Written evidence submitted by the 4 Estates Forum [RSH 011]
The 4 Estates Forum
- The 4 Estates Forum is an umbrella group for all One Housing residents (whether tenants, leaseholders or freeholders) on the Barkantine, Kingsbridge, St Johns and Samuda Estates on the Isle of Dogs, comprising 2026 households. The members are elected from the Tenants organisations that operate on the estates concerned.
- The 4 Estates Forum seeks to influence, promote wider resident consultation, and where appropriate work in partnership with, all other organisations whose policies or services are, or could be, directly or indirectly relevant to the interests of the residents of the Barkantine, Kingsbridge, St Johns and Samuda Estates.
- The 4 Estates Forum welcome the Select Committee’s inquiry to examine the quality and regulation of social housing in England and the Government’s proposals in the social housing White Paper for improving the regulatory regime.
Is the current regime for regulating social housing fit for purpose?
- The members of the 4 Estates Forum would contend that the current regime is nor fit for purpose. Regulation currently has no regard to the services that residents receive nor to how Housing providers consult with residents.
- The service that residents of One Housing now receive has deteriorated ever since our estates were transferred from Tower Hamlets Council.
- On the Isle of Dogs, where the 4 Estates Forum are based we were fortunate to benefit from being one of the pioneers of the decentralisation of housing services that was undertaken across inner city council housing in the 1980s to improve housing services. Having locally accountable, easily accessible housing staff on our door step really did improve what had become for the want of a better word “sink estates”.
- Gradually over time these local services have been eroded, which has quickened in recent years due to the rush to embrace new technology. In the case of One Housing, in response to complaints that residents were not getting feedback from issues raised and repairs reported, the organisation without proper consultation reorganised the delivery of services so that every query has to go through a call centre through one telephone number and one email address. Managing complex blocks at a distance through a call centre, with inexperienced staff and a high staff turnover has been a disaster.
- This has meant:
- Residents no longer have a named housing officer who knows the blocks in their patch and the issues locally.
- Speaking with call centre staff who have no knowledge of your block.
- The organisation is focused on closing calls and emails without worrying about quality, which means repeated calls and queries on repairs and other issues that are deemed closed but in reality remain outstanding.
- Callers to the “local“ office being directed to a telephone by the Officer sitting behind the counter to talk to the Call Centre rather dealing with the caller.
- One Housing refusing to provide tenants organisations with the “family tree” organisations structure, presumably to stop residents emailing Officers directly with queries.
- Delivering residents services through an efficient call centre has proved to be inefficient and if examined independently, probably more costly than having local offices where a Manager is accountable for services locally, is accessible and can ensure that services are delivered efficiently.
- Overall this deterioration in services has been compounded by a structure where staff generally don’t have the necessary expertise and knowledge isn’t retained within the organisation. A lack of planned maintenance to keep stock in good order, alongside poor estate services shows that the organisation doesn’t have necessary skills to manage this. There is a culture of failure and lack of motivation. In addition the lack of respect for tenants and their knowledge of what works well and what could be improved, means that lessons are nor learned.
- Feedback from One Housing is that resident satisfaction is good, this is not reality.
- The regulatory change so that Housing Associations no longer have to undertake a triennial independent STAR survey means that there is no accurate independent measure of Housing Association performance. As a result the Regulator cannot identify which housing providers are providing poor services to their residents.
- The removal of the requirement to have resident representation on Housing Association Boards has led to poorer consultation with residents.
- With One Housing, resident engagement in recent years, has meant that the involved residents on their panels and Boards are appointed by one Housing, bypassing Resident Organisations. Excluding resident organisations from the process means that there is no formal method of feedback to Resident Organisations.
- Consultation is poor and as a result set out below are some case studies for consideration of how money has been wasted by One Housing due to poor consultation:
It's always been agreed that there would be no street furniture in Castalia Square as that would encourage youth ASB and drug dealing. It's a known area for drug dealing.
One Housing decided to make some improvements but they didn't consult with the residents in the square nor with the Tenants & Residents Associations.
One Housing went ahead with two new planters easy to sit on, one of which was right outside the nursery. The drug dealers were very grateful for somewhere to hang out as they conducted their business, the nursery less so. OH had actively brought the drug dealers to the doorstep of the nursery.
Needless to say the public outcry meant that the so called improvements have been dismantled. Don't know how much that will have cost them in labour and materials but it's a clear example of their refusal to talk to residents which incurs extra expenditure.
Under the same programme, a bike shed was installed at Alice Shepherd House without consultation with residents. It was installed out of sight. Residents said it would be vandalised if not in sight, and suggested moving it. It is never been used in two years, vandalised and covered in warning tape.
This is so typical of One Housing; combining poor value-for-money, poor resident engagement, and a resulting increase in Anti-social Behaviour.
In the previous set of major works on Samuda when Bailly Garner signed off on work that hadn't been done and when OH tried to recover money, it turned out the contract with Bailly Garner had never been signed.
- Consultation on the merger with Riverside Housing
Some aspects of the consultation that was undertaken by One Housing was good. For example:
- The question on whether residents supported the merger was straightforward and not misleading
- Residents received a booklet explaining the merger
- Residents were invited to drop in events if they had any questions.
One Housing should be commended for that.
This good practice though was undermined by the following:
- The booklet promised that the work on how the organisation would deliver services would be worked out after the transfer. How can you give a view on the merger without knowing what it would mean for you?
- The booklet promised that over the first 5 years, £1 billion would be spent on improving and repairing homes. One Housing have not answered the question of how much the two organisations would have spent on improving and repairing homes without a merger.
- The requests to share the draft Business Plan with residents to see the financial benefits of the merger was refused.
- The Joint Customer Advisory Panel overseeing the consultation from a tenant perspective was appointed from residents who self-nominated themselves to sit on One Housing Panels. Residents were not elected by their fellow residents.
- Requests to meet with One Housing Board members and representatives from the Riverside representatives on the Joint Customer Advisory Panel were not met.
The consultation undertaken was not transparent as information requested by residents was not forthcoming. Resident services are really important and for One Housing to ask residents their opinion on a merger without specifying what the offer is, undermines the existing requirements of the Housing Regulator, demonstrating that the existing regulatory requirements need strengthening
We acknowledge that we have only provided you with a response on one of the questions that you have asked for in the call of evidence. For us though high quality resident services are really important for us and our neighbours and by responding on this issue only, we wanted to highlight this for the Select Committee.