The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has just published its definitive set of tenant satisfaction measures (TSMs) which it will use (along with other information collected from landlords) to assess the performance of registered providers (RPs). The new TSMs form part of the official response to the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017 and which has triggered (amongst other things) a complete overhaul of the way RPs and social housing are regulated in England.
From 1 April 2023, the RSH will use the TSMs to collect information on landlord performance. In some cases, the assessment of 'satisfaction' will be made using data supplied by the RP (e.g. the number of homes meeting the Decent Homes Standard, safety checks, complaints responded to in a timely manner) but in many others, the views of tenants will be sought using tenant perception surveys.
Thus, landlords will be judged based on whether their tenants are satisfied with (amongst other things) the repairs they carry out and how long it takes them, that their home is well-maintained and safe, that communal areas are kept clean and well-maintained and that the landlord makes a positive contribution to their neighbourhood.
The timings are hugely significant: at the moment, RPs are asking their boards whether to put their rents up in April 2023 and if so by how much. This may very well be impacted by the rent cap that the Government is currently consulting on imposing.
Most RPs feel they have no choice but to increase rents to remain viable and to enable them to continue to maintain and invest in their stock for the long term. Inescapably, though, even with an increase in income, services will have to be trimmed to meet reduced budgets. Think: communal areas being cleaned monthly rather than fortnightly, windows in blocks cleaned twice a year rather than every quarter, basic repairs yes but no wider aesthetic improvements, reduced grounds maintenance. Staff disappointed by their pay awards are more likely to vote with their feet or by striking, impacting still further on service delivery.
None of this will escape tenants.
RPs are well aware of the importance of seeking the customer voice in these types of decisions, but many are wary of asking their tenants outright whether they support a rent increase in this of all years. The window to effect any form of consultation - let alone a meaningful one - will be woefully brief, and inevitably, the quickest to respond are usually those who are dissatisfied.
All of this suggests that RPs may be in for a bracing first contact with their tenants’ assessment of their performance against TSMs come April next year.
However, this perfect storm also presents an opportunity to bring customers into the tent through your conversations with them over the coming months; to ensure their voice is heard as the board moves beyond the single issue of rent increases and how best to spend these into the 'generative' role of adapting the future strategy and direction of the organisation to fit its means.
RPs that take this opportunity to involve customers in shaping their services for the future, empower them with an honest understanding of the necessary trade-offs involved in keeping rents as low as is feasible whilst still making necessary investments and delivering central services. And through that, managing their expectations around the services that the organisation will be able to afford to provide in the future, may well find their tenants rewarding them through a more generous assessment of their performance in April 2023 and beyond.
The new TSMs will enable tenants to scrutinise their landlord’s performance, give landlords insight about where they can improve, and provide a source of intelligence to RSH about whether landlords are meeting regulatory standards.