Written evidence submitted by the Barkantine Management Team [RSH 031]
Thank you for inviting us to present evidence to your committee – we appreciate the opportunity.
The Barkantine Management Team (BMT) is the Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) for the Barkantine Estate, 800 flats and maisonettes in the shadow of Canary Wharf in London. Our Housing Association is One Housing (OH), recently taken over by Riverside HA.
We think we are a successful TRA, elected and accountable to residents, holding regular public meetings where many views are heard and listened to. We think we have an accurate idea of what residents think and feel about our landlord and housing services.
We would like to submit the following observations:
Does the current regime allow tenants to effectively resolve issues?
Our main concern is that our Housing Association is not accountable to residents.
One Housing does not have a meaningful or effective way of hearing residents feedback or consulting with them about improvements to their services:
This situation may seem exaggerated and does not seem credible but it can continue unchallenged because there is no way TRAs or residents can challenge it.
Residents’ experience of OH to impersonal email and phone calls:
Are we really Customers?
Is the current regime for regulating social housing fit for purpose?
The reason OH has been able to ignore residents and TRAs and sideline us so much is that they are not held to account by anyone accept themselves:
As an example, One Housing has recently been taken over by Riverside. OH was obliged by the regulator to undertake resident consultation explaining what was happening and asking for comments:
We asked the regulator to look at the effectiveness of this consultation. The OH CEO responded to the regulator’s enquiries by saying residents were well represented and had ample opportunity to comment. This was not true. In fact less than 2% of the residents were in favour of the merger and residents were not given any opportunity to be part of any panel. But the Regulator accepted the CEOs version without question even though there is considerable self interest involved. It was just a box that needed ticking.
The Regulator seemed to have no interest in what residents thought and as we are at the heart of Social Housing, that is plainly unacceptable.
Will the reforms proposed in the social housing White Paper improve the regime and what progress has been made on implementing those reforms?
Our new Landlord, Riverside, has said they will adopt the new White Paper guidelines, but in the past we have been given so many empty promises that we are very sceptical. Our question is about whether the Regulator will be able to ensure the engagement guidelines are adopted. Can the Guidelines be wriggled out of and be dependent on the CEOs version of events?
In the end, the Regulator is the residents’ teeth. The Board is responsible for ensuring resident engagement is effective, but if they don’t it is only the Regulator who can hold them to account. The residents don’t have that power or responsibility.
The Regulator must have access to independent resident satisfaction surveys to show the real experience of the HA residents, to show how they are really performing, not what targeted Performance Indicators are made to show.
How widespread and serious are the concerns about the quality of social housing?
When the Barkantine Estate opted for Housing Choice in 2006 we set up a small, local resident led HA on the Isle of Dogs called Toynbee Island Homes (2k properties). This merged with Community HA to form One Housing Group (17k properties) which was London wide so we lost our local identity. Now we are having to merge again with Riverside (making a 75k properties giant) and have now lost even our London regionalism and will share the same network as Carlisle, Liverpool and Dumfries.
In each merger residents lost influence and were made to feel more remote from their landlord. Recently OH took away Estate Officers without even consulting with residents – a hugely unpopular move and there was nothing we could do to stop it.
When OH got into financial difficulty they had no choice but the find a partner that could afford to take them on and so create a giant HA.
Why is there no alternative to this? Why do we want to create these giant HA s that residents do not like and are more inefficient?
When OH seemed no longer viable we would have liked to have a choice - A workable alternative might have been for OH properties in each london Borough to vote to choose a successful local housing provider like another HA that was popular with its residents. We do have those on the Isle of Dogs and in Tower Hamlets. Instead of being trapped by an untrusted and disrespectful landlord and then being taken over by another – why not let residents choose their housing provider.
Then we really would be Customers!
We hope this information is helpful.
We are not a politically motivated group and do not have any agenda accept trying to improve the homes and environment of our residents.
We do not think OH shares that same simple objective despite all their pretty words and website public relations.
TRAs like ours find ourselves feeling like victims rather than an active force for positive change. It is undermining and demotivating so we hope that your committee is able to be proactive in changing the current situation.