uk/tpas-scotland-covid-back-on-track-programme/
SBHA and SBTO were runners-up in the Best Practice in Digital Involvement category at the Tpas Scotland Good Practice Awards in June 2022.
More information can also be found on:
- Tenant Participation How can I get involved? | Scottish Borders Housing Association (sbha.org.uk)
- SBTO The SBTO | Scottish Borders Housing Association (sbha.org.uk)
- Scrutiny Scrutiny | Scottish Borders Housing Association (sbha.org.uk)
All episodes of the Scottish Housing News Podcast are available here.