Power to the people?
Is tenant cashback empowering for tenants, or an attempt to paper over the cracks in professional services? Our panellists go head to head
At Bromford, we believe that everyone has something to offer. We want to revolutionise our relationship with customers.
When tenant cashback was announced, we knew that this fitted with our approach and our culture of innovation so we developed our pilot – the home rewards club.
The HRC offers tenants the opportunity to do some of their own day-to-day repairs and their own housing management in return for £500 over 12 months – sharing in the savings that we anticipate making.
We have had great feedback from customers, with hundreds ready to join the HRC. Those customers that do not wish to join will still receive our award winning maintenance service.
We want to:
- learn - to find the opportunities and risks ahead of the new regulatory standard
- reduce repair and housing management costs to fund the HRC
- reinforce positive behaviour by rewarding customers who take care of and improve their homes
- increase confidence and capacity for customers through active participation and learning new skills with links to training/employment, and
- share our learning.
We have grappled with many issues - health and safety, legal agreements, cash versus rewards, welfare benefit implications, marketing and insurance.
If we reduce dependency on our services and improve our customers’ self reliance - our HRC will have been a success.
There is much to learn and work to get this right, but, as Jimmy Cliff sang: “You can get it if you really want… but you must try, try and try… to succeed at last.”
Darrin Gamble, head of neighbourhoods for the west midlands, Bromford Living
I will always support an initiative that empowers tenants, raises standards and offers choice. However, I can’t see that tenant cashback will succeed in any of those objectives. This feels like a solution looking for a problem. And it isn’t an entirely new concept … remember right to repair?
Good landlords already put tenants at the heart of their maintenance services. This will include forming policy, letting contracts and monitoring performance. Strengthening that role for tenants would be fine.
But where is the evidence that tenants can, or want to, do their own repairs, or commission them from local traders, even if they get funds to do so?
Tenants and landlords enter into a contract for which there is a financial consideration. What tenants want, in my experience, is the landlord to hold up their end of the contract. That is, to keep the homes in good condition, offer a responsive, flexible, informed repairs service delivered by knowledgeable, skilled and caring people.
More importantly that should be a consistent service that delivers for all tenants and offers remedies not opt outs.
The scale of repairs that could be undertaken by tenants under the scheme is limited, and very basic, so the training and skills development aspect of the scheme would not appear to be a major incentive. It won’t be a lucrative money spinning opportunity even if tenants or communities can keep savings.
Therefore, if individuals or communities do take up this initiative in any numbers, their landlords should have to reflect on the failure of their own repairs service, as that would inevitably be the driver.
If you have a failing repairs service, the answer is not to fragment it and produce a patchwork of delivery, but to consolidate and make the service tenant-driven and accountable.
Kevin Lowry, Northumberland County Council