Tenant Engagement with Alok Sharma, the Housing Minister

November 9th, 2017 in Customer Service blog

My name is Andy Evans. I am a Home Group customer living in Hartlepool. I am passionate about housing issues and when I was presented with this opportunity to meet the new Housing Minister Alok Sharma, I felt privileged to be asked as this gave me the chance to engage with a government minister to focus on social housing issues, that are not only important for me but for all customers and tenants within social housing.

The event took place in the Priory Centre in York on a cold uninviting October day and I wondered if that would limit the number of people who would attend this event. However I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a room full of tenants and customers, who were equally passionate about making a difference to social housing policy. The event was put on by the Northern Housing Consortium and facilitated by Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with the star of the event being Alok Sharma.

After the obligatory cuppa to thaw me from the cold and a light lunch, I sat at a table with eight people. Of these eight people, two were from DCLG. They were there to ensure that they captured customer and tenant views. After a brief introduction from the Northern Housing Consortium and Alok Sharma, we were told to work with our table of people. The first task was the dreaded ice breaker.  

This ice breaker was slightly unusual as you had to draw a picture of your home. The budding artists amongst us drew upon our creative flair. This ice breaker then led to writing a brief description about you, which was then fed back to the people around the table so that people had an idea of where you lived, what type of property you lived in, who your landlord was, personal details about yourself and any issues or compliments within your social housing journey so far. As you can imagine this became a very lively and emotive discussion, one that DCLG were keen to capture under the headings of Concerns and Solutions.

Our table were very passionate about raising our concerns on the standard of social housing and about government failings to help social landlords to build more affordable homes to rent and to buy.  However even though we were all critical about social housing we also provided excellent solutions to the problems we raised, such as reversing the 1% rent reduction, ensuring all existing high rise flats are fitted with sprinkler systems and ensuring that tenant and customer engagement is at the heart of the decision making process.  

During a break for refreshments I spoke to Tony from DCLG. Like most people in the room I felt the need to address the ‘Elephant in the Room’ - was this a publicity stunt for the new housing minister?  Tony informed me that Alok Sharma was keen to make a difference to social housing and that he himself would be highly disappointed if tenant and customer views were not taken into consideration in formulating the new Green Paper on social housing policy. This did put my mind at ease that just maybe we have a housing minister that is passionate about making a difference.

Alok Sharma was engaging with most of the tables within the room, however sadly like with most events, time runs away and he was unable to make it to our table. This was disappointing but with such a large turnout was to be expected.  

We then engaged in a feedback session which meant sharing our views on our concerns and possible solutions, during this process it came across that all of the tables in the room had very similar views and concerns. This then went into a brief but enthralling question session. A lot of the questions that were being raised just showed how passionate tenants and customers are about being involved in the decision making process. Alok Sharma was extremely pleased with the way we challenged him and the government’s policy making decisions.  

Alok Sharma waited to the end to respond to the questions and announced that he was keen to make a difference. He advised what new measures the government are going to put into place, however no mention of the voluntary Right to Buy scheme in his speech. However he did mention that the CGI is going up by 1% and Local Housing Allowance cap is being stopped.

In summary, this event wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, however that doesn’t mean that I am disappointed by it. With such a large turnout of people it was going to be difficult to speak to Alok Sharma in person, however despite this I do feel that DCLG did a great job of capturing tenant and customer views.  

I really do think that this event wasn’t a publicity stunt and hopefully this is a new inspiring way of the government breaking down barriers, and effectively listening to a section of society that has great knowledge of social housing. Hopefully Alok Sharma will stick to his promise and will continue to put tenant and customer views at the heart of the decision making at Westminster.