“Empowering” social housing tenants by teaching them how to challenge poor living conditions will make no difference without tougher sanctions for landlords, campaigners have said.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) this week announced a new £500,000 scheme to train social housing tenants in how to complain to their landlords.
It comes after a coroner ruled two-year old Awaab Ishak died from mould exposure in his home. Ishak’s death has brought the widespread issues with Britain’s social housing stock back into the spotlight.
The training will be provided by the Confederation of Cooperative Housing (CCH) and the Public Participation, Consultation and Research (PPCR), who both have expertise in supporting social housing tenants. The DLUHC also held a panel with 250 social housing tenants to seek advice on the scheme.
“This new government-backed scheme will empower residents to challenge their landlord where needed,” said social housing minister Baroness Scott. “We want to make sure every resident is heard and has the opportunity to be actively involved in how their home is managed.”
But housing campaigners and tenants say the training – which isn’t due to start until spring – won’t go far enough and fundamental change is needed.
“In our view, this scheme won’t empower tenants or residents in social housing,” said Suz, a campaigner with the Social Housing Action Campaign (Shac). “Just training will not genuinely address the power imbalance between landlords and those who live in their properties.
“There is a lack of access to justice for tenants and residents with problem landlords, and the institutions that supposedly regulate their behaviour have only the weakest of sanctions available to them. Instead of enabling redress, the systems just create barriers that feel designed to wear down even the most determined complainant. Until this is put right, the training will make no difference.”
Suz added: “The idea that you have to train the ‘customer’ base of any product to protect themselves from bad service shows how badly the current social housing model is failing. It shows how bereft the government is for ideas on how to solve the many, deep problems our members experience. It’s time for fundamental action, and it needs to be done coherently.”
Liam Kelly, a tenant of the Guinness Trust, said tenant groups needed to be given more power. He told The Big Issue: “This announcement is both welcome and overdue. However, there is a long track record of tenants having previously demonstrated their capacity to articulate issues of concern and facilitate strong and stable communities via democratically elected and accountable tenant associations. What is needed is the revival of resourcing, and delegation of relevant powers to tenant bodies.”
Currently, one of the only ways tenants can report inaction from landlords is through the Housing Ombudsman, whose powers are largely limited to public condemnation and recommendations.
“Our vision for this programme is for it to be a catalyst for change, complementing other government action taken in the Social Housing White paper,” said Blase Lambert, CEO of the CCH. “It should help drive a process of cultural change in the social housing sector, leading to a better balance of power between landlords and residents.”
This week Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, Ishak’s family’s landlord, was told by the Regulator of Social Housing to take “urgent action” to address its failings, with a threat of enforcement action if it does not.