22 September 2008
The chair of the nascent social housing regulator has issued a stark warning to providers that they must improve their performance.
Anthony Mayer, chair of the Tenant Services Authority, told housing association leaders that too many landlords were ignoring the wishes of their tenants and other customers. Social landlords do not pay as much attention to customers as private sector bodies do, he added.
Speaking on the same day as the National Housing Federation boasted that associations are spending almost £435m on wider neighbourhood services, Mayer warned landlords they must acknowledge the different priorities of tenants.
'There is far too big a gap between the best and worst performing associations in terms of the deal they give to their tenants,' he told the NHF's annual conference in Birmingham on September 17. 'Compared with private sector service providers, the sector as a whole has fallen off the pace in terms of consumer focus.'
The TSA is set to launch at the end of December and will take on the regulatory work of the Housing Corporation when the latter becomes part of the new Homes and Communities Agency. The HCA was due to come into being on April 1 2009, but chief executive designate Sir Bob Kerslake brought the date forward to December.
Mayer, a former chief executive of both the Housing Corporation and the Greater London Authority, said it would not be the TSA's role to tell registered social landlords how to do their job.
'In practice, you will need to use a variety of approaches to improve the engagement of your tenants, including groups whose main wish is just to get on with their own lives. The key is to listen to tenants and not to tell them,' he said.
'The TSA, as the new regulator, marks a clean break from the Housing Corporation and will have a much greater and clearer focus on tenants and the deal they get from their landlords.'
Earlier, in the widest-ever audit of non-housing services provided by RSLs, the NHF reported that associations spend about £90m per year on safety and cohesion, £78m on environmental services and £66m on education and training. They also invest heavily in schemes to boost employment, improve the health of residents and tackle social exclusion.
According to the federation, RSLs employ more than 4,500 staff specifically to deliver services that benefit about 5.5 million people. While £163m is raised from external sources, the remaining £272m comes from associations' own budgets, according to In business for neighbourhoods: the evidence, based on data collected in 2006/07.
David Orr, the federation's chief executive, said that if anything, the figures underestimate the scale of work carried out by RSLs because some activities are so embedded that they cannot be separated from housing services. 'Housing associations contribute massively to the quality of life of the nation,' he said.