The Grenfell fire in June 2017 and the publication of the Government’s Social Housing Green paper in August 2018 have led to a re-focussing of the ways in which social housing customers can truly influence the work of the landlord. The Housing Green Paper very specifically states one of its objectives as ‘Empowering residents and ensuring their voices are heard so that landlords are held to account ‘
These external influences coupled with the consolidation of the Longhurst Group in July 2019 have given us the opportunity to reflect upon on our approach to customer involvement, scrutiny and governance.
The creation of the Longhurst Group Customer Forum will be a means by which the ‘tenant voice’ can ensure Longhurst Group meets its legal, regulatory and business objectives. Most importantly, the Longhurst Group Customer Forum will ensure we meet our service standards and commitments to all Longhurst Group customers.
A group of involved customers has worked with us and our advisor from Tenant Participation Advisory Service (Tpas), as a Steering Group, to co-design and co-create this new formal structure because it was important to us that we had customer input from the start.
Longhurst Group, just like all housing associations, has a main board which has ultimate responsibility for the governance of the organisation. The Longhurst Group Board must ensure that the organisation meets its business, legal and regulatory objectives. The regulatory objectives for social housing include ‘consumer standards’; these cover the day to day landlord services such as repairs, managing estates and communities, allocation of homes and collecting rent. Our aim is that the Longhurst Group Customer Forum will provide customer assurance to the Longhurst Group Board that we are delivering on our service commitments and exceeding the aims of the ‘consumer standards’ to all Longhurst Group customers.
So, this group will not be ‘ticking boxes’ because it will have a direct link to our governance; it will be a formal group; and it will have a clear reporting mechanism to and from the Longhurst Group Board.
The diagram aims to show how the Longhurst Group Customer Forum will link to the overall governance of the organisation.
The Longhurst Group Board will always want and expect assurance on the many aspects of our business including, for example, health and safety, finances, employment practices AND that we are delivering our services in the right way to all our customers. Housing Association Boards seek assurance from lots of different sources such as performance data, the executive team, external audits, specialist independent advisors and legal experts
The Longhurst Group Customer Forum will become one of the many ways the main board has of gaining assurance and, very specifically, assurance about the customer experience of our services
Longhurst Group and our customers will benefit because it will put the ‘tenant voice’ at the heart of governance. It will ensure we meet all our commitments to all our customers; and it will enable customers and landlord to work together on our shared vision of “improving lives”.
We regard anyone who lives in one our homes as a customer; and we must make sure we deliver agreed standards of service for all our customers.
Legally, there will be an agreement with us (either a licence agreement or a tenancy agreement or a leasehold agreement) that gives you your rights to occupy the property. This means you can apply to be a customer member of the Forum because you are the ‘named tenant’. If you live in one of our homes but are not the ‘named tenant’ and the property is your ‘sole and principal residence’ then you can apply to be an associate member of the forum.
The term ‘tenant voice’ is one that our Government regulator uses as they want to ensure that we know and understand the needs of all our customers – whether they are a licensee or a tenant or a leaseholder.
You will have the opportunity to truly influence housing services and policies at Longhurst Group. You will be given opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge of housing; and if you are motivated to improve lives and communities then you will see how good quality housing and housing services really do help to change individuals and communities.
It will have a substantial influence because it will have a reporting framework to and from the Longhurst Group Board (the legal decision making body); and it will meet with and be supported by the Executive Director of Operations.
The formality of the forum makes it different; as does the fact that it will have a direct reporting link to and from the Longhurst Group Board. The Terms of Reference for the Longhurst Group Customer Forum has more detail about the specific responsibilities of the forum.
In depth scrutiny of our services will continue as a separate activity and we will be exploring new ways of involving more customers in scrutiny activities and projects. The findings of scrutiny would be seen by the Longhurst Group Customer Forum to ensure that recommendations and actions are followed through.
The work and commitment of all our involved tenants/customers, over many years has been of significant value to all customers and Longhurst Group is hugely grateful for the work of these individuals and groups. External influences, coupled with the creation of Longhurst Group in July 2019 has given us the opportunity to reflect upon on our approach to customer involvement, scrutiny and governance and we recognise that Longhurst ‘tenant voice’ needs a more formal route if we are to meet our legal and regulatory obligations. Times are changing and we must change as well.
Local involvement and work in your community will remain important and we would always encourage and support, where and when we can, local involvement activities.
We appreciate that the time commitment for the being a member of the Longhurst Group Customer Forum might not suit some of our customers and so developing ways by which the ‘tenant voice’ can be heard locally and individually through targeted involvement activities will be another way to ensure we are gathering views and ideas from all our customers. This means building upon the local involvement work we currently do and finding new ways to engage with more customers.