Sapphire's Housing Green Paper response

The social housing green paper was a hot topic at our recent staff conference. So much so that we decided to follow it up with a staff housing green paper workshop in October to ensure we got all our peoples view before we responded with our feedback.

Investing in our residents and providing high quality accommodation and services are two of Sapphire’s ongoing business objectives and as a small housing association we wanted to make sure our views and those of our staff and residents are taken into account as part of this consultation.

Sapphire’s response was submitted earlier this month. Our key points and recommendations are highlighted below.

Ensuring homes are safe and decent –

Sapphire is committed to providing a safe and decent home for all of our residents, as we believe all housing organisations are. We take the view that resident safety relies on a partnership between us and residents. This starts right from the point that we let a room in our shared schemes or a self-contained flat. We emphasise the need for fire safety and what residents should do in the event of a fire.

More recently we have introduced the role of resident fire marshals at our shared schemes. We also carry out health and safety inspections of our schemes with residents and our fire risk assessments are published in our residents' section. We think that some of these measures could be more widely adopted across the sector

99% of housing association stock met the decent home standard (DHS.) Housing associations are committed to improving the quality of their housing and it may be appropriate to ‘modernise’ the DHS to reflect increasing or differing expectations around asset management particualrly around affordable wamrth and improvements in communal areas.

We think the same standards should apply in the social housing sector and the private rented sector.

Effective resolution of complaints -

At Sapphire we try to resolve complaints informally, where possible. This is because when complaints become formalised, it can lead to a drawn-out process. Mediation has proven to be helpful in resolving complaints in housing and other sectors. It would be helpful if housing organisations had ready access to mediation services to help in resolving complaints. It could be a requirement that mediation is sought before a complaint is referred to the Ombudsman.

We agree that the democratic filter should be removed. We also feel there should be a requirement on landlords to publicise and encourage complaints. Residents should also be able to obtain independent information and advocacy in their local areas.

Empowering residents and strengthening the Regulator –

Most registered providers have a variety of ways for residents to become involved and engaged. This ranges from having residents on governing boards, resident scrutiny panels, residents mystery shoppers, resident surveys and resident associations. Our view is that registered providers should continually publicise their engagement options and regularly seek residents’ views and services and act when dissatisfaction is expressed.

Strengthening governance, regulation and scrutiny are the key areas to focus on to improve the performance of providers. In addition, encouraging good practice and gaining accreditation can also help to do this. For example, Sapphire wanted to demonstrate our commitment to customer service, espeically as a smaller housing assication. We worked to gain accreditation in the customer service excellence award. We are now reassessed every year to ensure we remain focused on providing excellent services for our residents.

Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities –

At Sapphire we hold an annual Residents’ Day and have recently introduced our Sapphire Tenant Achievement Recognition (STAR) to encourage an ethos of recognising and celebrating positive achievementrs. A similar annual awards competition for areas such as the best mixed tenure estate or neigbourhood to celebrate neighbourhoods that have a mixture of different types of housing could help to share positive community stories. Sapphire hosts annual barbecues at two of our larger hostel services where we invite neighbours and the local community. These events are important in building community spirit and reducing the stigma around social housing in neighbourhoods.

Expanding supply and celebrating home ownership –

Sapphire does not currently have shared owners or leaseholders but our experience and contact with shared owners suggests that there needs to be a thorough understanding of shared ownership and the product they are buying, on the part of shared owners so that expectations are managed. Shared ownership is still not fully understood. In addition, providers need to have greater transparency around service charges and procurement of services.

However, there should be more emphasis on the need for more affordable rented homes as well as more access to home ownership products. As a smaller housing association, Sapphire believes there should be more structural support for smaller providers to develop or take on community owned homes, working alongside residents.

If you have any views on the housing green paper or you would like to share your ideas on ways you think Sapphire can improve please share them in your residents meetings, one-to-one with any member of staff or via our suggestions form. We would love to hear from you.

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