Posted by: Colin Wiles27/09/2012
Are landlords exploiting their tenant activists? The thought occurred to me this week when I attended and spoke at a tenants’ conference. There was much discussion about tenant scrutiny panels and everyone appears to be busy working with them or setting them up as a result of the revised regulatory regime.
During one presentation it was revealed that the tenant scrutiny panel at a 28,000-home association had been directly responsible for an increase in customer satisfaction from 57 percent to 100 percent. This statistic intrigued me. To begin with, I don’t accept that 100 percent satisfaction is ever possible, but it also begs the question: what on earth were highly paid executives and board members failing to do that unpaid tenants could achieve in their spare time?
Tenants on scrutiny panels are now expected to digest huge amounts of policy documents and performance reports yet it seems we are expecting them to do it for little or no remuneration, other than the kudos and self-satisfaction that they apparently gain from their involvement. I can’t see many paid executives being willing to carry out such work for free, can you? From a rather unscientific survey on the internet I could find only one housing provider that is paying its tenant scrutineers – Flagship Group is paying £2,000 per annum. I am sure there may be others, but the general rule seems to be that these posts are unpaid.
When I raise this issue, people say to me, “Oh if we pay them they will lose their benefits.” This attitude seems to me to be symptomatic of the way that our sector often patronises and infantilise tenants. If we assume that all tenant activists are on benefits and we carry on doing what we’ve always done then we will get what we’ve always got. It’s a vicious circle. Whenever I speak to tenants’ groups I see overwhelmingly elderly, white people. To be frank, they do not represent tenants as a whole. Does it never occur to us that paying a decent rate of pay could actually encourage recruitment from a wider pool of people and bring forward tenants with relevant skills and expertise who can take on the challenge of effective scrutiny? Payment not only concentrates the mind (as a paid Board member I know this to be true) but it can encourage competition and recruitment from beyond the usual suspects. Only if tenant scrutiny panellists are properly resourced and supported - and paid - will they be able really to scrutinise every aspect of their landlords service, (including, heaven forfend, looking at the salaries of the chief executive and senior staff!) In the absence of proper remuneration there is a danger that scrutiny will revert to the usual lip service, where panels end up looking at day to day service issues, rather than bigger stategic and operational issues, allowing Boards and senior executives to go their mery way unchallenged.
Going back to the landlord I mentioned above, it has a turnover of more than £150 million. Its Board members are paid £7,000 and the chief executive is paid over £175,000. So far as I can see, its tenant activists, who have supposedly been responsible for so much improvement, are paid nothing! Payment to tenant scrutineers on the same basis as Board members (is their job any less important?) would represent a tiny fraction of turnover - just a few pence from every tenant each week. Surely we can see sense on this issue and pay tenants a decent rate for the job they are expected to do?
From Inside out
An independent look at the housing sector and beyond from Colin Wiles