Introducing our Resident Ambassadors

The Resident Voice Index™ project has involved social housing residents from the start. In the workshops we held during March and April, some of the participants volunteered to help us spread the word about the project and speak about why being involved in their neighbourhood is important to them. These are our Resident Ambassadors.

Community projects, such as delivering social housing, changing a public space or building new developments should involve those who actually live in a community and could be affected by the changes.

The Resident Ambassadors that have joined us on this project already give a lot of their time towards improving their communities and volunteered to share with other social housing residents the impact you can have by getting involved and having your say.

Our first Resident Ambassador

The first Resident Ambassador we are introducing is Graham. He has been directly contributing to his local community by being part of multiple resident boards, a member of his parish council and a senior youth club leader.

One of the interesting things that Graham found from being a part of housing boards is that members are given the opportunity to: “Talk with people at the top, like board members. Sometimes it can take a while to get things done. My housing association has over 60,000 homes across the UK, but normally they’re very good at listening and the changes we go after happen most of the time.”

The importance of community involvement

We asked Graham whether his housing association impacted his local community. He told us that, “It varies; where there are new builds they are very good but sometimes when it is converting older homes it’s not quite so good. One of the biggest problems can be with communication.”

Over the years, for some residents a lack of community involvement might have led to a knock in confidence, but Graham explained how he thinks the shared challenges of the last year might have improved the situation and led to more resident engagement:

“I think last year in terms of resident involvement, we have actually done more than previously. The number of residents involved in focus groups has grown. Previously the meetings were in the head office in London and it meant a lot of travelling. I used to go to all of them by train and the train station is 3½ miles from where I live.”

For some people, giving that amount of time might not be possible and this is one reason why increased digital engagement can help to capture more opinions.

Why sharing your opinion matters

“People like to complain,” according to Graham and of course, sometimes have good reason to. “If you complain that’s one way, but by gaining a voice and being listened to, then you can actually change things. Over the years we’ve seen many changes.” For one of the housing association engagement projects, the website wasn’t as good as it could be. Graham explains, “We spoke to staff and those issues quickly got changed – almost overnight.”

For Graham, at the end of the day, “It’s very important to be involved. Being part of a team, we look at the overall picture and we’re able to express what we think is going right and what we think is going wrong. We have seen a lot of what we wanted to improve; services have improved. There’s still problems sometimes, but we’re getting there.”

Thank you to Graham for being the first of our Resident Ambassadors!

Resident Voice Index workshops: what matters to residents

As part of the Resident Voice Index™ project we spoke to social housing residents up and down the UK about what matters to them. We used this feedback to build the Neighbourhoods & Communities survey. This survey was the first step of a long-running project, which aims to get to know what social housing residents in the UK think about their homes, landlords, neighbourhoods and communities.

Spring was busy! We held four workshops with residents in April of this year and found out about the greatest concerns affecting residents at the moment. We’re now sharing with you the main themes that came up during these sessions.

Getting more opinions

The first groups that we spoke to were made up of residents who are actively part of scrutiny panels and resident boards.

Many of them worried that often the voices that are heard amongst social housing residents are the same ones that are always heard by housing providers and policy makers.

They thought that the reasons for this might be down to a misconception that resident engagement is too time consuming or concerns that the efforts made might not have any Impact.

Two-way communication

When we asked what are and what are not acceptable survey topics, residents told us that they would be happy to be asked about anything going on in their lives. However, they believed that the bodies that collect the data – whether they be governmental, their housing provider or a third-party – should be communicating with them beforehand about why they are asking the questions and what impact the results might have.

When the results are in, residents should be told what they reveal and the actions that their contributions have influenced.

Many residents spoke out against the use of jargon in communications with their housing provider or third-party organisations.

Providing community space

Whether it be space for community groups or football pitches with late night lighting, the residents we spoke to believed that if there were more communal and community spaces in their neighbourhoods, that the sense of community would improve and there would be more mixing of different types of people living in an area.

Safety and neighbourhoods

More than most topics, this came through as a key concern from residents. We heard that residents would particularly like to see more done to prevent antisocial behaviour where they live.

For some people, visible policing like old fashioned ‘bobbies on the beat’ were suggested as a way that neighbourhoods could improve.

What do you think?

Are these topics reflective of your experience of living in social housing? Do you think something is missing from the list? What do you imagine housing providers could change in order to help build stronger communities around the homes that they manage?

We’d love to hear from you! Give us your thoughts on these questions at info.ResidentVoice@mrisoftware.com.

What do you think about your neighbourhood?

At the moment, changes in policy are looking to centre the views of social housing residents in the UK. These changes will aim to make sure that the services that people experience are better and that housing associations and local authorities are doing their job in line with the expectations of residents. One of topics at the heart of the expected changes will be related to neighbourhoods and we’re investigating what that means for social housing residents.

Understanding a local area better means finding out about the people living in that neighbourhood and most importantly, how they feel about it. We have been speaking to residents up and down the country for our Resident Voice IndexTM project in order to build questions that will give a picture of how social housing residents feel about their neighbourhoods.

What is a neighbourhood?

Normally, the first way that a neighbourhood is defined is by its geography. It could be a village, a borough and in some circumstances, it could be as small as a street or an estate. But geography alone can be a limiting way to define a neighbourhood.

Alongside physical boundaries, it’s worth considering its features. These include the facilities and services a neighbourhood has like shops, schools, doctors or green spaces.

The next and most important part of a neighbourhood is a person’s experience of that place. What it means to different people varies across our lifetimes. For example, knowing that there is a soft play centre nearby would only really be important to parents, carers or people who worked there.

Experiences of a neighbourhood alongside personal outlook are what makes a neighbourhood a community; it’s a sense of belonging.

The Resident Voice IndexTM project

This spring, social housing residents were invited to answer questions anonymously about their overall experience of living in social housing. Our first survey in the long-running Resident Voice IndexTM project asked questions about their neighbourhoods.

We split answers by geography, using the first letters of a postcode to give a general overview of how a certain area feels about a topic without undermining anybody’s anonymity.

Other questions established the services and facilities a neighbourhood contains to see how well provisioned it is and where there might be need for improvement. What was most important to find out were people’s feelings about their neighbourhood; things like how that sense of belonging could be improved and whose responsibility it is to make change happen in order for there to be a stronger sense of belonging to a neighbourhood.

“I get this very strong feeling that only if people want to be part of a community that it will move forward.

Resident participant, Resident Voice IndexTM workshop

The results of the questions we asked will be public and free to anyone who wants to access them. We are really looking forward to sharing what residents think about their neighbourhoods and communities.

The Resident Voice Index project: have your say

This spring, we invited social housing residents to answer questions anonymously about their overall experience of living in social housing. This was the first consultation of the long-term Resident Voice IndexTM project.

To kick off the first survey, we ran focus groups with social housing residents across the UK, working out the kind of topics that they want to be asked about and importantly, those that are not being spoken about right now. By having a say and helping to craft the surveys, you can actively help to shape how neighbourhoods across the UK move forward.

Why get involved?

The way that social housing works is changing. The publication by the government of the Charter for Social Housing Residents has made clear that residents need to be listened to and housing providers need to show that they will act upon their responses.

These changes are set to improve how housing providers interact with their residents; your voice will be more important than ever. The Resident Voice IndexTM project will cover a range of topics co-created with residents about what’s important, ranging from what you expect from your homes and housing providers, to what’s missing in your neighbourhoods.

Your voice matters and giving a few minutes to share your opinion can give the people planning improvements to services a real insight into where their efforts can be best placed.

How does the Resident Voice IndexTM project work?

The Resident Voice IndexTM project gathers responses from people living in social housing in the UK through a series of questionnaires, polls and surveys.

The results of the Resident Voice IndexTM project will be published throughout the year and be freely available and accessible to both residents and housing providers. We want policy makers, planners and housing providers to use the results to build a detailed picture that can help inform the way that social housing works in the future.

The project is completely independent, with no links to housing providers or formal resident structures. Because of this, we believe that our platform gives an ideal space for residents to express their views safely and freely.

All of the answers collected across this project will be anonymised, meaning that any information given will not have any links back to the person who gave it and will be held safely and securely.

We are so excited to have launched this project, and to share the results and get to know more residents along the way. If you have any questions or would like to offer a suggestion for themes and topics that you think landlords should know, please get in touch at info.ResidentVoice@mrisoftware.com. You can also visit our FAQs here.

Why your voice matters

In early April 2021 we spoke to social housing residents about how they felt engagement should be approached by their housing providers, as well as by service providers like us. Here we’ll give you a breakdown of what they had to say and some of the reasons you should be giving your opinion.

Surveys and statistics

‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’ is a phrase popularised in the 1800s and early 1900s. It is attributed to many people but can be linked to the author of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, Mark Twain. Commonly used at the time, the phrase describes when a number or statistic is used to support an argument – even if it might be weak or untrue.

But this does not mean that good statistics aren’t important! Gathering information through tools like surveys to produce these stats is essential for creating policy, building best practice and finding out what a broad section of society feels about a topic.

The resident opinion

We spoke to residents and separately, to housing providers to find out what communication between them was like at the moment and understand the ways in which they wanted to see engagement improved. We discovered that involved resident groups worry that they are not hearing from a wider group of people beyond “the same bums on seats.” Online surveys and consultation can be really useful for reaching out to those who may not want, or be unable to give up a lot of their time to improve their local area or services.

The main issue is that it tends to always be the same core of people. What I am interested in is how to reach out to get new people involved; it tends to be the same faces always who are doing things.

Resident participant, Resident Voice IndexTM workshop

Why answer surveys?

So, what are some of the reasons that people answer surveys?

  1. Self-perception: By answering survey questions and seeing the results, people hope to learn more about themselves or their society
  2. Voice: Surveys can be a chance to have your opinion heard, whether negative or positive
  3. Obligation: Some people feel like they have to take a survey if they are presented with one
  4. Need to help: When the reason for asking questions and the potential impact of the results is explained, many people feel like it’s worthwhile getting involved

Some residents don’t have a lot of time to be heavily involved with resident engagement, however will still want to make an impact and have their voices heard. For those people, quick chances to give an honest opinion and insight can be a great help to organisations and the involved residents working to find out more about their communities.

The resident voice

Our own resident engagement project, the Resident Voice IndexTM asks residents questions in order to share what those living in social housing think about their homes, communities and lives. The research gathered will be anonymous and given away for free to residents, housing associations, local authorities and the general public.

Who is the social housing regulator?

All industries have standards and regulations that they need to comply with in order to do the best by the people that use their products and services, as well as stay within the law! And for organisations that provide social homes – be it a housing association or a local authority – it is no different.

What does the regulator do?

The Regulator of Social Housing oversees how every social housing provider in England and Wales is run. If you’re in Scotland, there is also a separate Scottish Housing Regulator.  They work with the government, the housing ombudsman and housing providers to make sure that social homes are safe, decent and sustainable in line with the law.

The work of the regulator includes registering new social housing providers to make sure that they meet the right standards. The body also flag when existing landlords aren’t making the grade and support them to improve. In very rare circumstances, when a provider isn’t up to scratch and doesn’t make the necessary changes, they may be de-registered.

The regulator concentrates mainly on two topics:

  1. Making sure that landlords are being sensible with their finances
  2. Ensuring that residents are treated with a high level of consumer standards

Financial standards include:

  • Ensuring that social homes show value for money for taxpayers
  • Making sure that they are run in a financially stable way to protect people’s homes
  • Providing evidence of financial sustainability so that they can access funds to build more homes

Consumer standards include:

  • Encouraging and guiding landlords to contribute to the improvement of the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the neighbourhoods where they provide housing
  • Reporting to residents regularly about how the landlord is run and how they spend the money they make
  • Giving residents the opportunity to be involved in how their housing is managed

What’s coming up for the regulator?

There are changes on the horizon! Improvements to the standards that social landlords are meant to stick to are set to be brought in, in order for the sector to better serve residents.

In November 2020 the government released The Charter for Social Housing Residents. Within this, seven main themes were set out and over the coming years, the way that housing providers behave will change to meet these new standards.

The seven themes:

  1. Being safe in your home
  2. Knowing how your landlord is performing
  3. Having your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly
  4. Being treated with respect
  5. Having your voice heard by your landlord
  6. Having a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in
  7. Being supported to take your first step towards ownership

These expected changes to how social housing is delivered will not be possible to put in place without residents getting involved. By sharing your opinions and vision for what housing should look like in the future, you can shape how your neighbourhood moves forward.

Who is the housing ombudsman?

The Housing Ombudsman is the last port of call for when communication breaks down following a complaints procedure. They are responsible for working out if a complaint made to a housing association or a local authority has been dealt with fairly.

When problems have been resolved fairly, the ombudsman, made up of social housing experts, can explain why a certain path of action has been taken.

If it hasn’t been dealt with fairly, then they can recommend actions that can be taken to sort out the issue.

Steps to the ombudsman

When things go wrong during a social tenancy, you’re within your rights to make a complaint to your landlord. Usually this results in a repair being undertaken or some other sort of appropriate resolution. Here are the steps you should take:

  1. On your landlord’s website there should be a link to make a formal complaint. If it’s not there, then the information should be in your tenant handbook
  2. Sometimes things don’t go as they should and the result of a complaint might not go in your favour. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, the next step is to contact a councillor, MP or the tenant panel for your landlord
  3. If these services cannot help you then they can refer you to the Housing Ombudsman. You can also contact the ombudsman anonymously for advice on your situation or go to them directly – but only 8 weeks after your landlord has given their final response on a complaint

Nearly all housing providers in the UK follow the Housing Ombudsman ‘Code of Practice’. This means that if the ombudsman gets in contact with a housing provider, they will consider the case quickly and reply promptly.

How the Housing Ombudsman resolves disputes

Fairness

The first principle of any ombudsman is to treat all people in a disagreement fairly, using a structured approach.

Put things right

When an ombudsman offers its recommendation, it’s done so after fully considering the facts in each case. They will use their expertise in social housing to suggest resolutions that can be achieved. It’s very rare that a housing provider doesn’t follow the recommendations of the Housing Ombudsman.

Learn from outcomes

It’s one thing to deal with complaints and recommend how to resolve individual cases. But in order to make things better for everyone, it’s really important to learn what mistakes were made and then share with all housing providers how the same problem can be avoided in the future.

Things are changing

In December, for the first time the Housing Ombudsman published how each landlord dealt with complaints. This information is free to access. The aim of making it public is to show residents whether a housing association has dealt with complaints well in comparison to other landlords of the same size and shape. It’s also there to help housing providers understand and compare how they are doing and improve their services.

This is one of many new changes to protect residents and improve housing provider services that are either starting now or set to be announced over the coming year. This is all down to the publication of the Charter for Social Housing Residents, a government White Paper that announced that changes for the better were going to be made to how social housing is delivered.

If you or somebody you know has exhausted all other avenues for getting a problem resolved, then this is where to go to lodge a complaint with the Housing Ombudsman.