Risk to reputation is THE biggest issue in supported housing and the welfare reforms highlight just how much this NOW applies to general needs social housing whereas before it never really did.
Social landlords for whom 95% plus of their business is general needs housing just don’t get this and in fact the vast majority simply don’t see this at all and boy do they need to see it and prepare for it.
Social landlords are in for a rude awakening as this is THE key lesson from the welfare reforms of the bedroom tax, benefit cap, monthly payments and especially, whenever it lands, the direct payment of HB to tenants which fundamentally shifts the control of the payment of rent to tenants.
Supported housing I have worked in for 20 years and by supported housing I don’t mean sheltered housing as that is not supported housing. Think of single homeless hostels and other services for NIMBY groups such as ex-offenders, sex offenders, drug and alcohol detox and rehab units and you at once see the reputational risk. Who wants such services in their neighbourhoods and when they are the residents there get blamed for all societal ills and all local criminal activity as a rule of thumb – the perceived reputation is THE biggest risk to the survival of such NIMBY services.
The perceived reputation of a housing association by comparison with common or garden rented properties (ie general needs) has never been a real issue. Yes the odd mistake will happen and is inevitable given that HAs provide services to 10,000+ residents and seen that way too. Reputations of general needs social landlords has never been an issue before the welfare reforms yet the bedroom tax has seen some apparently entrenched positions. Tenants see HAs as charitable therefore it is outrageous that they should evict for arrears. Some landlords have unwisely alluded to housing officers being in danger if they are out on estates alone and the divide between tenant and landlord has never seemed so wide and clear as it is perceived today.
The bedroom tax has created that chasm between landlord and tenant and directly and systemically creates that increased tension. As a result landlords reputations have, rightly or wrongly, been damaged.
In the past with isolated and episodic tensions – the inevitable one-off cock ups that all social landlords make – reputation can easily be restored by some good works in the community by the landlord by supporting a local credit union or something similar and squeezing as much good PR as they can. Yet the bedroom tax is NOT isolated and episodic it is a constant which means restoring a reputation is not a 1 day PR exercise every couple of years with the landlord apologising profusely and claiming the event was an isolated incident. The constancy of the bedroom tax and what that is systemically doing to landlord and tenant relationships is a problem a thousand times greater than that. Yet that is an issue social landlords often don’t see and are woefully unprepared for.
When housing benefit is paid directly to the tenant (direct payment) which the coalition is set on doing to make tenants more ‘responsible’ and will not be shifted from, the control of the payment of rent shifts dramatically. This is a huge shift of power to the tenant from the landlord and despite paying for the roof over your head first being sound advice no tenant will prioritise rent payment above his children being fed or clothed or kept warm in a draughty cold house. This is where the risk to reputation will play a huge part.
If the tenant thinks less of a landlord than they did before the bedroom tax and the tension that creates between landlord and tenant then the likelihood is the payment of rent will move even further down the priority payment list of the tenant. Landlords who have been used to getting HB directly and relying on that for their financial survival will have a huge problem on their hands.
Landlords do recognise the dangers of direct payments. What they do NOT recognise is the reputation risk issue directly and systemically created by the bedroom tax and benefit cap will have.
Prior to the bedroom tax when tenants were threatened by change the social landlord stood four-square behind the tenant cause. When landlords were threatened by change such as HIP funding threatened by a lack of tenant involvement they got tenants involved and had them stand four-square behind the landlord. The landlord tenant relationship was mutually beneficial (aside from some top show only pretence at tenant involvement in the early years.) Yet now the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms have driven a huge wedge between landlord and tenant – it systemically and directly creates that tension and chasm and throws up the reputational risk issue always there in supported housing for NIMBY client groups.
The last 9 months I have spent talking with and advising general needs tenants on the bedroom tax, the pernicious and hated bedroom tax. I cannot articulate the suffering and stress tenants feel or the life changing decisions they have had to make. I doubt Steinbeck or any other highly articulate wordsmith could, you have to see and witness it first-hand to appreciate it. Yet that also means tenants have had to show remarkable resilience and fortitude just to survive on a day-to-day basis.
That also means tenants perceptions of their landlords have hardened and my landlord has done bugger all to help me and all this so-called charity is concerned with is getting their money while they pay their Chief Executives a fortune, etc. Yes that may not reflect the reality landlords will think but it does accurately reflect the tenants perception and that is all that matters. The old cliché that it takes 20 years to build a good reputation but 5 minutes to lose it is very much at play!
Since issuing a few bedroom tax blogs in January this year which increased my blog views by 60 times their previous number I have unintentionally set aside my ordinary work to do a lot of in-depth research and focus on campaigning against the bedroom tax. I get asked to speak at 10 or more anti bedroom tax meetings each week and within a 5 mile radius I have 27 such groups who all meet weekly! There are more members of anti bedroom tax groups nationally than there are members of the Chartered Institute of Housing and at the last count about 4 times as many. Social media enables this to happen instantly. As well as honing my listening skills I have met some amazing tenants and heard amazing stories and met some amazing non-tenants who give up so much of their time to help the bedroom tax affected tenants.
Social media availability and ease enable landlord reputations to be trashed in the space of minutes yet social landlords (a) only tend to see social media from them to tenants, and (b) chronically fail to see how a 10, 20 or even 100 year good reputation is trashed in 5 minutes!
Social media availability means landlords cannot pay lip service to the landlord tenant relationship as they did in the early days of tenant involvement. It necessitates urgent full and immediate action to correct and restore their reputations. It needs landlords putting their heads fully and openly above the parapet and standing four-square behind the tenant ’cause’ of vociferously and constantly challenging the bedroom tax. No excuses such as we are charitable organisations that would be seen as political are acceptable any longer. Landlords have to come out and fight the bedroom tax for their own survival and have to stop their innate conservatism in challenging any issue.
The huge arrears levels created. The Oh my God room size may actually matter as the bedroom tax appeals are showing. The other appeal issues such as room size, room purpose, appropriateness of a room being deemed a bedroom…and the landlords part in the bedroom tax decision-making process ALL and collectively mean landlords have to change tack very significantly and very quickly.
The ONLY option for social landlords survival is to stand four-square behind the tenant cause NOW else their reputation will become so tarnished that they will not survive as any business let alone a social business. The welfare reforms are a fundamental attack on social housing and social landlords as much as they are an attack on the social tenant. Landlords know this or think they know this yet fail to see what it really means and reputational risk issues are never considered because prior to the welfare reforms they never had to be in any seriousness. If landlords keep on with the “we have always done it this way” attitude and ignore reputational risk then they will not survive and will go bust.