6. Current Outcomes and Standards: Participation (Charter outcome 3)
PARTICIPATION (Charter outcome 3)
Social landlords manage their businesses so that tenants and other customers find it easy to participate in and influence their landlord's decision at a level they feel comfortable with.
This outcome describes what landlords should achieve by meeting their statutory duties on tenant participation. It covers how social landlords gather and take account of the views and priorities of their tenants; how they shape their services to reflect these views; and how they help tenants and other customers to become more capable of involvement.
Question 5a): Would you keep this outcome exactly as it is or change it? Please explain your answer.
6.1 Of the 95 respondents who answered this question 52% considered that the outcome should remain exactly as it is and 48% thought it should change. Whereas the majority (69%) of RSLs and local authorities who provided a view were in favour of keeping the outcome as it is, over half (59%) of TRGs thought that it should be amended. Table 6.1 in Annex 2 presents a breakdown of views by respondent category.
Views of those in favour of keeping the outcome as it is
6.2 This outcome was perceived to clear, straightforward, and working well at present, although TRGs urged that landlords should not become complacent and should continue to aim for meaningful participation.
6.3 A few respondents considered the outcome as currently worded demonstrated commitment to participation without being overly prescriptive in how this should be undertaken. One local authority commented that the outcome met legislative requirements in encouraging accessibility of participation in a variety of formats.
Aberdeen City Council:
"This outcome has had a positive impact on tenants and other customer engagement. It has also influenced how services work across this organisation. The Charter and this outcome in particular have supported us to develop an effective tenant participation strategy."
Views of those in favour of changing the outcome
6.4 A recurring view was that as presently worded the outcome does not make clear that tenants are under no obligation to participate. Several respondents called for the wording to be changed to read, "tenants and other customers shall be provided with the opportunity to participate". A few social landlords emphasised the challenges associated with achieving participation amongst tenants and urged that the outcome reflect reality.
6.5 Another strong theme was that words like "participation", "engagement", and "involvement" can be confused by landlord and tenant alike and the outcome provides the opportunity for clarification. A few respondents suggested that engagement rather than participation is more akin to what happens on the ground.
Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations:
"….we would observe that the proportion of tenants seeking active participation in their landlord's decision making processes may often be quite limited, whatever the efforts being made by the landlord to create opportunities for involvement. It might be more appropriate if this outcome talked about engagement with landlords - i.e. something broader (but no less important) than actual participation."
6.6 One individual respondent suggested that use of the word "participation" may actually put off tenants who associate it with giving up their time in face-to-face communication, whereas in reality it could comprise simply responding to a survey. A voluntary organisation questioned the measurability of "ease" of participation.
6.7 A few respondents suggested that the outcome should be more specific about the nature of the decisions which tenants will influence, for example, those on rents, repairs or strategic policy.
6.8 The outcome was viewed by a few respondents as having the potential to raise tenants' expectations about their level of influence unduly. Suggestions were made for wording to be added to the effect that social landlords will provide feedback on how views were or were not taken forward and the reasons for this. The importance of tenants perceiving their views to have been worthwhile was emphasised.
6.9 Two respondents considered that the outcome could go further to encourage landlords to pro-actively seek tenant participation and involve people beyond the usual suspects, that is, "hard to reach" tenants. A voluntary organisation suggested that the outcome could require landlords to build the capacity of their tenants to become more capable of involvement.
6.10 Scotland's Housing Network suggested that in the current climate of customers being empowered and supported to scrutinise the performance of their landlord, perhaps this outcome should make a clear statement about the role of scrutiny in achieving improved landlord performance.
6.11 More specific points are in Annex 3.
Question 5b): Please provide any suggestions on how we could improve the supporting narrative
6.12 A general view expressed by respondents from five different respondent categories was that the narrative should be framed to make it clearer that a wide range of participative approaches are available. A few respondents commented that tenants may perceive participation to involve meetings only, with one individual respondent remarking, " AGMs can be intimidating".
6.13 The most common suggestion for change related to the final part of the supporting narrative and in particular the wording "more capable of involvement". TRGs in particular perceived the phrase to hint of having to train tenants to make them more capable citizens; to put the onus on the tenant to become more capable rather than facilitate their involvement "at a level at which they are comfortable/wish to participate". One TRG remarked that arranging training for tenants was beyond the remit of social landlords.
6.14 The difficulties facing social landlords in getting some tenants to engage were highlighted by RSLs and TRGs alike. Suggestions were made to allow for this by stating that participation should be shaped in line with tenant interest in involvement and only where tenants want to engage. One RSL felt that the narrative should reflect the resources required for meaningful participation by tenants.
6.15 Two RSLs considered that the narrative as it stands could inadvertently raise tenants' expectations as to the influence their views will have on services. One commented that there was no recognition of how tenants' views would shape services in terms of the financial, legal and practical implications arising.
6.16 A few respondents (two individuals and one statutory body) urged that the narrative reflect a more open culture involving landlords communicating openly with tenants, for example, making minutes of meetings available, providing information at local housing offices and making this openness more explicit.