The Residents Voice and Scrutiny Panel (RVSP) is made up of Hightown tenants and home owners, and chaired by a resident.
The panel met in January 2019 to discuss the Government’s ideas for Social Housing, as set out in the Social Housing Green Paper, and what Hightown could do to improve in the areas that it covers.
The key themes in the Green Paper are safe and decent homes; swift and effective resolution of complaints; empowering residents and hearing their voices; addressing stigma; boosting the supply of social housing and supporting home ownership.
Safe and decent homes
Panel members felt that safety and provision of decent homes should be Hightown’s top priority. They had seen for themselves Hightown’s approach to safety on their estates and feel that Hightown is doing well in this regard. They see staff checking communal areas and their own homes, and commented that inspections by Hightown staff are very important. They have also experienced upgrades to kitchens and bathrooms and other decent home works and condition surveys.
Swift and effective resolution of complaints
The Panel noted that Hightown had recently reduced its formal complaints process to two stages to speed up the resolution of complaints and enable quicker access to the Ombudsman if their complaint remained unresolved.
Empowering residents and hearing their voices
Some residents felt that communication and hearing the residents’ voice should be the highest priority for Hightown. They commented that the resident involvement activities Hightown has in place are valuable, but felt that understanding the barriers to residents becoming involved is important in making sure more voices are heard.
Residents didn’t feel any stigma was attached to in living in a Hightown home. They commented that the general public may not appreciate how high some affordable rents are, especially in high value areas like St Albans and how hard people work to be able to pay the rent.
Some residents commented that they feel there can on occasion be tensions on mixed schemes, where shared owners or leaseholders have a poor view of residents living in rented homes. They felt that this may be caused by rented homes being together in a cluster on part of an estate, and that this may be improved by mixing homes for rent and for sale.
Residents felt that it might be possible to do more to make sure that residents understand their responsibilities and who to contact within Hightown for different matters. It was however acknowledged that this is explained to residents when they move in to a property, and information appears on estate notice boards, the annual report to tenants and on Hightown’s website.
Boosting the supply of social housing and supporting home ownership
Residents asked about intermediate rent homes. The Board’s approach to providing shared ownership properties to be able to subsidise general needs rented new homes; where possible the Board prefers to offer rented homes to low income families, so occasionally, where the financial viability allows, may switch shared ownership homes to intermediate rent. Residents were supportive of this approach.
Comparisons with other Landlords / League tables
There were mixed views about the suggestion in the Green Paper about residents receiving information to enable them to compare Hightown with other landlords; one RVSP member, after speaking with other Housing Association tenant at a conference, had reported back how Hightown is far more responsive, accessible and willing to involve residents than some other social landlords. Residents would not welcome league tables as suggested in the Green Paper.
One resident explained that her new neighbours and relatives had compared the service that Hightown provides in its retirement leasehold schemes, and the service charge paid, with the for-profit sector and had found that the service is superior and good value for money.
The Chairman of the Board, who was at the meeting, explained that when Hightown’s performance is compared to similar organisations, it is performing well under most headings. One area that was highlighted for further consideration was the speed that Hightown carries out repairs.
Panel members said they were happy with the information that they have been receiving on Hightown’s performance and welcomed the continued support and communication from the Senior Management at Hightown.