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Deliver safe secure homes

There was so much happening at Housing 2023, that it was impossible to attend all the talks and discussions. But two I did attend, I thought struck a chord with those immersed in the social housing sector.

The first was Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, who is actively involved in turning the city around to the benefit of all its residents, and the second was Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman.

National mission

Andy Burnham at Housing 2023 said our national mission should be to give all people a good, secure home. Stating that you cannot achieve anything else in life without that foundation beneath you.

Adding that the task of those attending Housing 2023 is to leave the event with a sense of shared mission and urgency about how we get there.

Greater Manchester was given powers to act to raise housing standards in its Trailblazer devolution deal and he shared Manchester’s early thinking about what they intended to do with those powers.

It’s about creating an integrated, place-based, systemic approach to raising housing standards which we hope might form a template to tackle an issue we’ve all neglected for too long.”

The solution he says requires action on many more levels – including much great focus on the state of the existing housing stock and the urgent need to build hundreds of thousands of homes for social rent.

“Until that time, we are using what powers we have in our Trailblazer Devolution deal to set ourselves a 15-year new mission for Greater Manchester – a healthy home for all by 2038.

“In simple terms, that means a home that doesn’t damage your physical health through damp, mould and other physical hazards and doesn’t harm your mental health because you live in fear of eviction.

“To achieve this, we are proposing a complete re-wiring of the system to put power in the hands of tenants – but, in doing so, make it work better for everyone: tenants, landlords and local communities.”

This is how our approach will work

This year Greater Manchester is introducing its Good Landlord Charter which will articulate a clear set of standards that both social landlords and private landlords will be required to meet if they are to be accredited.

A working group, which includes landlords’ representatives and representatives from the Greater Manchester Tenants Union, is drawing up the details, and it is aimed to be a real help for tenants and landlords who are trying to do the right thing.

“The Good Landlord Charter will be a positive, improvement route for many landlords. That said, we are aware that too many in the PRS are unlikely to sign.”

One feature of its Trailblazer is a new partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions on Universal Credit and housing standards and the concept of a ‘policy sandbox’ to try out new approaches.

“It is often people on the lowest incomes who are in receipt of Universal Credit who are in the worst housing and who feel trapped by it and unable to challenge their landlord who holds all the power.

“We would like to turn the tables and empower them to act.

“For those people, we will be asking DWP to join our multi-agency approach and take on the job of liaising directly with the landlord, taking the pressure off the shoulders of the residents.

“We believe our approach will in effect create a new, integrated place-based service for raising housing standards, bringing clarity and collaboration to a highly fragmented sector.

“We also know that there is no solution without building more homes for social rent. We are pleased that our new partnership with Homes England, and greater flexibility over the Affordable Homes Programme, will allow us to establish real momentum behind our drive to build 30,000 truly affordable net zero homes by 2038.

“But when you add it all together – action to improve existing homes and build new ones – we believe Greater Manchester had a credible plan to solve the housing crisis here by 2038.”

Basic human right

“Secure housing should be a basic human right,” states Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, “and is a belief that drives many decent and talented housing professionals. Yet poor housing risks being one of the most extreme injustices.”

Over the past year the Ombudsman has witnessed a profound shift in the number of complaints being received, in 2022 the Ombudsman undertook more than 10 000 formal investigations. Last year the Ombudsman made over 6500 orders or recommendations to put something right – literally one every 15 minutes. This was 2000 more than he had made in 2021.

“Reports of mental health are climbing because of poor living conditions, and I have seen residents experiencing financial detriment because of poor complaint handling and repairs services. In any time that would be unacceptable, but it is especially so in a cost-of-living crisis.

“I have seen schools and GPS write to landlords about poor housing for their pupils, and a lot of the times these go unanswered, and I also see a housing crisis that limits social mobility, destructs communities, and holds back the economy. 

Lessons from case studies

During his discussion he highlighted lessons from their case work that can assist landlords in navigating this challenging operating environment. The Housing Ombudsman makes its Spotlight Reports available to the housing sector on a regular basis.

“Culture remains central, and many find it is hard to achieve the right culture within their operations. Complaints are a test of culture, because they reflect the decisions, the behaviours that staff make.

“So, I strongly urge landlords to consider adopting reflective learning practises and use complaints to support this and how policies can enable the right culture, for it is critically important that prior outcomes are not lost in the process.”

Knowledge management

“I too often see committed housing professionals let down by systems and data. It is vital that dedicated professionals in this sector create a legacy of records and information for the next generation to study and utilise in creating better living standards for their customers.”

Another point highlighted was landlords failing to use the complaints and findings against them in developing and improving their services. 

“Complaints are more than just a transaction for the relevant governing body, as they should be viewed as holding as much insight in the organisation as an internal audit. A failure to use complaints in developing and improving services, I think speaks to a failure in governance,” he concludes.