We have a new website go to gov.scot

Identifying the Priorities of Tenants of Social Landlords

Listen

ANNEX A: LITERATURE REVIEW

TENANT PRIORITIES FOR SOCIAL HOUSING - LITERATURE AND DATA REVIEW

1. Introduction

The Scottish Government's project brief for this study specifies the inclusion of an evidence review on service user satisfaction among social sector tenants. While the brief also indicates that this review should focus on material specific in Scotland, such literature is relatively sparse. Hence, the following digest also incorporates some evidence drawn from English studies. Additionally, although the review is required only to cover material on service user satisfaction, the review extends beyond this to encompass published evidence on tenant priorities for social housing.

The structure of the review is as follows. In the next section we look at research on tenant views undertaken by Scottish Homes during the 1990s. Section 3 highlights the clauses within current regulatory guidance which are of particular relevance to measurement of tenant satisfaction. This leads on to a review of current practice by social landlords in Scotland. Section 5 considers the scope for comparing satisfaction ratings across social landlords and over time and shows how this has been promoted under the English regulatory framework. In the penultimate section we look more widely at recent research findings on tenant priorities for social housing in England. Finally, in Section 8, we draw together some brief conclusions from the review.

2. Historical context in Scotland

Both in Scotland and England, recent official statements about the regulatory regime for social housing have stressed the importance of re-casting existing frameworks so that these are more squarely informed by tenant priorities 25. Although this is not entirely new, it does reflect a growing emphasis on tenants' status as consumers and the need for social landlords to develop more effective frameworks to promote accountability to their service users.

As far back as the early 1990s Scottish Homes commissioned regular national surveys of popular attitudes towards housing. Encompassing people living in all housing tenures, these were designed to 'build up and explore a detailed analysis of consumer preference in housing and consumer satisfaction with housing circumstances'. Overall, the surveys sought to establish 'what people want from the Scottish housing system and how far their aspirations are being met' 26.

The Third Survey of Consumer Preference in Housing ( CPH), for example, reported that if they were given a 'realistic choice', 81% of respondents would prefer to live in an owner occupied house although 67% of renters preferred renting. More recent survey evidence suggested that 86% of all households would 'ideally prefer' to own rather than rent 27. While a third of social renters (32%) preferred this tenure, it is notable that this is much lower than what would appear to be an approximately comparable figure as cited in the 1996 CPH survey (see above).

More directly relevant to the current research is the finding from the 1996 CPH survey that 80% of social renters were satisfied or very satisfied with their current accommodation. In terms of specific attributes of their homes, the lowest satisfaction rates among social renters related to storage space (58% satisfied) and the cost of heating (61%). Other features scored more highly - for example, 81% of social renters were happy with the layout of their home, 84% with the size of rooms and 85% with the number of rooms. Beyond this, however, the consumer preference surveys were of limited specific relevance to the current study because they focused mainly on attitudes towards accommodation and house moves rather than probing tenants' views on landlord services.

3. Scottish regulatory guidance for social landlords

In addition to commissioning national surveys, Scottish Homes - in its regulatory role - also encouraged the commissioning of tenant satisfaction surveys by individual housing associations. There was an expectation that such surveys would be conducted on a three yearly cycle. This was a recognition that, even at this stage, the measurement of service user experiences could usefully inform plans for improving the quality of service delivery. As early as the start of the 1990s, the satisfaction survey was reportedly being heralded as an effective means of listening to consumers, and thus as a necessary component of organisations becoming more demand-responsive 28.

More recently, with the creation of a single regulatory framework for social housing (from 2002), the associated regulatory criteria have placed 'the needs and views of tenants and other service users at the centre of the regulatory framework' 29. The critical 'guiding standards' define satisfactorily performing landlords as those able to state:

We have published and are implementing a sound strategy for encouraging and supporting tenants, residents and service users to participate actively in all areas of our work. We support tenants to take an active interest in managing their homes. ( GS2.2 Tenant participation)

and

We place the people who want to use our services at the heart of our work. We treat people with respect and are responsive to their views and priorities. ( GS3.1 Responsiveness to service users) 30.

The corresponding self-assessment questions are published on the SHR website.

The Scottish Homes guidance promoting tenant satisfaction surveys on a three-yearly cycle was withdrawn by Communities Scotland on the grounds that this was no longer yielding very useful data and that, as such, it was 'no longer fit for purpose'. In place of this requirement CS published a good practice toolkit 'How to gather views on service quality' 31. This reflected a view that it would be preferable to encourage landlords to utilize a wider range of methods for collating tenant feedback on landlord services. Hence, regulatory inspections now look at the whole spectrum of ways (including via the use of qualitative rather than quantitative techniques) that inspected organizations consult tenants and collect service user feedback. Inspectors also look for evidence that service development is influenced by messages emerging from user feedback analysis.

4. Measurement of tenant satisfaction in Scotland: social landlord practice

To gauge the ways that the stipulated regulatory standards are implemented in practice a recent study reviewed Communities Scotland inspection reports. These were seen as confirming that 'most social landlords engage in some form of tenant consultation and involvement and many seek feedback on some aspects of their services' (p2). However, there was little evidence of landlords adopting a 'planned, strategic approach to research and consultation. Similarly, few organisations collected consumer feedback on a regular basis and although tenant satisfaction surveys were commissioned or undertaken periodically by some inspected landlords, the data was not always analysed fully 32.

To build on this evidence, particularly in relation to tenant satisfaction surveys, we reviewed the ten most recently published (2008/09) regulatory inspection reports on landlord services provided by local authorities and larger housing associations. Six of the ten reports related to housing associations and four to local authorities. Of the ten landlords, all but one had conducted a large-scale tenants satisfaction survey within the previous three years. Survey coverage was not always clearly specified in the reports but in at least one instance, the most recently conducted exercise had focused on a 10% sample. In other cases surveys had apparently encompassed all tenants. Although the inspection reports did not generally specify whether such surveys are undertaken via face-to-face interviews or self-completion questionnaires it would appear that the latter is more common.

Table 1 - Recently inspected social landlords in Scotland: tenant satisfaction survey scores

Landlord

MBHA

WSHA

TF

Gv HA

GOHA

LHA

RC

NAC

EAC

% of all survey respondents

Overall satisfaction with landlord

85

94

96

90

91

81

91

74

Overall satisfaction with landlord services

95

89

69

Satisfaction with repairs service

87

96

83

74

Rent seen as 'good value'

60

91

Satisfaction with how landlords keeps tenants informed

97

98

Satisfaction with neighbourhood

92

79

70

85

85

82

Source: Scottish Housing Regulator inspection reports as published in 2008/09.

Notes to table

1. Covers nine of the ten most recently published inspection reports relating to landlord services provided by local authorities and larger housing associations (Midlothian Council had not recently conducted a tenants satisfaction survey).

2. Landlord identities as follows: MBHA=Margaret Blackwood HA, WSHA=Whiteinch & Scotstoun HA, TF=Tenants First, Gv HA=Govan HA, GOHA=Glen Oaks HA, LHA=Langstane HA, RC=Renfrewshire Council, NAC=North Ayrshire Council, EAC=East Ayrshire Council.

3. Because survey methodologies used by different landlords may well have differed, the individual percentages may not be directly comparable.

Satisfaction rates, as cited in inspection reports, tended to show a large majority of survey respondents content with their landlord and with the services provided (see Table 1). However, inspection reports (understandably) do not include detailed information about satisfaction survey methodology and quality assurance. Neither is it always clear exactly what phraseology has been used in specific instances. Consequently, it may be risky to attach too much significance to the apparently high levels of satisfaction as cited in the table.

What is, perhaps, more significant is that the professed regulatory emphasis on service user views is reflected in the fact that a section on tenant satisfaction has recently featured as a standard element within the inspection report structure. Some reports included separate commentaries on tenant satisfaction with housing management and repairs services. As a rule, nevertheless, commentary on such issues remains fairly limited in extent and it may well remain the case that the collection of customer feedback information remains a key area needing to be strengthened by most social landlords 33.

5. Comparing and tracking tenant satisfaction

For reasons outlined above, comparison of tenant satisfaction scores across Scottish social landlords is problematic. As noted above, official guidance has been usefully disseminated 34. However, this is deliberately framed to promote a range of approaches to collection and analysis of service user feedback. While survey-based approaches continue to be seen as one acceptable and potentially useful approach, there has been no attempt to promote or endorse a specific model. In England, a more prescriptive approach has been followed with the semi-official backing given to the STATUS tenant satisfaction survey template and methodology developed by the National Housing Federation 35.

The priority attached to the measurement of tenant satisfaction has also been emphasized by the inclusion of satisfaction indicators within the national performance indicators dataset. Since 2001, every local authority has been required to report annually on council tenants' satisfaction with their landlord, as well as on tenant satisfaction on opportunities for participation in management and decision making on housing services. The relevant guidance states that:

The tenant satisfaction survey should be carried out at least every three years. In years when no survey is undertaken, the most recent available year's results should be reported with a note highlighting the date of the survey. The survey must follow the National Housing Federations STATUS standard tenant satisfaction methodology36

Within this framework comparison across local authorities has become more tenable. At the national scale, the median 'overall satisfaction with landlord' score for 2007/08 was 79%, with the equivalent figure for 'satisfaction with opportunities for participation' being 65% 37.

Under regulatory guidance, housing associations operating in England have also been expected to undertake three-yearly tenant satisfaction surveys on the STATUS model. Headline figures for 2007/08 show stock transfer landlords slightly out-performing traditional associations on the three key measures. The percentage of tenants fairly or very satisfied on these measures was as follows:

  • Overall satisfaction with landlord: 81% for transfer HAs, 78% for traditional HAs
  • Satisfaction with opportunities for participation in management: 62% for transfer HAs, 60% for traditional HAs
  • Satisfaction with repairs service: 78% for transfer HAs, 74% for traditional HAs 38

In Scotland, national statistics on tenant satisfaction were collected in the 1990s via the Scottish Homes consumer preference in housing surveys. However, this series was terminated in 1996. More recently, some relevant questions have been included within the social survey element of the Scottish House Condition Survey. These make it possible to derive national figures for both the social and private rented sectors to show:

  • Satisfaction in relation to the overall service provided by the respondent's landlord
  • Views on whether the standard of the overall service provided by the landlord has changed over the previous year
  • Satisfaction with management and maintenance of common parts of the building
  • Overall satisfaction with accommodation
  • Satisfaction with property size and heating

As shown in Figure 1, there is appears to be a marked contrast between the three rented tenures in terms of overall satisfaction. However, the relatively small sample sizes should be taken into consideration here. For example, the confidence interval for the proportion of 'very dissatisfied' council tenants is plus or minus 2%, while that for housing associations is plus or minus 2.5%.

The proportion of social sector tenants reporting themselves dissatisfied is similar to that found by household surveys in England. For example, the proportion of all English social renters dissatisfied with the overall service provided by their landlord in 2006/07 was 17% (as compared with 18% of council tenants and 13% of housing association tenants in Scotland in 2007). The English figures in this instance are sourced from the Survey of English Housing ( SEH).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2 graphs opinions on 'overall satisfaction with landlord' over the past four years of the SHCS. Again, the limited sample size means there is an element of uncertainty attached to these figures but in any event there is little suggestion of any clear trend.

The data illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 is highly relevant to the current research in that it confirms the finding from our own fieldwork that satisfaction rates are higher among housing association tenants than among council tenants. In interpreting these figures it is also important to appreciate that almost half of Scotland's housing association tenants rent their homes from 'transfer landlords' - housing associations newly set up to take on ex-public sector housing since the 1990s. Indeed, more than a quarter of RSL tenants rent from Glasgow Housing Association. Bearing this in mind, the relatively strong rating of the association sector is particularly notable.

Another important observation arising from Figures 1 and 2 is that the highest satisfaction rates are in neither of the social rented tenures, but in the private rented sector. In 2007, the proportion of private tenants dissatisfied with their landlord's overall service was only 8% - as compared with 13% in the housing association sector and 18% of council tenants. Similar figures were highlighted within the English context by an influential report, recently published 39. In attempting to explain this finding it should be recognised that expectations of landlords may be relatively low in a sector where there is a very high tenancy turnover, with many treating it as a purely transitional home. Additionally, with the private rented sector nowadays accommodating a substantial number of better-off households many of those concerned may be less reliant on their landlord than is typically true of social renters. Notwithstanding these points, however, the fact that private tenants are, collectively, more content with their landlords than social renters should give social landlords pause for thought.

Table 2 sets out tenants' views on recent changes in the quality of their landlord's management service. Across all three rented tenures most respondents questioned in 2007 perceived little change. In both of the social rented tenures the proportion believing the service to have improved was greater than the proportion considering it to have deteriorated. Again, however, figures for the local authority sector are somewhat weaker than for housing associations. The relatively small proportion of private tenants taking a view on this may be related to the short average length of tenancy in the private rented sector.

Table 2 - Views on changes in the quality of landlord property management over past five years

Improved

Same

Worse

Don't know

Total

%

%

%

%

%

Local authority

19

62

14

6

100

Housing association

21

65

9

5

100

Private landlord

7

81

3

9

100

Source: Scottish House Condition Survey

Table 3 - Satisfaction with specific aspects of landlord service: proportion of tenants (fairly or very) dissatisfied (2007)

Management & maintenance of common parts

Property size

Heating

Overall satisfaction with accom

%

%

%

%

Local authority

18

13

13

9

Housing association

13

15

13

9

Private landlord

10

7

13

7

Source: Scottish House Condition Survey

The differences in dissatisfaction rates for the three main tenures as shown in Table 3 are mainly fairly modest.

In England, because key tenant satisfaction questions have been retained in national surveys over a long period such patterns can also be traced 40 - see Figure 3. While these numbers are also subject to a degree of sample error, results for the most recent three years appear to illustrate an encouraging trend of reducing dissatisfaction - both in relation to repairs and maintenance and overall. A plausible explanation might be the impact of stepped-up investment in the social housing stock post-2001 under the Government's Decent Homes programme. They might also reflect more effective day-to-day housing management on the part of social landlords - as shown in the consistent post-2003 improving trends registered via official performance indicators for functions such as response repairs and reletting empty homes 41. Set against the societal backdrop of rising expectations on the part of service consumers, the recent pattern is all the more creditable for the sector.

Figure 3

6. Tenant priorities for social housing

As noted above, there is very little direct evidence on tenant priorities for social housing specific to Scotland. This gap is, of course, being remedied by the current study. One recently-published fragment of relevance here concerns priorities for information. Drawing on a survey of tenant representatives, the 2007 study undertaken on this issue for Communities Scotland 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' 42. The most widely 'preferred method' for disseminating such information was tenants conferences or meetings.

English evidence: survey and panel data

The largest scale research on tenant priorities is the Existing Tenants Survey undertaken by the Housing Corporation on a four-yearly basis since the early 1990s. With a sample size of 10,000 and a questionnaire designed specifically to address issues of concern to tenants, the dataset is a potentially valuable source of data on consumer attitudes and priorities in the social rented sector. However, the utility of the ETS for this purpose is limited by its coverage which has historically encompassed only housing association tenants. Also, the questions most clearly relevant to the matter of 'tenant priorities' have been few in number and somewhat indirect in phraseology.

The 2004 ETS found that the services considered very important to the largest numbers of respondents were:

  • Home repairs and maintenance (73%)
  • Repairs and maintenance to shared facilities (62%)
  • Security (57%)
  • Overall quality of home (57%)
  • 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%)
  • Providing community facilities (30%)

The above ranking may be seen as fairly predictable and not particularly illuminating in terms of revealing tenants' priorities for social landlord action. Perhaps more significant in this sense are findings from research involving the Housing Corporation's Residents Panel as undertaken in 2008. The Panel includes some 2,400 tenants of local authorities and housing associations across England. Panellists were asked to indicate, from a specified list, which issues they believed should be priorities for the Tenant Services Authority, England's new social housing regulator. Key findings are set out in Table 4.

Table 4 - The most important areas for the regulator to 'get right'

ALMO

LA retained stock

Housing assoc

% of respondents citing issue

The rents charged by landlords

48

55

47

Neighbourhood issues - e.g. crime, ASB

43

55

53

Condition of homes

43

40

38

Repairs and maintenance services

31

28

37

Opportunities for tenants to contact the regulator

29

19

30

The financial performance of landlords

28

20

27

Opportunities for tenants to have their say

27

36

25

Source: Unpublished figures provided by the Tenant Services Authority from Housing Corporation Residents' Panel Wave 8 research, July 2008

Perhaps of more direct relevance to the current research were Residents Panel members' opinions about their own landlord's performance where respondents were asked to rate landlord activities in terms of the functions performed 'well' and 'less well'. This highlighted functions where the percentage of respondents considering their landlord as performing poorly exceeded the proportion seeing their landlord as doing a good job. Hence, while repairs and maintenance is (according to the 2004 ETS) the function most widely seen as 'very important', landlords were - by and large - seen as effective performers here. For example, 60% of housing association tenants saw this as a function their landlord 'does well' whereas only 27% deemed it an activity their landlord 'does less well' (see Table 5). Hence, the net positive score here was 33. For local authority tenants the comparable rating was even better - a net positive score of 49.

Perhaps significantly, landlord functions connected with managing the environment surrounding social housing tended to be seen as relatively problematic in that net scores (for all three cohorts) were negative for activities such as 'looking after the neighbourhood' and 'dealing with crime and vandalism' (see Table 5). Also notable are the negative scores for local authority and ALMO tenants in relation to landlord effectiveness in looking after communal areas.

Table 5 - Housing Corporation Residents Panel views on landlord effectiveness with respect to specific functions

Housing assoc tenants

LA tenants

ALMO tenants

Does well

Does less well

Net score

Does well

Does less well

Net score

Does well

Does less well

Net score

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Repairs and maintenance

60

27

33

69

20

49

60

27

33

Standard of homes

52

24

28

43

26

17

36

26

10

Keeping tenants/residents informed

51

29

22

56

26

30

46

31

15

Making homes more energy efficient

39

35

4

53

33

20

38

36

2

Looking after communal areas/facilities

34

35

-1

26

48

-22

26

45

-19

Giving tenants/residents a say

32

40

-8

34

37

-3

32

40

-8

Housing advice

25

31

-6

35

25

10

22

34

-12

Looking after the neighbourhood

23

39

-16

32

43

-11

28

43

-15

Dealing with crime and vandalism

21

36

-15

25

52

-27

28

39

-11

Help with getting back to work

4

25

-21

15

29

-14

3

25

-22

Source: Unpublished figures provided by the Tenant Services Authority from Housing Corporation Residents' Panel Wave 8 research, July 2008

These findings seem to chime with those from a recent survey of 66 tenants and residents associations representing 270,000 households across England. Asked 'what do you feel residents' greatest concern is about the area where they live?' the most commonly cited issue was anti-social behaviour (35% of responses). More than a fifth (23%) thought that 'lack of housing for children' was the greatest local concern. In these terms, the 'poor state of repair of homes' was considered the most important problem by only 17% 43.

Tenant Involvement Commission findings

Another important contribution to recent English debate on tenant priorities has come from the Tenant Involvement Commission established by the National Housing Federation in 2005/06. The centerpiece of the project was an evidence-gathering 'deliberative forum' involving around 100 housing association tenants.

Based on views expressed at the forum, the TIC observed that 'Many tenants feel that housing associations should provide housing that their staff would be happy to live in themselves and should provide a service which they would consider to be good if they were receiving it'(p12) 44. The TIC found that awareness of housing associations' management performance was generally very low among forum participants. Perhaps of greater significance, it was noted that 'there is very little awareness of what services their housing association must provide and what minimum standards should be' (p20).

Generally, it was found that tenants were much clearer about their responsibilities than their rights. 'Many tenants were surprised at the rights they have' (p36). This was especially true in relation to rights of succession, the right to take in lodgers, the right to make improvements (with permission) and the right to claim compensation for improvements when moving on. There could be a suspicion that landlords choose not to publicise such rights because they could be seen as inconvenient from a managerial viewpoint. Another implication is that establishing and/or making known 'service standards' should be accorded greater priority by social landlords.

In relation to choice, the Commission noted that 'Tenants feel that they are often asked by the housing association what they want but see little evidence of their association acting on their wishes' (p23). This may suggest a need for better communication about consultation outcomes and the ways in which these have been influenced by tenant views. More specifically, forum participants voiced calls for tenants to be given more choices in relation to issues such as:

  • The choice or option to make repairs themselves and bill the housing association if it does not make the repairs within a reasonable period
  • Choices on where to live
  • Choices about neighbours
  • Choices about modernisation and changes to their homes and neighbourhood - especially in relation to decisions on new kitchen facilities, 'tenants want to participate as other consumers do'(p24)
  • Choice over staff in sheltered housing
  • Choice, when allocated a new home, about interior works 'within a budget that has been set' (p25)
  • Choice to move to another landlord if dissatisfied with the current landlord
  • Choice over contractors used by their landlord.

More contentiously, it was also reported that 'having the option to buy is considered to be a fundamentally good thing…Tenants are aware that most council housing tenants have the right to buy and they view their situation as unfair and discriminatory' (p25).

Overall, the TIC concluded that priorities for tenants in terms of service provision 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
  • affordable rent

Some tenants believed they received a poor level of service because they were not considered 'valued customers' by their housing association. Rather, associations were 'often perceived to be paternalistic or even patronising in their approach to tenants' (p4) - a ''get what you are given' culture'.

While tenants stressed that customers should not pay extra for what should be core services, some favoured the option of paying more for additional services (e.g. security features).

Summary and conclusions

Despite the production and dissemination of official good practice advice, social landlord practice on measurement of tenant satisfaction remains inconsistent and under-developed in Scotland.

Available national data appear to confirm a hypothesis that satisfaction rates among housing association tenants are somewhat higher than among local authority tenants, although dissatisfaction is considerably greater in both social tenures than among private tenants.

The lack of consistently collected data on tenant satisfaction with specific services makes it difficult to be certain about the social landlord functions most frequently seen as in need of improvement. However, recently-collected English data suggests that concerns about landlord effectiveness may be more widespread in relation to 'neighbourhood' issues than with respect to dwelling maintenance. It also appears that a consistent trend of reducing tenant dissatisfaction has become established in England over the past few years although this is not (yet) evident in Scotland.

More broadly, there is evidence to suggest that social sector tenants tend to be poorly informed about their legal rights and about landlord service standards, and that there is a widespread desire for greater consumer choice.

Hal Pawson, Heriot-Watt University, April 2009