We have been an early adopter of the National Housing Federation’s Together with Tenants Charter – but we found you may not have all the answers if you are not asking the right questions.
The “aim of creating a stronger, more balanced relationship with tenants and residents” is something we historically held dear and is even more important as we face the threat of the coronavirus pandemic together.
Our tenants’ Scrutiny Panel has been making its feelings known and shaping our policies for almost a decade.
The current panel has come together either from a former focus group, recruited by a panel member or invited by our head of customer service Lorri Holding, who is always on the lookout for someone who is unafraid to speak their mind, knowledge of the local area and the ability to commit to meeting for a few hours every six weeks.
Lorri said: “Our focus has always been on customer voice and honest communication. Although we were doing a lot already to consider our tenants and their family’s needs, we want to be much more than just a landlord that puts a roof over their head. In general we don’t seem to get many complaints but we must not become complacent either. We challenged ourselves to consider that sometimes we weren’t asking the right questions or going far enough in our actions. Often a tiny bit of extra effort from us has made a huge difference to our tenants’ experience.
“We began to question and clarify everything, focusing on better communication with customers and our colleagues. It was no longer enough to say “Yes, we’ll get your problem sorted.” Now we ensure we are telling them how, when, offering options they didn’t necessarily know were available to them and putting the tenant in the driving seat.
“We reconsidered our methods of communication, adding the option of texting or online. People are rarely available in the daytime: some are at work, caring for children, in bed after a night shift. It made no sense trying to get hold of them by phone.
“In the end it is always going to be better to listen to what the customer needs and look at how we can make that happen. Tenants’ feedback helped us get rid of any clunkiness in our systems and build long lasting good quality relationships with our tenants and stakeholders. Our Scrutiny Panel has made our tenants’ lives better and in turn our jobs easier.”
Julie Behan is chair of the scrutiny panel and has been a WHA tenant for 22 years.
She explained the wide variety of matters it gets involved in: “We get involved in site visits, property voids, customer satisfaction calls, approving marketing materials, representing WHA at conferences both in person and via video.”
“We have had input into policies such as customer service, maintenance, complaints, so many it’s hard to remember all we have done. We have reshaped the language around disability and in the aids and adaptations policies to make it more inclusive.
“The WHA board brings a policy they want us to look at and we bring up to two other items we want personally want to review at a meeting. We have put a strictish time limit of around 12-16 weeks so we have the momentum to get things done. Our report goes to the WHA’s audit and risk committee and if they are happy, it gets fed back to the board as an approved document and the process is reshaped.”
Our panel members are acutely aware of the need for more diversity in their ranks and have tried to attract younger people in a variety of ways including through a presence at our tenants conference. This annual event has been re-imagined as a family occasion with games, prizes, treasure hunts and fun as well as opportunities to talk to tenants as they engage with a number of departments and organisations.
Julie said: “We offer to cover childcare and transport costs and have actively taken steps to cutdown on time-consuming paperwork that might put people off. We need more people for sustainability, to ensure the quorum is met, different opinions and localities represented and to spread the work so we make this a better WHA for everyone.”
We are now exploring the alternative of identifying tenant champions – people with a certain area of interest to lend their expertise to the panel on a regular or ad hoc basis or an ‘Approved by the customers’ group to give quick feedback to the panel. We hope to appeal to time-poor people such those with young families or caring commitments to continue our work Together with their Tenants.