That was the fact outlined clearly in last year’s joint TSA & Audit Commission publication – ‘Tenant involvement: Assessing landlords’ progress’. It showed that the level of resources ploughed into involvement had no correlation with higher levels of overall satisfaction with landlord services; with satisfaction that views are being taken into account, or with the main driver of overall tenant satisfaction - repairs and maintenance services.
Landlords spending more on involvement did not have higher levels of satisfaction, in much the same way that spending more on repairs doesn’t mean better performance or quality.
And yet, the average spend p.a. on tenant involvement in England doubled from an estimated £30 per property p.a in 2008-09 to £64 p.a. in 2009-10 ( based on Housemark data). There are 4.2m social housing properties in England, making that a total potential spend across England of £0.27billion p.a .in 2009-10. With co-regulation, local offers, and many landlords choosing to implement scrutiny models, who’s to say that figure won’t maybe double again when 2010-11 data is made available, taking the total spend to nearer £0.5bn p.a?
That’s an awful lot to be spending and a big increase on something with no correlation between spend and improvements in overall outcomes. Equivalent to, say 5,000 new homes p.a. at 100k each? And how does it sit with the focus on outcomes for customers which permeate the TSA standards – particularly the Value for Money standard, with its emphasis on requiring landlords to demonstrate how value for money has been secured and tested taking into account cost, performance and quality? How can increased spend on tenant involvement be value for money if high level quality outcomes aren’t improved, and, based on DCLG research, only 3% of tenants are actually consistently involved?
Of course, any analysis of tenant involvement needs to take into account the broad spectrum of potential benefits. Not just the potential for improved services, relationships with tenants, performance and satisfaction, but also the issues of accountability, social capital, and individual/community capacity building - issues which are universally difficult to gauge or measure but also key aspects of landlord’s work in the ‘Big Society’ era. But surely, the foundation that involvement is built on and it’s raison d’être is to ensure better services, performance, and outcomes for all customers via satisfaction with them?
Satisfaction outcomes have already improved and compare favourably
At a national level, TSA PI’s based on completed RSR data demonstrate that average levels of satisfaction have actually increased year on year between 2008 and 2010, with:
- Overall satisfaction rising by 2.8% from 79.5% to 82.3%
- Views being taken into account rising by 3.5% from 60.8% to 64.3%
- Repairs and maintenance rising by 1.6% from 75.5 to 77.1%
The sector is continuing to debate the best way to collect and compare satisfaction data, with status being cast aside and new proposals for ‘STAR’ surveys being developed by Housemark, but whatever source is used, and whichever demographic factors are taken into account, it is clear that tenants’ overall satisfaction with services provided already compares favourably with satisfaction scores for other public services, and is already roughly equivalent to the private sector. For example, The Jan 2011 Institute of Customer Service Customer Satisfaction index places satisfaction with local public services at 73% and national public services at 71%, while service and retail industries score on average 82%. The top 10% within the housing sector are already at equivalent levels to top performers in the private sector such as John Lewis.
Challenging costs and focussing on Vfm
The challenge facing the social housing sector is how to improve or maintain performance and satisfaction levels while reducing costs. Claer Lloyd-Jones, CE of the TSA confirmed this at the CIH conference on 23rd June, warning delegates to brace themselves for renewed pressure to cut costs, and stating that ‘Value for money in this austerity era will have increased emphasis’.
Given the scale of spend on tenant involvement across the sector, it, like many other areas, needs to be scrutinised and reviewed on a Value for Money basis, taking into account cost, performance and quality. As the TSA, Audit commission and many others in the sector before them have highlighted, tenant involvement can reduce waste, focus management resources, and ensure that information flows to those who can use it and hold providers to account, but as they also stated in last year’s publication, “As budgets come under greater pressure, landlords must be clear about the costs and benefits of involvement activity. This will require them to prioritise the activities that work”
Creating the right culture is perhaps the most important way to achieve this – a culture where seeking, listening and acting on customer feedback in known priority areas such as repairs, estate management, and dealing with anti-social behaviour are the norm. Tenant Involvement structures and activities such as scrutiny panels have their role and merits, but structures in themselves never deliver results – the culture and actions of an organisation do.