People Power

Historically, local councils have paid lip service to the idea of ‘resident participation’ or ‘resident engagement’. Yes, they’ve had all manner of residents’ charters in place, but they’ve never really wanted residents to be involved in the management of their own council homes.

Things slowly started to change about 10 to 15 years ago, when in the wake of failed housing stock transfers – Kingston Council tried to offload its housing stock twice, failing both times – some councils took what they regarded as the next best route, encouraging the creation of new Tenant Management Organisations or Arms-Length Management Organisations (TMOs and ALMOs).

These new TMOs and ALMOs were designed to take over the provision and operation of all their local council housing services – and most of them had a high proportion of tenants and leaseholders sitting on their management committees. Of the 200 or so that were set up, roughly half still exist and continue to do a good job, while the other half fell by the wayside and had to be re-adopted by their host local council, which once again became responsible for social housing services. Throughout these changes Kingston Council has always maintained responsibility for its own housing stock.

Fast forward 10 years, and we saw the arrival – and then ultra quick departure – of the new Tenant Services Authority, designed by the last Labour Government to give residents more of a say in their housing services, and enable them to take their council landlord to task if they felt it was misbehaving or doing a bad job.

Well the poor old TSA barely managed to last a couple of years before it was abolished by the new Cameron/Clegg administration – but not before it had given social housing residents a whole new approach to ‘sharing’ responsibility for the management of their homes, mainly through a new system of ‘Local Offers’ and ‘Local Standards’ introduced early in 2011, which councils were expected to agree with their tenants and leaseholders, and then deliver. It sounded good, but the system never worked, and was largely unaccountable.

Enter the next Government, and while handing back some of the TSA’s powers to a new beefed-up Homes & Communities Agency (essentially a Government department), the main change for social housing was its introduction of the Localism Act, which came into force in April last year.

Basically, the broad-ranging purpose of this Localism Act was to hand back a whole range of powers from central to local government, with the intention of empowering local people to make all of the key decisions about their own local services – rather than have them decided by Whitehall mandarins.

Like most Government legislation, the Localism Act is something of a Curate’s Egg: questionable in some ways but good in other parts – and one of the good bits is its requirement for local housing authorities like Kingston to move towards something called ‘co-regulation’ of housing services.

In simple terms, this means that it must engage fully with its tenants and leaseholders, encouraging them to become JOINTLY responsible for determining housing policies, JOINTLY responsible for the ongoing delivery of services and JOINTLY responsible for the actual performance and efficiency of the Council’s service delivery. And THAT is what has been happening over the past few months and it’s ALL good news for council tenants and leaseholders.

Early in 2014 a new organization in Kingston called “KRISP” (Kingston Residents Scrutiny Panel), a body made up solely of tenants and leaseholders, began to investigate the Council’s performance and efficiency in its delivery of housing services. KRiSP is able to demand improvements if it finds significant shortcomings in the services it reviews.

KRiSP was developed with substantial input from resident representatives, working through the Kingston Federation of Residents, and It has been given unprecedented powers to probe behind the scenes, quiz council officers and staff, and make whatever recommendations it feels are necessary to bring about service improvements. THAT, surely, is an indication of real ‘people power’ or, in this case, ‘tenant power’.

Now this is just one example of ‘co-regulation’ – the sharing of responsibilities for managing local council housing service – between residents and the council, but it should be enough to provide a clear indication of where Kingston Council is heading in terms of handing joint decision-making powers to its own tenants and leaseholders.

This co-regulation is an open invitation to council tenants and leaseholders to get directly involved in improving the quality of their council homes, estates and general areas, and it represents the biggest single change in social housing since the ‘Right to Buy’ legislation was introduced in 1980, more than 30 years ago.

But in order to reap all the benefits that will emerge from co-regulation, residents need to grasp these new opportunities with both hands because, if you don’t, you won’t ever be able to say again that your council landlord doesn’t listen to you, or heed your views.

The door to giving you joint control of your housing futures is wide open. You can take the first step towards it, by forming your own residents’ association, which will ensure your voice is heard loud and clear in the Guildhall and beyond. We hope you’ll agree it’s a step worth taking.