Get some expert advice
Every week Inside Housing’s Need to Know section brings you best practice advice and information on the subjects most concerning you. Free with today’s magazine is the first ever Need to Know supplement. Here our Ask the Experts panel answer some of the key questions it raises
Q: If there was one thing that you would say housing professionals really ‘need to know’ at the moment, what would it be?
A: Julian Ashby In times past housing managers have sought to influence development design and other standards. Some have been able to play a more active ‘client role’ on behalf of tenants, but many have been less influential.
All of this has to change with the government’s ‘affordable rents’ programme. Housing management must deliver resources for the programme through rent conversions [to affordable rents set at up to 80 per cent of local market rates] as well as manage the resulting homes on a new tenure. Issues that will need to be resolved include:
- Which properties will be selected for conversion?
- How will this impact on nomination and letting arrangements?
- How will the correct rent be set and monitored?
- To what extent will the new tenure flexibilities be used?
- What precautions will be taken to protect rental income from welfare changes?
- Will the provider’s IT be capable of coping with a dual tenancy system?
- What staff development and training will be required to deliver this successfully?
In short, what housing professionals most need to know at the moment is how they will cope with the housing management implications of an affordable rent programme.
Julian Ashby is deputy chair of the Tenant Services Authority
Q: Has tenant participation changed or improved under the Tenant Services Authority’s regulatory framework for England?
A: Jon Warnock It is hard not to recognise that tenant participation has undergone considerable change over the past few years. Central to this has been the adoption of some key elements of the ‘consumerist’ model. The extent to which housing providers have come to this conclusion by their own volition or been guided down this route by the Tenant Services Authority is clearly debatable.
What we do know however is that the ‘consumerist’ model doesn’t quite fit within social housing. The tenant/landlord relationship is far stronger than a purchase contract for, let’s say, a tube of toothpaste, but in reality tenants lack real choice and paradoxically often find it more difficult to enforce their rights than they would if they had purchased a faulty tube of that toothpaste. To its credit, what the TSA has done is to reinforce that strong accountability can compensate for this lack of choice. Accountability starts with knowing what to expect; here the TSA has introduced local offers. Next comes the need to measure quality, hence annual reports. Last is the ability to challenge, and so the TSA has focused on clear and simple complaint mechanisms and tenant scrutiny. It is the latter which may yet prove to be its greatest legacy. The emergence of tenant scrutiny represents a significant step forward in empowering tenants.
Jon Warnock is head of consultancy at the Tenant Participation Advisory Service
Q: Employees with natural ability can hold themselves back for various reasons. What does a good manager do to help them progress?
A: Helen Giles The most important role of an empowering and effective line manager is to encourage and support the professional development of all their staff. This means helping each individual to identify their real potential and interests, supporting improvement in their current job and progression towards long-term career aspirations.
The absolute cornerstone of doing this effectively is a well-designed and consistently applied performance appraisal scheme. Such a scheme should be based on assessment of performance against core competencies as well as performance objectives and outputs. Through evidence-based assessment of on-the-job performance and 360 degree feedback from peers and customers, the individual develops insight into their strengths and capabilities. These are transferable to different roles in which they may be interested in the longer term.
A good appraisal scheme will also prompt discussion of the next stage the individual wants to achieve in their current job and in their career, as well as asking what the line manager and the organisation can realistically do to support their development towards that goal. For example: additional coaching, project work, delegation of more responsibilities. The agreed activities will then get added into the most important part of the whole appraisal process, the personal development plan.
Progress against performance objectives and the personal development plan - which will include learning interventions to support achievement of current job requirements as well as career development - then gets tracked throughout the year in one-to-one discussions between the manager and the employee.
When I train management teams on how to do all this, people often express anxiety about the amount of the manager’s time that will be ‘tied up’ in doing this properly for all their staff. The fact is that putting in this time leads to huge gains for everyone. The employee becomes empowered to take on responsibilities at a higher level as part of their personal and career development which ultimately releases the manager’s time to concentrate on even higher level activities like developing the quality and scope of services to customers. Added to that, the process serves as the engine which fuels the organisation’s ‘talent pipe’; its ability to grow its own people into specialist and managerial roles. In this way, personal development and organisational development are inextricably linked.
A good line manager should make it a fundamental objective for themselves to ensure that nobody they manage is ever in any doubt about their strengths and potential or holds themselves back through lack of ongoing support and encouragement to achieve.
Helen Giles is managing director of Broadway’s Real People HR consultancy
Q: In 2007 the charity Stonewall commissioned a poll which revealed 20 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people expected to be treated less favourably than a heterosexual person when applying for social housing. How do housing providers measure whether they’re making improvements in this area?
A: Blair McPherson Many organisations, including housing associations, work with Stonewall with the aim of making their organisation ‘gay-friendly’. The aim is to ensure both staff and service users feel comfortable, able to be themselves and respected for who they are.
Many have policy statements which state the organisation will treat people fairly and will not discriminate on the grounds of sexuality, which is more than following the letter of the law. You would expect staff and tenants in a gayfriendly organisation to feel that they could be open about their sexuality without fear of less favourable treatment.
Experiencing any form of discrimination is distressing but proving it is another matter. As a senior manager in both a local authority and a housing association I was aware of the problem of homophobic bullying. This took the form of offensive and inappropriate comments or ‘jokes’ about a person’s sexuality; it also included ostracising the individual and talking about them behind their back. Where someone admitted to this type of behaviour or where there were witnesses, I took disciplinary action against those involved. In my view the correct response is to treat this behaviour the same way you would if it were a person suffering racist abuse - you would not tolerate it from your staff or tenants.
So this is the test of how gay-friendly a social housing organisation is. Do staff and tenants feel able to be open about their sexuality without fear of discrimination. Do they feel confident that if they do suffer discrimination, prejudice or abuse the organisation will be sympathetic and take decisive action against the perpetrators?
Blair McPherson is a former director of community services at Lancashire Council and the author of An Elephant in the Room - an equality and diversity training manual
Q: How should the managers of residential accommodation for the over-55s ensure all residents are given the opportunity to express their views about their landlord?
A: Nigel Rogers I’d recommend anyone concerned about this issue to read Effective resident involvement and consultation in sheltered housing by the Tenant Participation Advisory Service and the Centre for Housing Support. The executive summary emphasises the need to pay particular attention to:
- the importance and value of being involved;
- establishing a range of options; from simple information giving, through consulting on options to actively involving residents in decision-making;
- continuum of involvement - this does not mean that involvement options higher up the continuum are better, rather that offering a wide range of activities helps in establishing a long-term sustainable commitment to resident involvement;
- scope and scale of decision making - reviewing and challenging the decisions that could be delegated to residents will strengthen the involvement process;
- influencing external bodies;
Nigel Rogers is an independent care and support consultant and former director of support services umbrella body Sitra
Q: More and more housing associations are setting up their own social enterprises - do you have any examples of social landlords that have successfully set up social enterprises?
A: Sally Hancox Enterprising Futures is a business development project set up by Gentoo that offers free business advice and practical help to the housing group’s customers wishing to explore self-employment opportunities. The service includes assistance with market research gathering, income and cash flow preparation, constructing a business plan and applying for business start-up funding.
We also work with a variety of partner organisations to help break down other barriers to self-employment such as training and benefits transitions, providing general support and guidance to our customers throughout the process.
Enterprising Futures has an enterprise talent scout who will give support and encouragement to anyone thinking of going into self-employment. The scout helps our customers gain the confidence and skills they need to explore and test business ideas and help with access to training.
Our business advisors are on hand to help our customers when they’re ready to start their own business. They will support them into self-employment providing general advice and guidance, helping with things like business plans.
The project has helped to set up more than 250 businesses for our customers since it’s inception in 2004.
Sally Hancox is director of Gentoo Green, the environmental arm of Gentoo Group
The expert panel
Julian Ashby - Finance and regulation
Julian is deputy chair of the Tenant Services Authority
Abimbola Badejo - Housing law
Abimbola is a barrister specialising in housing law. He practises from 5 Pump Court Chambers
Nic Bliss - Tenant involvement, self-determination
Nic is chair of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing and a consultant on tenant-led housing
Will Nixon - Regeneration and worklessness
Will is director of regeneration at Staffordshire-based housing association Aspire
Mike Wilkins - Housing management
Mike is chief executive of Ducane Housing Association
Sharon Nandoo - Anti-social behaviour
Sharon is group ASB expert at Southern Housing Group
Blair McPherson - Equality and diversity, SP
Blair is a former director of community services at Lancashire Council
Julie Fadden - Governance and the workplace
Julie is chief executive of South Liverpool Housing Group
Helen Giles - HR, people management
Helen is human resources director of homeless services provider Broadway and managing director of Broadway’s Real People
Nigel Rogers - Care and support
Nigel is an independent care and support consultant and former director of support services umbrella body Sitra
Shaun Aldis - Repairs and maintenance
Shaun is director of property services at Wolverhampton Homes
Adrian Waite - Management, finance,
Adrian is managing director of AWICS, a management consultancy for public service providers
Jon Warnock - Tenant participation
Jon Warnock is head of consultancy at the Tenant Participation Advisory Service
Sally Hancox - Sustainability and the environment
Sally is director of Gentoo Green, the environmental arm of Gentoo Group