Co-Regulation is dead, long live Co-Regulation

We need a new approach to co-regulation, the Government isn’t interested and increasingly nor is the regulator. More’s the point, as greater freedoms are given to Housing Associations, neither are they (for the most part). In short, the current approach isn’t going to carry on working for much longer.

A lament, of sorts

I have always been mildly amused by Co-Regulation. It is a fuzzy term, not helped by a largely stagnated approach that is deeply embedded within the sector. Customer Involvement, Engagement, Scrutiny and in their combined incarnation, Co-Regulation have underwhelmed; considerably, consistently and with little sign of improvement. From midday meetings that only the old, infirm and at leisure can attend, to scrutiny sessions that play lip-service to their required role. A situation that does a disservice to the highly engaged customers and staff members involved and the untapped potential they have to deliver improved services for customers and HAs alike.

Current state of play

For the un-initiated/borderline comatose, Co-Regulation since 2012 has been concerned with:

  • Giving customers the opportunity to influence and be involved in the scrutiny of performance/recommending improvements
  • Supporting them to take the aforementioned scrutiny opportunities
  • Help set up, support and respond to tenant panels or their equivalent
  • Provide timely and relevant performance information in a form agreed with customers to enable effective scrutiny
  • Produce a bloody annual report

Do we need customer scrutiny?

I would argue that if you have the below, the need for customer scrutiny, in its current form, is greatly reduced. Because, aside from giving organisations a warm fuzzy feeling that they are doing the right thing, a significant reason why customer scrutiny is currently needed lies in ineffective self-governance. Solve those issues and, potentially, bye-bye to a large chunk of the need for customer scrutiny. So the theory goes.

Key things for organisations to consider having:

  • A strong board (not always a given, I will grant you) that is independent of the Executive Team and can both strategically guide the organisation and hold Senior Staff to account.
  • A Performance Management Matrix/Framework/Overview that clearly states responsibility and accountability for Performance Indicators and Key Performance Indicators.
  • A robust Customer Feedback programme providing lead (and not lag) indicators of dissatisfaction, one that is tied into an effective service improvement programme.
  • The ability to quickly, efficiently and effectively identify areas for improvement in terms of performance and implement relevant solutions.

A better focus

Do not believe for one moment that I’m against independent, customer centred scrutiny, far from it. At a time when a number in the sector are looking to significantly change what they do (we’re at an impasse, not a goddamn crossroads) such input may be key. But in many cases I believe better impact could be had with a change to the focus of customer scrutiny, namely:

  • Either give customers real power to hold staff members to account on legitimate performance issues or ensure they have a senior staff sponsor who can.
  • Broaden the base of involved customers (easier said than done, I know) because whilst most customers frankly don’t care about the way the organisation is run as long as their repairs are done promptly and correctly and they are left alone, there is an untapped resource in customers that needs to be fully utilised.
  • Refocus on what is to be challenged – consumer standards, contract management, procurement or the strategic direction of the organisation.
  • Make better use of technology (that old chestnut) why hold a meeting when performance information can be viewed by an interactive dashboard?
  • Fully match service standards so that they mirror internal reporting i.e. within reason report externally what is reported inside the organisation.

Whilst some measures may be seen as ‘business sensitive’ there is no reason why, in the spirit of openness and honesty, housing associations shouldn’t be more forthcoming around what they publish. Particularly if a sector-wide suite of indicators could be agreed (I can hear the arses clenching as I type this). But instead of an annual report that no-one cares about, or quarterly performance standards that no-one reads why not try something different?

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

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Why I’m rejecting Help to Buy

I’m rejecting Help to Buy, here’s why you should too.

Firstly, apologies, the title is a bit of a necessary white lie. I’m actually rejecting all forms of state assistance to buy a home currently on offer. But frankly a title that says “Why I’m rejecting, Help to Buy, Rent to Buy, the expanded shared ownership programme plus other miscellanea relating to Government schemes to purchase a home” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But you get the point.

As someone who has worked ‘professionally’ since graduating, who has had to move homes on an above average basis, who has experienced in-work poverty (that sucks kids, don’t try it) and who has been unable to save for a house because you know, life. It might be a bit odd to some to reject the assistance available. Particularly given the breadth of schemes on offer.

List of Schemes Currently in Play

  • Help to buy – Equity Scheme
  • Help to buy – mortgage guarantee
  • Starter Homes
  • Shared Ownership
  • Rent to Buy
  • Right to Buy v2.0 for LA tenants
  • (Voluntary) Right to Buy for HA tenants
  • ISAs to save

Why the hissy fit?

Fundamentally money that was going to be spent on housing the most in need in this country will now be spent elsewhere. Yet many of those who on the face of it would be set to be helped by Starter Homes (those unable without the cash and/or credit to buy, but ineligible for social housing) probably won’t be able to afford it. Had to rely on figures from Shelter here, because the Government appears to have lost the fag packet on which they did their sums.

As someone who puts a great emphasis on social justice the latest set of proposals from Government are incredibly nauseating to take. As someone who works in Performance, where methodology and reasoned decision making is important this blasé approach is deeply concerning. But it as a taxpayer that I’m fucking fuming. Money is being thrown around in the wrong way, often at the wrong people. In attempting to make it rain for the middle and lower middle class this Government has decided to stretch the definition of a affordability to its very limits. In doing so it is continuing the creeping death of social housing and the distortion of a highly dysfunctional housing market. That doesn’t end well, for anyone.

Right to Bollocks

The political bung that is the Right to Buy extension to Housing Association tenants, albeit in a voluntary form and with some tweaks after an agreement between Government and the sector (well, most of it), highlights the absurdity of thinking going on. Much needed council housing will be sold off to pay for other people to buy much needed social housing. Even with a like for like replacement (even 2 for 1 in London) it is unlikely that a net loss of social housing will be avoided. But that’s not the point. Replacements have never matched the numbers being sold, and despite some debatable sums being thrown about, the jury is very much still out. Often once sold the same property is then let at market rent. In many instances the person renting the RTB property is then claiming housing benefit. Meaning that the lucky owner profits twice at the expense of the general public. That is utter madness and piss poor value for money.

At a time of increasing homelessness and at best stagnated progress on inequality it is a disgrace that these policies are being pushed through without a social housing element. This country needs more of all kinds of housing. Not just the type that hopes to win votes. In the end this is what matters. Cameron et al. have decided to abandon those at the bottom of the pile to help those higher up. I want no part of that. Period.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.