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Phil Morgan: Regulation and tenants - lessons from England

Phil Morgan was Chief Executive of TPAS (England) for 10 years and developed the concept of tenant scrutiny. He then became Executive Director of Tenant Services at the Social Housing Regulator and cowrote the Regulatory Framework including the requirements on tenant scrutiny and involvement. Phil is currently an independent consultant, commentator and speaker.

With Northern Ireland gearing up for major changes to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, including splitting its landlord and strategic role, it may be worth revisiting some of the recent experiences in England, good and bad, to see if there are lessons to be learned.

Certainly, there are some mixed experiences. Inevitably there is a focus on the input of housing ministers during the setting up, and running down, of the Tenant Services Authority (TSA). Ministers set up the Cave Review to look at a new approach to regulation with tenant involvement, protection and choice at its heart. Parliament passed, with bipartisan support, the Housing and Regeneration Act that set up TSA. Driven by an ambitious and abrasive new Housing Minister, Parliament then promptly disbanded the TSA, (although its regulator role remains), and significantly reduced the role of what is called ‘consumer regulation’.

Despite this, I believe that it is important for tenants that landlords are well run and have sound finances. The regulator in England has a crucial role in ensuring that the significant private and public investment is safeguarded. If it fails in that role the people who will suffer are tenants with poorer services and fewer funds for future investment in their homes.

Landlord culture

In all my work, as Chief Executive of TPAS (England), as a regulator and as an independent consultant and commentator, I remain convinced that the culture of a landlord is crucial to placing tenants at the heart of what they do. That culture needs to start with the regulator, wherever it is placed, and inform its own culture and practice. In England, the TSA held the National Conversation with speakers at tenant and housing conferences and Local Conversations with tenants in their communities. The TSA gained the views of over 30,000 tenants and this gave a solid basis for the customer parts of the regulatory framework.

There will be sceptics – what I call the ‘so what wolves’; people who will be cynical about engaging tenants either in their landlords or the regulatory regime. They won’t be convinced by evangelical arguments about how right this is. Instead, we need to be clear that involvement is for a clear purpose – to promote improved service delivery. If it’s not doing so then why are landlords and tenants wasting their time on something that is just a tick box approach?

Tenant scrutiny

One good lesson from England is the development of tenant scrutiny and I’m proud of the role I’ve played, supported by many others, in introducing this into the mainstream of social housing in England. Tenant scrutiny promotes service improvement and supports accountability. But, a gentle warning here; tenant scrutiny is not the same as tenant involvement. It’s a part of the governance arrangements within a landlord and requires selection to ensure that positive challenge is promoted.

‘Serious detriment’

One bad lesson from England has been the setting of a “serious detriment” clause that comes close to stopping the regulator taking action if landlords don’t comply with the consumer standards, including involvement. So far, only one landlord has fallen foul of serious detriment and this hurdle is simply too high to ensure, through regulation, that tenants receive good services and are involved meaningfully with their landlords.

However, it is clear that many landlords are doing much to involve their tenants in different ways that do have an impact on their services. The same good landlords also set up and support tenant scrutiny so that tenants, who should be at the heart of what landlords are about, can ensure that involvement and impact is meaningful.

Read Phil Morgan's presentation here

Read his wishes to the Housing Genie

Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Opinion

This article was written on 18 December 2013. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.