One of the best projects I’ve been involved with over the past few years was chairing the group that led to the creation of the National Tenant Voice. The NTV was the third leg of Labour’s regulatory system for social housing – the smallest and cheapest part – together with the Tenant Services Authority and the Homes and Communities Agency.
The aim was to create a new type of organisation which would bring tenants’ and residents’ views to the table in Whitehall, facilitate scrutiny of landlords’ performance at all levels and help promote tenant and resident self-organisation around the country. The views it represented would be based on research and wide consultation with tenants and residents, including those not represented through existing tenants’ and residents’ associations.
It was a complex project because the NTV had to be complementary to the existing structure of national tenant organisations, which fully supported its development, and because it was to become a non-departmental public body, and the rules surrounding NDPBs are ferociously complicated (it makes you wonder how there are so many of them).
The NTV operated through a National Tenant Council of 50 members – a very impressive body of people active all around the country – and had just got going and appointed a Chief Executive – Richard Crossley, who had done most of the work to set it up – when the Election happened. Grant Shapps thought that spending £1m on tenant representation was a waste of money and it was axed almost immediately. He did however provide some funding for a review of where the tenants’ movement might go next and the report of the review has now been published and attracted a big spread in Inside Housing magazine – news story here and feature article here.
The ‘New Dawn’ review, also co-ordinated by Richard Crossley, rightly concludes that the abolition of the NTV has been a major blow to the tenants’ movement and to the aspiration that tenants, with proper resources behind them, might be enabled to have a real influence over national policies and sit at the table on a more equal footing with the well-resourced landlord and professional organisations as well as the Government. It looks at options for new structures to evolve but concludes that these will take some time.
The issue of resources remains at the heart of the debate about the future of the tenants movement. With virtually no funding, organised tenants locally make a huge difference to the quality of life on estates and do a huge amount to make landlords accountable. Many of the criticisms of tenant organisation stem from the fact that they operate on a shoestring and usually have few funds to organise events and consultations.
The report concludes, and I agree, that:
There is recognition in the sector that the sector itself should make funding available for tenants to have a voice at national level. In the consultation we carried out, a payment of an amount per tenancy to support influence at national level was supported by an overwhelming majority of those consulted. Just 1p per tenancy per week would give a budget more than the original budget of the NTV. This will need to be explored further.
Councils and housing associations pay large amounts for membership of their national organisations which, correctly, have a major influence on the development of policy or at least make sure the views of the organisations are known. Tenants are often aggrieved that these subscriptions are effectively paid for out of their rents but any request for funding for tenants locally or regionally or nationally is treated as if it is some outrageous demand and is normally only ever available with strings attached. Tenants are often furious, for example, at having to apply for funding to attend meetings and conferences that the landlord attends as a matter of routine.
The time has come for tenants to be able to fund their own representation out of their own rents and for landlords to co-operate willingly in this.
The abolition of Labour’s infrastructure for social housing regulation is being replaced by a national committee that will be focused on money and much less interested in performance and services provided to tenants. The gap is supposed to be made up by a greater emphasis on local tenant scrutiny. But without funding this will fail and without an effective and properly funded national tenant voice, Government will not get to hear about it until it is too late.
You can contact Taroe through http://www.taroe.org/
The New Dawn report is dedicated to Terry Edis, the Chair of NFTMO and an inspirational tenants leader, who died recently.