Blog: Building a successful strategy for tenancy sustainment in social housing

Jacqueline Norwood
Jacqueline Norwood

Jacqueline Norwood is a housing consultant with more than 20 years of experience working in the Scottish housing sector. This year, she will chair HouseMark Scotland’s Tenancy Sustainability Specialist Club. She reflects on her own experiences and what these have taught her about a successful approach to tenancy sustainment in social housing.

As the housing sector grapples with a range of issues including welfare reform, an ageing population and the integration of health and social care, the issue of tenancy sustainability is one that is increasingly exercising housing professionals. My own experience has taught me that the most effective technique for sustaining tenancies is to work actively on building relationships with your tenants.

There are of course many other interventions that can be made. But the foundation of an effective strategy for tackling tenancy sustainability must be to have in place a relationship where your tenants trust you and feel able to tell you when they are stuck and need help. My own experience is that tenancies tend to fail when the issues tenants are facing (be they financial or otherwise) become overwhelming. Building a good relationship means you can intervene and provide support at the earliest possible time and well before the tenant becomes overwhelmed.

Just now, welfare reform is a key obstacle to tenancy sustainment. This is particularly true when tenants have been sanctioned and can no longer see how they can sustain their tenancy as a result. Impending changes to Housing Benefit regulations for single people under 35 are likely to have an additional impact.

Conversely, health and social care integration has the potential to assist tenancy sustainment. I’ve seen a great example of this where the integration agenda provided an easier pathway for housing staff to involve care staff in an intervention with very positive results. A key benefit of the integration agenda is that staff have a clearer understanding of how to make referrals and are able to build up positive working relationships that enable them to make those referrals at as early a stage as possible.

I’ve seen other cases of tenants demonstrating antisocial behaviour where agencies such as housing, police and fire services have worked effectively together. In doing so, these agencies were able to identify and address an underlying vulnerability as the root cause of antisocial behaviour and thereby reduce the danger of the perpetrator losing their tenancy as a consequence.

Digital technology also has a role to play in health and social care integration. For instance, I have seen an example in Newcastle where a landlord with a contact centre was able to offer telecare services to the customers of partner agencies. This involved changing certain staff roles to assist people if they fell at home. This could include neighbourhood wardens assisting the tenant alongside their other estate duties. Changes in approach such as this can support vulnerable older tenants to remain in their own home.

Scotland’s ageing population also has wider implications for tenancy sustainment. Organisations need to ensure that the services they are providing are suitable for tenancies being sustained by older tenants. It is important to consider the types of property now available and being built for the future and whether they are flexible enough to enable people to stay in their own home if their circumstances change as they get older.

As we look to the future, the issue of tenancy sustainment is likely to continue to change the way in which landlords deliver services. As the issue becomes more prominent, organisations have to be clear about their tenant insight and make sure their resources are targeted in the right places. This could lead to traditional housing roles having to be re-thought, particularly as the integration of health, housing and social care continues. Traditionally, housing officers are responsible for managing a particular “patch”, based on property numbers and location. You will often hear housing officers say they have a “busy patch”. In reality, it isn’t the property that makes a patch busy but rather the level of tenant need and demand. In future, it may be necessary to redefine these patches based on the amount of time housing officers actually need to spend with their tenants.

Crucial to future success in addressing tenancy sustainability will be a willingness by those in strategic roles to think laterally and to be open to new ways of working. By taking a flexible approach and actively exchanging positive experiences and best practice, we can equip ourselves to meet the ongoing challenge of tenancy sustainment and to achieve positive outcomes.

  • Jacqueline Norwood is an independent housing consultant and chair of HouseMark Scotland’s 2017 Tenancy Sustainability Specialist Club.
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