13 April 2023

How can residents help us make good governance decisions? And how do we ensure their voice is heard?

by Tabitha Kassem

Ensuring that the views and needs of our residents are at the heart of our strategic decision-making is no new thing to social housing professionals.

Yet, our residents continue to rely on social media and other public forums to highlight disrepair and poor treatment. In some instances, this has been the only way in which they have achieved resolution. This is despite all that we, as a sector, believe we have done for our residents.

In November and December 2022 alone, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) downgraded the financial viability of 48 housing associations. Though controversial, the idea that some of us are failing to give residents a voice may be defensible. But this is not without reason.

There is a myriad of changing legal, policy, and regulatory obligations to adopt and follow within an environment of high inflation, borrowing costs, and a weakened housing market. The result is that providers are under the greatest pressures in decades to manage their governance priorities.

This leaves us with difficult decisions to make. Determining whether to spend available budget either on building safety remediation work; improving record keeping and data management collection (to ensure effective complaint handling and overall service provision); or preparing for the upcoming consumer regulation changes is not a decision any of us want to or necessarily should have to take. But in the current environment, it simply may not be possible to achieve all that is required.

Each is important and could have repercussions individually or collectively if ignored. Executive and Non-Executive Directors should not take these decisions alone. These are decisions that we must be enabling our residents to advise on. They can help us make fully informed plans of action and can then understand why certain activities have had to be prioritised.

Kate Dodsworth, Director of Consumer Regulation at the RSH. Kate will speak about delivering exceptional experiences together with our residents at Governance 2023

Good governance is the only way we can ensure residents are involved in the conversation. How can we safeguard this governance function? How can we be confident it is used to amplify the residents’ voice in determining these decisions? These are questions that we have been struggling with for some time and will seek to answer at the Housing Governance 2023.

For a start, we should look to best practice and there are a number of excellent precedents already established. Resident board and committee membership with resident board development programmes provide a complete resident succession plan. Scrutiny and readers groups, community engagement and investment initiatives that enable residents to determine how their estates are run all already exist. Yet, as the Better Social Housing Review recently confirmed, “tenant engagement”, both at board level and more widely, favours people with the available time to commit. This is one reason why those who are most engaged are not always representative of the demographic of the local tenant group.

As I write this, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) is closing its consultation on proposed revised directions covering tenant involvement and mutual exchange. Intervention from the Regulator and Secretary of State in the provision of proactive consumer regulation regime is the next step. Having clarity, visibility, and examples of best practice of what is expected can only help us to ensure that our residents' needs are understood and their voices amplified. This also allows them to more effectively contribute to organisational decision-making.

With the intention stated for the revised directions to be issued soon, Governance 2023 is well timed for June. For one, the conference provides an opportunity for us to come together and share best practice. But it also has an agenda shaped by and for company secretaries, governance professionals, and board members to keep us up to speed on all that we need to know in the ever-changing governance world.

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I'm especially looking forward to hearing from returning speaker Kate Dodsworth, Director of Consumer Regulation at the RSH. She will share lessons learned from consumer standard reviews and explain how we can better understand the link between governance and the IDA process. In view of the DLUHC consultation, I hope that she might also provide initial views from the RSH on the forthcoming directions and how we can interpret them.

We will also be covering current topics including ESG, strategic data governance, navigating through changing regulatory downgrades, planning and preparing for mergers and partnerships, and much more. We have established and renowned governance speakers returning to the stage, but we will also be hearing from out of sector speakers on how we can successfully make customer engagement everyone’s responsibility.

It is my hope that we will gain the best examples of amplifying residents' voice from this event in all areas of social housing governance. In challenging times, it is clear to me that one of the main reasons good governance should amplify residents’ voice is that the latters' sustained input will amplify good governance. The two functions support each other. By informing decisions residents help us maintain the difficult balancing act that governance teams find themselves in.

I hope to see you at the conference in June.

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Tabitha Kassem

Executive Director of Governance, Technology and Transformation, Network Homes and Chair of Housing Governance Conferences and Exhibition 2023

Tabitha Kassem is a Non-Executive Director of Heylo Housing Registered Provider (HHRP); HHRP is a subsidiary of the Heylo Housing Group Limited and the entity that is the registered provider of social housing within that Group providing affordable shared ownership homes.

Tabitha is also Executive Director of Governance, Technology and Transformation at Network Homes Limited, a not for profit housing association with over 20,000 properties in London and the South East. Tabitha is a qualified solicitor with over 15 years post qualification experience, as well as professional and voluntary experience in company secretary and data protection matters in the private, charitable and public sectors. She is also a trustee for NACRO, a social justice charity providing housing, education, and support to reintegrate people in custody and the community into society.

How does good governance amplify residents’ voices