Our Homes for Cathy panel discussion at last week’s Housing 2023 Fringe asked the question: Could an increased focus on tenant satisfaction undermine the sector’s work around homelessness?
Homes for Cathy chair David Bogle steered the discussion between expert panellists Jo Richardson, Professor of Housing & Social Inclusion at De Montfort University, CIH past president and author of the Homeful report into housing-led approaches to ending homelessness; Callum Chomczuk, National Director, CIH Scotland; and Faye Greaves, Housing Programme Manager at Crisis.
The discussion was a timely one, coinciding with news that the Social Housing Regulation Bill is set to become law after clearing both Houses. This signifies the biggest changes to social housing regulation in a decade, including the introduction of a proactive consumer regulation regime underpinned by new consumer standards.
The Regulator has already identified the themes the consumer standards are set to cover and will consult on the detail of each theme over the summer. In advance of this planned consultation, the panellists gave their views on how the standards could best meet the needs of those experiencing or at risk of homelessness and the wider system changes that are needed to put an end to homelessness.
A key area of focus for the panellists was the theme of ‘tenure’; under this theme, the Regulator has cited that landlords’ allocation process must be ‘fair, transparent and accessible to all’ and identified the importance of effective tenancy management so that ‘tenancies are sustained where appropriate’ including ‘supporting tenants, as well as working closely, and cooperating with local authorities in meeting their duties’.
Here are our five key takeaways from the discussion:
Three areas where housing associations can have an impact homelessness
There are three key areas where housing associations can have an impact on homelessness: allocations and lettings to homeless households; tenancy sustainment and avoiding evictions into homelessness. Despite constraints, the fact that some housing associations perform better than others in these areas shows that there is room for improvement.
Current tenancy standards are not sufficient
Under the existing tenancy standards, housing associations’ requirement to support local authorities in the execution of their homeless duties and to help sustain tenancies are not sufficient – we need to challenge housing associations on their nominations through homelessness channels. If housing associations can’t provide housing and support for people who can’t afford the market, who can? Unlocking access to social homes for people coming from homelessness is vital. A code of practice around housing associations’ homelessness expectations based on the Homes for Cathy commitments could be beneficial.
Processes can come before people
In an environment where resources are scarce, processes can come before people and individual inconsistencies across organisations can ‘lock people out’. Leaving the system to work itself out is not working – we need to look at ways providers can do better with regulatory accountability in the background. One example cited was affordability assessments – as tenant support needs go up and housing-related support is squeezed, these need to be used as enablers and facilitators to give tenants access to the wider support system.
Scottish RRTP example shows funding is a driver for partnership working
In Scotland Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTPs), plans developed by each of the 32 local authorities to reduce the use of temporary accommodation, have created a driver for partnership working between local authorities and registered providers. It’s proof that with political will and appropriate funding, homelessness can be alleviated (in 2019-20 the share of Scottish RP lettings to homeless households was 45%). However, both the funding and the approach need to be long-term – we don’t always need to look for ‘shiny new things’ to make a difference.
It’s a case of supply and demand
Ultimately, we need more capital investment in housing to provide more social homes – it’s a case of supply and demand. Currently we are using temporary accommodation as the default housing option. Planning applications are already substantially down year-on- year. We need housing associations to keep developing new social homes and not be creating any further development disincentives.
Written by Vicki McDonald
Vicki is the Social Impact Manager at Hightown Housing Association and leads on communications and member engagement for the Homes for Cathy campaign.