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Identifying the Priorities of Tenants of Social Landlords

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2 INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT

"Meeting the changing demands and aspirations of [social housing] tenants is key to coping with a society that has changed a great deal and will go on changing in the future"1

2.1 The availability of affordable, good quality social housing in Scotland is crucial for a significant proportion of the population, with one in four households currently renting their home from a Registered Social Landlord ( RSL) or a local authority 2. Recognising this, the Scottish Government has highlighted the key contribution that improved social housing provision will make to the realisation of several of the Scottish Government National Outcomes, including tackling social inequalities and ensuring that our public services are of high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people's needs. 3

2.2 'Firm Foundations', the Scottish Government's discussion document on the future of housing in Scotland identified some key issues for the social housing sector. One of these was that tenants are in a relatively weak bargaining position in relation to their landlords because demand for social housing remains high in most areas, supply is relatively low and allocation continues to be determined by need rather than individual choice. Consequently, unlike consumers in 'ordinary markets', tenants in social housing cannot easily wield influence over service providers by 'taking their custom elsewhere'.

2.3 To address this, 'Firm Foundations' proposed two key initiatives: Firstly, strengthening the role of tenants so that they can become more empowered customers of their landlord - the ongoing development of the Registered Tenant Organisation ( RTO) network is highlighted as a crucial step forward in this respect. Secondly, modernising the regulatory framework so that it exists "for the benefit of consumers of housing and related services, with an explicit duty to promote their needs and interests." 4

2.4 The Scottish Government included proposals for modernising the regulatory framework in the consultation paper on the draft Housing (Scotland) Bill that it published on 27 April 2009 5. The consultation paper described the purpose of these proposals as focusing the efforts of landlords on:

  • Meeting tenants' priorities
  • Continually improving performance and value; and
  • Commanding the confidence of public and private investors in social housing.

2.5 The proposals have two main elements: introducing a Scottish Social Housing Charter that would define the outcomes and value that social landlords should be delivering for their tenants; and modernising the SHR by giving it statutory independence with the objective of promoting the interests of tenants and prospective tenants and a range of modernised duties and powers to ensure that it achieved that objective.

2.6 It is within this context that the Scottish Government's Communities Analytical Services team commissioned Ipsos MORI and Heriot-Watt University to carry out research to inform the work of the Scottish Government in leading a national conversation about the outcomes that should be included in the Charter.

2.7 While there is a significant body of research on tenant satisfaction in social housing, few studies have specifically investigated tenant priorities for the operation of landlord services (a more detailed discussion of this body of research can be found in the literature review, included in Annex A). Such work has been particularly sparse in Scotland. Perhaps the most directly relevant publication on this subject concerns tenant interests regarding information on landlord services. Drawing on a survey of Registered Tenant Organisations ( RTOs), a 2007 study found that 'tenants were concerned most with service standards and information about performance in the main areas of lettings, rent, anti-social behaviour, inspection, tenant participation and satisfaction' 6.

2.8 Three recent studies on tenant priorities in England are of some relevance in relation to this. The first is the most recent report of the four-yearly Existing Tenants Survey ( ETS) as undertaken for the Housing Corporation 7 since the early 1990s. With a sample size of 10,000 housing association tenants, the dataset is a potentially valuable source of data on consumer attitudes in the social rented sector. The questions most relevant to the matter of 'tenant priorities' have been relatively few in number and somewhat indirect in phraseology. Nevertheless, the 2004 ETS found that services considered very important to the largest number of respondents were: home repairs and maintenance (73%); repairs and maintenance to shared facilities (62%); security (57%); overall quality of home (57%); and keeping tenants informed (54%). At the other end of the scale, the services considered very important by the smallest numbers of respondents were: advising tenants on starting their own business (24%); helping tenants to access jobs and/or training (26%); and providing community facilities (30%).

2.9 A second recent English study relevant to our research is the report of the Housing Corporation's Residents Panel survey 8, made up of 2,400 tenants of local authorities and housing associations. These findings appear somewhat at variance with the ETS results outlined above. Asked to indicate which issues they believed should be priorities for the Tenant Services Authority ( TSA) , England's new social housing regulator, the key priorities, identified were: rent levels; neighbourhood issues (namely crime and anti-social behaviour); condition of homes; repairs and maintenance services; opportunities for tenants to contact the TSA; the financial performance of landlords; and opportunities for tenants to have a say 9.

2.10 Residents Panel members were also asked to rate their landlord's performance in terms of the functions performed 'well' and 'less well'. It highlighted functions where the percentage of respondents considering their landlord as performing poorly exceeded the proportion seeing their landlord as doing a good job. Landlord functions tending to be seen as relatively problematic included those concerned with 'neighbourhood management', with the proportion of tenants rating their landlord as performing 'well' exceeding the proportion rating it as 'less well' in relation to 'looking after the neighbourhood' and 'dealing with crime and vandalism' 10.

2.11 In a third recent English study relevant to the current research, the Tenant Involvement Commission 11 found that:

  • Housing association tenant priorities were: a commitment to delivering a quality service; competent and polite service from frontline staff; speedy repairs completed to a high standard; listening to tenants; security; and affordable rent.
  • Repairs and maintenance were the major areas of dissatisfaction for Housing Association ( HA) tenants. Some tenants believed they received a poor level of service in terms of repairs because they were not considered by their landlord as 'valued customers'.
  • Very few tenants knew how their landlord compared with others, but there were tenants interested in this.
  • Many tenants felt they had few choices and would have liked more say on the operation of landlord services.
  • While concerned that customers should not pay extra for what should be core services, some tenants would like the option to pay more for additional services.

2.12 Complementing these findings, the current research has investigated the priorities of social sector tenants in Scotland. In this way, we have sought to enhance the evidence base which will be used to inform the development of appropriate objectives for Scottish social landlords, against which the SHR will measure future landlord performance.

2.13 This document reports the priorities of social housing tenants in Scotland and will allow a contrast to be made with the various English-based studies reported above.

Aims and objectives

2.14 The central aim of this research was to identify tenants' priorities for social housing provided by both Registered Social Landlords ( RSLs) and local authorities. In addition, the research aimed to capture tenants' understanding and opinion of 'value' in terms of the service delivered by their landlords compared to other landlords, as well as their views on the jurisdiction of, and powers required by, the modernised SHR.

2.15 In order to achieve these aims, the specific objectives or the research were to:

  • undertake a brief evidence review on tenant satisfaction with services they receive in Scotland.
  • identify and rank the range and type of tenant priorities in terms of services received from their social landlord.
  • examine the extent to which tenants would be willing to pay a higher rent for additional or improved services.
  • identify tenants' views and priorities in terms of the role the regulation of social landlords should play in protecting tenants' interests.
  • identify whether tenants are currently able to compare the service quality and value for money of local social landlords and whether this is something they would like to be able to do more in the future.
  • identify what tenants consider to be examples of good and bad practice in terms of social housing provision and related services.
  • provide a summary of key themes and messages; identifying any key trends by age, sex, ethnicity, disability/limiting long term illness and receipt of benefits.

Methodology

2.16 The research included the following five components:

  • a literature review 12 of the current evidence base on tenants' satisfaction with services delivered by social landlords;
  • a telephone survey of a representative sample of 500 social housing tenants;
  • a postal survey of all Registered Tenant Organisations ( RTOs) in Scotland (of which we received 193 returns), who answered on behalf of their tenant members;
  • qualitative research among mainstream tenants; and
  • qualitative research among members of RTOs, who were representing tenants in their area.

2.17 Full details of the methodology used for each component are provided in Annex B.

Structure of the report

2.18 The next chapter describes the methodology adopted for the research. Subsequent chapters detail the main findings from the survey. Chapter three outlines the key overall services as identified by tenants and considers how satisfied they were with these services, before considering priorities in relation to specific aspects of the day-to-day repairs service and customer services. Chapter four looks at whether tenants might be able to make accurate judgements of service quality and examines perceptions of value for money. Chapter five outlines the extent to which tenants feel their landlord consults them on issues that might affect them and examines whether or not tenants would like more involvement in the way landlords run housing services. Chapter six focuses on awareness and perceptions of inspection, regulation and the SHR. Finally, Chapter seven concludes the report and discusses the implications of the research for policy.