Well, it sometimes goes like this don't you think. There's no L4H blog post for ages, and then two turn up on the same day!
Having delivered quite a few training courses recently on the issue of co-regulation and tenant scrutiny, L4H feels that there are a few questions to be asked about these issues. Any comments or thoughts about this issue would be welcome, as a number of tenants have expressed their concerns about how scrutiny will work in practice.
First of all, we are all resigned now for the imminent abolition of the TSA and the Audit Commission. As the mantle for maintaining standards for social housing is passed to social landlords and their tenants, is there a gap - a rather large gap - that could open up in front of us? Now don't get me wrong, L4H thinks that the prospect of developing the tenant scrutiny role is very positive and heralds a genuine opportunity for tenant empowerment. But, and there's always a but...one of the problems with any form of tenant involvement is that it is very easy to pay it lip service and to get away with 'sham' involvement. We have all heard about those conultation exercises where the decision has been taken beforehand, but as an afterthought, we will ask tenants' opinions just so that we can 'tick the box'.
Now as I said, L4H is all in favour of the scrutiny role, because if it is done properly, it is a very powerful tool for holding landlords to account and for tenants to exert influence to improve services. However, L4H recalls that when the TSA was first established, there was much talk of going after the poor performers. Those organisations who, under the 'old' regime, had received no stars or one star ratings from the Audit Commission. Attention would be given to making sure that these landlords improved their performance, whilst those with better results would be given a 'light touch' by the regulator. Risk-based regulation and inspection I think it was called at the time. However, under the new regime, where, in the spririt of localism no doubt, the task of consumer regulation is to be handed to landlords who are expected to self-regulate, and to invite their tenants to scrutinise their operations, performance and policies within a loosely-defined framework. The problem as L4H sees it is that while the good performers will embrace this new framework by embracing the concept of scrutiny and welcoming any challenges and criticisms as a way of facilitating further improvement, there is a real possibility that poorer performers may not do so. Some may just take the opportunity not to engage in this way with tenants, or to go through a pretence of doing so, in an attempt to have an easy life without all those messy challenges from pesky tenants.
Although the TSA standards, including the empowerment standard, will remain in place, the only intervention that will happen is when 'serious detriment' is threatened, leaving landlords to regulate themselves. This is fine when everyone can be trusted to operate in this way, but in the absence of any external checks, the drive to improve services may be a fairly rocky one.