SECTION FOUR: INVOLVING TENANTS AND APPLICANTS
While CHRs bring benefits for landlords, the fundamental aim of CHRs is to improve the process of applying for a house for the applicants themselves. Since the CHR is there to benefit applicants and tenants looking to move home, it is important that they are involved in decisions about how the CHR is developed and managed.
Landlords will have already set out in their Tenant Participation Strategy how they will involve tenants and Registered Tenants Organisations ( RTOs) in decisions that affect them. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 requires landlords to consult with RTOs and tenants on housing and related matters substantially affecting them.
This section relates closely to the issues raised in Section Thirteen: Equalities.
Evidence from research
Scottish research looking at CHR Case Studies 7 in 10 areas found that the primary aim of CHR partners was to improve the process of applying for a house for the applicant themselves. Partners generally saw any organisational benefits as secondary objectives.
When should you involve applicants and tenants?
- When planning your CHR
Applicants and tenants should be involved as early as possible in discussions on the CHR. They should be involved in discussions to agree taking forward a CHR and on how the CHR can bring benefits for applicants and tenants in the area, including: agreeing aims and objectives for the CHR; the CHR model; harmonisation or commonality in policies; the common application form; and the information and advice provided. All of these issues directly affect applicants and tenants.
Officers may be more involved in working through the operational details but applicants and tenants should be involved in key decisions about the nature of the CHR and how it will be delivered to the applicant. It would be best practice for RTO representatives to be involved in any working groups established to take forward implementation of the CHR.
Example: Involving tenants and applicants at an early stage
Partners in East Dunbartonshire were keen to involve tenants and applicants from an early stage.
At the point when they were first thinking about which CHR model they would develop they met with tenants groups in the area to gather views on the options available. The Council has an active tenants' forum that has been consulted on the CHR model and on harmonisation of allocations policies. In East Dunbartonshire this has led to a shared assessment of need.
Throughout the development process RSL officers have reported to their (tenant led) management committees. Committee approval has been required for any key decisions on the CHR. Wider consultation through an annual tenants and residents event highlighted issues such as limited awareness on applying for homes in particular areas, and how to apply to the relevant landlords, particularly where clusters of properties are owned by regional/national RSLs.
In order to involve young people in the process, CHR partners met with young residents at the Project 101 youth project. The young people were given information on CHRs and asked for their views on how a CHR should operate in East Dunbartonshire. When a common application form was developed they were also consulted on its effectiveness.
A pilot was conducted for the new application form to gather feedback from applicants and tenants. The pilot found that some questions were not being understood by applicants and as a result changes were made to the form.
The partners found that there was strong support behind the idea of establishing a CHR and the views of applicants and tenants have helped steer the process. They are keen that applicants/tenants continue to inform the development of the CHR following implementation. The partners are developing a programme of publicity for the CHR to market the CHR to potential applicants and raise awareness among local residents.
- Once your CHR is up and running
When your CHR is up and running applicants and tenants should be involved in periodic and regular reviews and evaluations of how the system is operating. Only applicants will be able to tell the partnership how the CHR is working from a customer's perspective - and will be able to highlight any problems in the operation of the CHR.
Consultation through, for example, surveys of applicants on the database and more focused discussion groups with applicants can be very revealing about local people's actual experience of the CHR.
Once your CHR is live tenants and applicants will be able to give you views on how well key elements have been working and how they might be improved. The questions you would hope to answer might include:
- What impact is the single application route having for local people?
- How effective/easy to use is the application form?
- How successful is the provision of housing information and advice in the application pack and from CHR partners?
Example: Evaluating the impact
The Renfrewshire CHR was launched in two phases. At each stage, the partners evaluated its impact, including consultation with applicants and tenants. Consultation methods included a postal survey of 1,200 applicants and discussion groups with applicants.
Consultation found that:
- applicants found the process of applying to a number of landlords using one form was useful and that applicants felt that the form was relatively easy to complete; and
- the information and advice contained within the form was of good quality.
"It means you don't have to go to different offices to get a form." (Applicant)
These findings were very important as partners were concerned that the CHR form was not user friendly. Although applicants were positive about applying for housing, they were less satisfied with the information and advice received after they applied. Applicants wanted more information on:
- availability and turnover of properties; and
- individual housing prospects, options and alternatives.
Almost a third of applicants said that they didn't understand the initial response they received from each partner landlord. This set out the points and priority they had been awarded. This was because they didn't understand how this related to their housing prospects.
"I would have liked to know about the turnover for each type of property. It would be a gauge of whether you could expect to get that type of house. If there was low turnover you would apply for other types." (Applicant)
Most of the applicants felt that they had applied to more landlords than they would have as a result of the common application form. Most said that they were now more aware of the different landlords providing housing in Renfrewshire and this was seen to be very helpful in considering their housing options.
The application form itself was also seen to be user-friendly, being easy to understand and simple to fill in. But a few of the applicants felt that the form was too long and convoluted in places. Only two-thirds of applicants said that they understood the response they received from each partner landlord. Those who did not said that while they could count up the points it did not tell them how this related to their chances of being housed.
It was clear that good quality housing information and advice is very important to applicants. If applicants are to make informed choices they need a good understanding of their housing options and prospects.
Find out more...
The Scottish Government has produced a factsheet on the role of tenant participation in the development of CHRs. It emphasises that meaningful participation requires landlords to engage with tenants throughout the process, from agenda-setting right through to decision making and is available here. ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/09/1295904/59056)
How can you involve applicants and tenants?
There is growing experience across Scotland of involving applicants and tenants in the development of CHRs. A range of approaches have been adopted. The 2008 CHR Position Study 8 highlighted a number of examples of how applicants and tenants have been consulted, including:
- visiting local equalities groups to outline the concept of a CHR and gather feedback;
- consulting local youth groups;
- involving community groups in the appointment of consultants to assist the CHR implementation; and
- writing out to all applicants on the housing list asking whether they would like to be involved in the review of the allocations policy (as part of CHR development).
In order to gain as broad a view as possible your partnership might consider undertaking a postal survey of all live applicants on the database, or individual lists if you have not launched your CHR. Surveys should be relatively short and simple - mainly tick box - to encourage people to fill them in and you might consider an incentive such as entry to a prize draw. Around 20 to 25 per cent is an average response rate for a postal survey. Another way to gather a broad range of opinions is through large public events such as community festivals, annual tenants and residents' conferences or one-off consultation events.
For more detailed views on the CHR you will need to hold more focused discussions with local people. These discussions might focus on some of the issues being raised by tenants/applicants and staff in the day-to-day operation of the CHR or issues highlighted in previous broader consultations. A good way to hear about people's experiences and opinions is through focus groups and small group discussions. Groups should be informal and participation should be encouraged by conducting groups in locations that are convenient for the participants. Any expenses should be covered and you might want to reward people for giving their time.
Some residents might not want to take part in group discussions and so it is worth considering holding discussions with individuals. This can be done by contacting tenant and applicants over the telephone. Another option is to involve frontline staff in the process with advice workers taking the opportunity to ask local people what they think of the CHR. Where staff are consulting on the CHR in this informal way, it is important that discussions remain structured around some key questions.
Find out more...
The Scottish Centre for Regeneration has produced a Community Engagement How To Guide ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/regeneration/engage/HowToGuide) which incorporates the National Standards for Community Engagement ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/94257/0084550.pdf) and provides a range of techniques (and case study examples) to help you engage effectively with local people. The Scottish Government also outlined good practice in involving tenants in the Guide to Successful Tenant Participation . ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/1125/0076393.doc)
Further support and advice on tenant participation can be gained through voluntary organisations including:
- The Tenants Information Service ( TIS) - http://www.tis.org.uk/
- The Tenant Participation Advisory Service ( TPAS) - http://www.tpasscotland.org.uk/
- TIGHRA - http://www.tighra.org/index.htm
Example: Consulting applicants before CHR launch
HOME Argyll wrote to all applicants on their list providing them with information about the CHR and the new common allocation policy. All these applicants were invited to contact the independent consultants for discussion and/or a copy of the draft new policy. The draft policy document was also sent to all Registered Tenants Organisations for comment.
There was a good response with over 100 applicants contacting the consultants to discuss either the policy or the CHR. There was general interest in the CHR and most felt that the process would be simplified.
"You get one form for all the different places … it's quite good because otherwise you'd have to fill out one form for each one." (Applicant)