02 Feb 2021

What the Social Housing White Paper says about: tenant and resident engagement

The long-awaiting Social Housing White Paper – the charter for social housing residents – was published on 17 November last year. Now that the immediate dust has settled, it’s a good time to start to unpack some of its contents and what they mean for the sector. This blog will look at what the white paper proposes to strengthen the voice of residents.

The green paper published back in 2018 was driven by extensive engagement between government ministers and officials, and residents of social housing; from that came many stories of the benefit of social housing and the strength of local communities within it. However, there was also a clear steer on the need to tackle the stigma that people living in social housing experience, developing a culture of respect and accountability, and strengthening how residents are listened to by their landlords.

Whilst chapter five of the white paper addresses the issue of engaging residents directly, it is a thread running throughout the document. It is reflected, for example, in the requirement to develop a clear resident engagement strategy and have an accountable person for every high-risk building (more on what the white paper says about safety in the home is here) and the inclusion of a measure on respectful and meaningful resident engagement in the suite of performance indicators being developed by the regulator.

That is an important approach to embed a culture of listening to and working with tenants to improve services, and to tackle the stigma that residents experience - although there is significantly less of a focus on stigma here than in the previous green paper. It will be important to see how much that issue is improved for residents by the measures the white paper introduces, as well as driving more resident involvement. In the context of the whole paper, specific proposals to strengthen residents’ voice with landlords include:

  • An expectation that the regulator of social housing will require landlords to demonstrate how they are looking at best practice and continuously improving their engagement with residents 
  • Delivery of a new opportunities and empowerment programme for residents, giving them tools to influence their landlords, hold them to account and make engagement more effective
  • A review of professional training and development to ensure that residents receive a high-quality customer service
  • A commitment to ongoing ministerial engagement with social housing residents to listen to their concerns (although light on specific details of how this will be taken forward).

The skills, knowledge and attitudes of staff are recognised as critical in making this happen, and CIH welcomes that emphasis; it is in line with the work we have already been doing on professionalism in the sector, including the development of a new professional standards framework. The measures in the white paper should drive a renewed focus on engagement, and a new opportunity to work with residents to shape and improve services they receive. We need also to maintain it as an integral part of how we set the culture and priorities of our organisations and the housing profession. 

We will be exploring these measures in the white paper and what it means in practice for housing professionals and landlords in discussion with Darren Hartley chief executive of TAROE Trust in our webinar on Thursday 11 February 2-3pm. Make sure you book your place here.

Written by Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a senior policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing. She leads on all things ageing, health, care, support, rural housing, tenant engagement, housing strategy and planning. Sarah is a chartered CIH member.