4.0 Practical Advice For Tenants And Staff
4.1 Setting up a tenant group
The most common reasons for tenants and residents forming a group are where there is a particular local issue of concern within a community, or where tenants and residents want to get more involved with their landlord to work on service improvements and performance. Groups of people acting together are usually more effective than individuals. This section of the guide outlines some of the main points to consider for staff supporting tenants and residents to set up a group and for individual tenants and residents who would like to establish a group.
If you are thinking of establishing a group, you probably already have a clear idea of why a group is needed, but you need to talk to other residents in the area who feel the same. Your landlord will be able to provide support at this early stage and help you through the next stages of establishing a group.
You can get people’s views by:
- sending out a newsletter with an attached questionnaire;
- door to door visits;
- holding a public meeting.
- posting on social media.
Some people will want to give their views and opinions while other people may not make any suggestions at all. No matter how people respond to you, be friendly and clear about why the group is a good idea and what it would do and respect people’s right not to get involved.
If you have support for your idea then get together with the other people that are interested. At this stage, there will usually be a small number of people interested in the idea, so get together informally in someone’s home or in a local community facility.
At the informal get together think about:
- what are the issues of concern?
- what streets or areas are affected?
- what would you like to achieve?
- what the group would do.
If you all agree that it would be a good idea to form a group, you then need to get as many people as possible together at a public meeting to discuss the issues and agree on forming a group.
Support from landlords
At this stage it is important to determine how much involvement and support you want from staff. This will depend on the discussions with tenants and residents and how much assistance they require. Some groups may want more intensive support from their landlord while others may prefer not to have any landlord involvement at all. Sometimes groups prefer an independent organisation to provide assistance. This often depends on the existing relationship between tenants and staff. Landlords will be able to provide support at every stage. Landlords should consider preparing a guide on setting up a group that can be given out when a group of people are considering this.
Planning a first meeting
To organise the meeting you may wish to:
- use the contacts you have already made;
- put adverts in local shops, schools and libraries;
- produce a leaflet advertising the meeting and deliver it to everyone in the area;
- get help from your local housing officer;
- invite speakers such as housing staff;
- consider the timing of the meeting;
- consider what arrangements will be required to encourage people to come along, for example having a crèche may encourage families with children to attend.
Where to hold the meeting
Find a suitable place to hold the meeting and always try to ensure that you use a meeting place that is accessible, so that people with disabilities can attend.
This could be:
- a room in a community centre, school, church hall or sheltered housing complex, as long as it is easy for people to get to; or
- a meeting room in your landlord’s offices.
Running the first meeting
- Be clear about what the group wants to achieve at the first meeting;
- Be friendly and welcoming;
- Introduce one another. This is very important if people do not know each other already;
- Make sure someone chairs the meeting or ensures the discussion focuses on the issues to be discussed;
- Take a note of who attended, the main points of discussion and any further actions that are decided;
- Ask for volunteers to form a steering group to work out how the group will be organised. Usually about six people will be required, but this can vary from one area to another;
- Agree who is responsible for future actions.
- Once a steering group has been formed it needs to consider:
- the aims of the group;
- what issues are important;
- how often it should meet;
- what officers and committee members it should have;
- what the officers and committee members should do;
- what resources the group will need and how money will be managed;
- the name of the group and what geographical area it will cover.
All of these things need to be carefully thought out and set out in a formal constitution for the group (see section 4.2).
Holding the next public meeting and forming the group
The same general principles should be followed for public meetings. Usually this meeting will have two main purposes: to discuss the issues of concern to residents and to formalise the group.
At the meeting the office bearers and committee members should be elected.
These should include a chairperson, a secretary, a treasurer and any other officers required. The constitution developed by the steering group should also be discussed and approved.
Once the committee has been elected and the constitution approved you will have a formal tenants’ group.
Responsibilities of committee members
Committee members should be nominated because they are committed to the aims of the group and have the time and interest to devote to the committee.
They will have experience or skills that will be beneficial to the group. The roles and responsibilities of key committee members are summarised below.
Committee members should be offered training by their landlord to help them develop the skills they need to undertake their roles and responsibilities effectively.
The chair directs the group’s activities and guides the committee meetings.
The chair has a clear understanding of the group’s interests, lets everyone have their say and makes sure the constitution is upheld. The chair is responsible for making sure agreed tasks are carried out, and making decisions between meetings if necessary.
Before meetings the chair should plan and understand the agenda and ensure all necessary information is available. At meetings the chair should welcome everyone, introduce new members and visitors, ask for any apologies, and check the minutes of the previous meeting with the group to make sure everyone is happy that the minutes are an accurate record of the previous meeting. During meetings the chair should introduce each item and its purpose, request contributions, encourage participation, ensure others do not dominate the meeting, delegate tasks, record votes if necessary, and make sure the meeting keeps to time.
At the end of each meeting the chair should allow time for ‘any other business’, confirm the time, date and location of the next meeting, close the meeting and thank everyone for attending.
The group secretary is responsible for taking and circulating minutes, preparing agendas for meetings, organising the paperwork and correspondence, distributing information to members, and keeping members up-to-date about dates for meetings and other events.
The treasurer looks after the group’s income and expenditure by keeping the finances up-to-date, keeping track of receipts and bank statements and compiling financial reports detailing income and expenditure. The treasurer is responsible for budgeting for the group and preparing annual financial accounts that must be checked by an independent person.
4.2 Developing a constitution
This section provides advice for tenants on developing a constitution and for staff who are helping them. At this stage it is useful to consider the criteria that the group will have to meet in the future if it wants to register with its landlord as a registered tenant organisation and work towards meeting these criteria.
Registering with landlords as a registered tenant organisation gives groups a legal right to be informed, consulted, involved in decision making by the landlord, and to access other funding.
Groups must have a written, publicly available constitution which details;
- who can be a member;
- the purpose of the organisation;
- how funds will be managed and accounted for;
- the minimum number of members who need to be in attendance for general meetings and committee meetings to take place – this is called a quorum;
- how the group will inform, consult, get views and feedback to all tenants and residents living within the area where it operates;
- how the group will ensure its members are involved in making decisions;
- the group’s commitment to equal opportunities and how this will be met;
- procedures for electing the committee, rules of conduct and how it will reach decisions democratically;
- what geographical area of operation the group will cover.
A well thought out constitution will ensure that the organisation has an effective operating structure for electing office bearers and committee members, getting members’ views and feeding back to them, handling resources and sorting out any problems that may arise within the group in the future.
Landlords who are working pro actively to promote TP will have a model constitution available, which groups can use to develop their own, if they wish.
There is a sample constitution at Appendix 3.
4.3 Becoming a Registered Tenant Organisation
The concept of RTOs was introduced by the Act and gives important rights to groups who register with their landlord. RTOs are independent organisations set up primarily to represent tenants’ housing and related interests. Registration gives groups a recognised role in the decision making process. Landlords should help guide groups through the registration process.
The Statutory Instrument link can be found in Appendix 1.
Basic features of registration
Every landlord must keep a register of tenant groups in their area, which is open to public inspection at reasonable times.
Criteria for registration is set by Scottish Ministers.
Tenants’ groups can register with the landlord, provided they meet the criteria set by Ministers about being democratic and accountable.
To receive the full benefit of the legislation, tenants’ organisations should register with every landlord whose tenants they represent.
Tenants’ groups can appeal to the Scottish Government if they are unhappy about a decision reached about registration.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring that registered groups meet the registration criteria and that this is regularly reviewed.
All groups wanting to become registered must provide their landlord with:
- a copy of their constitution;
- a list of office bearers and committee members;
- a contact address for correspondence which can be made public (this could be c/o the landlord);
- a description of the area the group operates in;
- details of other landlords they are registered with or applying to become registered with.
There is a range of criteria groups have to meet.
The group must have a written constitution that is available for inspection and which details:
- the group’s objectives;
- the area in which it operates;
- the membership process;
- how the committee operates and is elected;
- how business is conducted;
- how funds are managed;
when meetings are held, including the Annual General Meeting;
- how the constitution can be amended;
- the group’s commitment to equal opportunities;
- how the group intends to promote housing and housing related matters.
The group must have a committee that:
- is elected annually and committee members must be required to stand down after a certain period (this period should be included in the constitution);
- consists of at least three members who can co-opt other members on;
- reaches decisions democratically (the decision making process should be included in the constitution).
The group must operate within a defined area that includes the landlord’s housing stock, and it must be open to all tenants within that area.
The group must have proper accounting records showing income and expenditure, assets and liabilities. The constitution must require an annual audited financial statement to be presented at the Annual General Meeting.
The group must be able to demonstrate how it plans to represent the views of its members and how it will keep them informed.
The criteria for the registration of tenant federations will be the same as for individual tenant organisations.
Groups who do not wish to register
Not all tenant groups will wish to register. If this is the case, individuals still have a right to be consulted. Landlords should encourage groups to register by providing training, information and support.
Changes made by RTO
If a tenants’ organisation changes its constitution, office bearers, membership or area of operation, they are required to inform their landlord. Providing the changes mean that the registration criteria are still met, landlords will amend the register of tenant organisations accordingly. The failure of a registered group to meet the criteria for registration would constitute grounds for de registration.
Where groups no longer meet the registration criteria, landlords should provide support to help them meet the criteria again, but should not shy away from de registering them if need be.
Rights of RTO
RTOs should work with their landlord in a variety of ways, in addition to any specific consultation with tenants as a whole. Landlords and RTOs should work together to identify policies and practices that they think should be revised. RTOs should be notified by the landlord of their intention to review policies and practices at the planning stage, and should not be presented with proposals as a finished article. Areas that are likely to be subject to review, or new proposals that landlords should involve RTOs in, include housing services, housing standards, TP strategies and stock transfers. RTOs should be given information on the background to proposals and reviews, and given a reasonable timescale, that has been agreed between the RTO and landlord, to consider the issues and give their own views and suggestions.
Landlords should take these views into account and provide feedback to RTOs on the outcome of the review and proposals.
A tenant’s organisation may appeal against the landlord’s decision:
- not to register the organisation; or
- to remove the organisation from the register; or
- not to remove the organisation from the register.
The appeals process will be considered by the Scottish Government. It is important to note, however, that an appeal should be presented only after the landlord’s internal appeal procedures have been exhausted. The internal appeals procedure should be initiated without delay and should be completed within three months of the appeal being made, or as otherwise agreed between the landlord and the RTO.
4.4 Working with groups
Front line staff working in TP often spend a good deal of time helping people come together as an effective tenants group, and working with and supporting the development of existing groups. The time spent will vary from group to group, because it is down to each individual group to decide how much support from staff they require and are comfortable with. Staff working with groups will use a number of key skills to support and enable the development of tenant groups.
The role of members of staff working with groups is usually that of facilitator.
They help bring people together and help the group set out its aims and objectives.
Staff can also play a vital role in helping make links between community groups.
Staff should encourage individuals within the group to give their views, and build the confidence of group members who feel uncomfortable expressing their opinions. Staff should also provide advice on activities such as how to chair a meeting, take minutes, set the agenda and the division of tasks within the group.
They should also help groups understand the landlord’s decision making structures, how they can negotiate and make their views known. Tenant groups should have access to, and be able to negotiate with decision makers. Staff can help tenant groups develop the confidence and skills to do this.
Staff are likely to be a valuable resource to established groups and may provide assistance in a number of ways, including helping with advertising and publicity, attracting new members, assisting them access external funding and directing them to other organisations.
It will vary from group to group, but it is likely that staff involvement will be more intensive when a group is starting out. At this stage staff may be required to take the initiative in coming up with aims and suggestions. As the groups develop, however, they will start coming up with their own ideas and suggestions and should be encouraged to do this. As time goes on, staff are likely to find that groups require their advice and support less. However, it is crucial that groups determine the level of support they receive at all stages of development, and landlords must respect this. It is also up to groups to decide whether they wish staff to attend their meetings.
Successful tenant groups
Like any successful group, a successful tenants group will have the following characteristics:
- members respect each other;
- different views and opinions are welcome and encouraged;
- individuality is encouraged;
- aims and objectives are agreed but can be discussed and changed;
- aims and objectives are realistic and achievable;
- group members co-operate, rather than compete, to achieve goals;
- feelings can be expressed accurately and openly;
- positive feedback is given and valued;
- negative feedback is delivered in a constructive way;
- each member’s contribution is recognised and valued;
- problems are seen as normal and dealt with constructively;
- consensus is looked for in important decisions.
The roles and responsibilities of the group’s members may change on an annual basis or at a time period the group agrees, to enable individuals to develop new skills and take ownership of different activities.
Groups evaluate their progress and effectiveness and continually look for ways to improve and develop.
Successful groups do not emerge overnight. They take time to develop, encounter teething problems, learn from experience and stay focused on their overall aims and objectives, while working with day-to-day issues.
Landlords play a crucial role in helping develop and support successful groups.
4.5 Managing conflict
In any situation where a group of people get together there is always the potential for conflict. Conflict may arise within groups, between groups and between groups and their landlord. This section provides advice on ways of resolving conflict.
When tenants and landlords are working together, it is crucial that the ground rules for engagement are clearly agreed at the outset. This will help to reduce the potential for conflict as the partnership develops. You can refer to The National Standards for Community Engagement for some advice too, these can be found at www.scdc.org.uk. It will not always be possible for every idea or solution to a problem to be implemented and the scope and influence that tenants can have needs to be clearly agreed.
Conflict arises when differences can’t be satisfactorily dealt with, where people may be unwilling to accept different values and points of view, or where rivalry emerges between groups for example, where resources are perceived to be unfairly distributed. Individuals may be resistant to changing their views and agreeing a consensus, people may want to hold onto their power and position and there may not be clear procedures for exploring differences and reaching consensus before they develop into conflict.
Where conflict arises there are three approaches to the situation. First, those concerned can ignore the problem. This will often mean that the problem doesn’t go away, but emerges in the future in ways unrelated to the real problem.
Ignoring the conflict can have a very negative effect on trust and relationships and can undermine months and even years of good joint working.
The second approach is where a solution is imposed by a third party in a forceful way without considering the sensitivities surrounding the source of conflict. If those involved in the conflict accept the solution, this approach can work, however, they will have less motivation to implement the solution than if they had been involved in resolving the conflict themselves. Often this approach does not get to the root of the problem and it re-emerges in the future.
The third approach is where those involved in conflict find their own solution.
This can be done with or without a third party. It is usually better for the people involved to come up with their own solutions, either through compromise or consensus by problem solving, as they are more likely to stick to the agreement reached and have a better understanding of the position of the person/group/organisation that they were in conflict with.
Some steps for resolving conflict
Conflict resolution means discussing, negotiating and coming to a joint solution through compromise or consensus. In order to successfully resolve conflict, everyone involved has to want to overcome disagreements and be willing to take part. Mediation is an effective way to resolve conflict, and taking the following steps should increase the chances of resolving problems.
Everyone involved should mutually agree a time and place to meet.
Ground rules/guidelines should be agreed for the meeting (for example, no interrupting when someone is speaking, agreeing to listen to each other, not using bad language or name calling, and being willing to listen to others’ points of view and explore a range of solutions).
At the start, everyone involved should have the opportunity to clarify and define the issues of concern as they see them, trying to separate facts, opinions and values.
Individuals should have the opportunity to clarify why they wish or need to resolve the conflict and agree shared goals.
The key issues and concerns that those involved need to agree about should be clearly defined.
It can be helpful to brainstorm positive ways and suggestions for the resolution of each issue which would be acceptable to those involved. Those involved should try to generate as many ideas as possible.
Everyone involved should agree a specific solution for each issue of concern and the steps to implement it, either by consensus or compromise. This may take time, however, it is important that the process is not rushed.
Everyone should agree that they are willing to implement the solutions, even if they don’t fully agree with them. Those involved should explore what support and assistance they may need.
A procedure for reviewing the situation, to be sure that the solution is working out and/or dealing with those who do not do what they committed to, should be agreed.
Involving a third party to help resolve conflict
A third party from within or outside the group may be able to help the people in conflict move from their fixed positions and work towards an agreed solution.
These people must not be directly involved in the conflict and must be given permission to help solve the conflict by all parties. They must be clear about their role (for instance, to help the parties to resolve their conflict) and must not get caught up in the conflict or misuse their position.
Organisations such as TIS and TPAS have experience of acting as third party mediators to resolve conflict situations, both within tenant organisations and between tenant organisations and a landlord. There are also specialist mediation services who can help. Staff from a landlord may be asked by a tenants’ group to act as a third party when there are internal problems within their group.
A person in this position should try to be:
- committed to finding a solution acceptable to all parties;
- able to recognise and build on points of agreement;
- aware of their own values, views and opinions in relation to the conflict and to keep them separate from the process of conflict resolution;
- committed to equalising the power as much as possible between the two parties;
- committed to finding out the underlying causes of the conflict with those involved;
- committed to focusing on the problem rather than the personalities concerned;
- committed to encouraging open communication, honesty and expression of feelings.
4.6 Organising tenant events
Tenant conferences and events are popular with both staff and tenants, and are a good way of providing information and getting people’s views. Tenants should be involved in the planning group for the event. The following is a list of some ideas to think about if you are involved in planning an event.
- Decide what kind of event you want to create (for example, informal or formal) and what you want to achieve (for instance, give information, or get more people involved in TP);
- Consider the best time to hold an event so that the maximum number of people can attend (this could be evenings or weekends);
- Avoid religious holidays and other times of the year that will stop some people coming along;
- Check if there is anything else on in your local area the day you propose to have that event, to ensure it doesn’t clash;
- Advertise the event in a variety of ways (for instance, with posters, leaflets left at different venues, individual letters, social media or a newsletter);
- Are you going to provide a meal for those who come along? Plan the menu and look into the most suitable catering arrangements. Don’t forget people with special dietary needs.
- Make sure people know what expenses will be reimbursed;
- Do you want to target people who have a specific interest, or is it to be open to all tenants?
- Design the programme and decide who is going to meet guests, make introductions and start the event off;
- Are you going to have any speakers/workshop facilitators? Who is the best person for the job?
- Decide on a venue. Will it comfortably hold the number of people you are proposing to invite? Is it accessible? Does it have a loop system?
- Arrange to see the venue in advance if you are not already familiar with it, and check all the details and arrangements, and that it is fully accessible;
- Are exhibition materials needed which will explain your group or organisation’s work and activities?
- Will transport be needed? What special arrangements will you make for people with disabilities?
- Will you need name badges? Prepare these in advance and lay them out in alphabetical order;
- Will you need a delegate pack? What do you think it should contain (for instance, programme, copy of presentations, evaluation form and leaflets)?
- What IT equipment do you need? Arrange it and test it before the event;
- Do you need to provide a crèche and/or entertainment for children?
- Have fun!
- Review the success or otherwise of the event/conference. This will help in future planning.
4.7 Producing a newsletter
Most landlords and many tenant groups produce newsletters to keep tenants up-to-date with the latest news. This section gives pointers to help landlords and groups make sure their newsletter is reader-friendly, relevant and interesting.
Providing good information to tenants can develop their interest in housing and related matters and inspire them to participate. As a matter of course, tenants should be on the editorial committee.
Before putting pen to paper, the editorial committee need to decide what the newsletter will be about. Ask tenant groups and representatives what they would like to know about.
Producing the newsletter should be the responsibility of a named person and realistic timescales should be set. The budget also needs to be agreed. This will help decide the format and design of the newsletter.
Writing your newsletter
Plan what articles you would like to include, gather information and decide on essential information. Use everyday, informal language (but not slang) and keep it simple. Sentences should be short (around 15-20 words), but vary that number to keep readers’ interest. Write as if the person reading it has no knowledge of the subject and is sitting opposite you. Emphasise crucial points by making sentences shorter. Edit out all unnecessary words.
Jargon hinders understanding and puts people off. Avoid it! Don’t say ‘void property’ when it’s an empty house. If you feel you must use jargon, explain what it means.
Make your tone friendly. Don’t refer to ‘the tenant’ when you can talk to your reader directly by using ‘you’. It’s friendlier and informal.
Decide on a headline for each article that will grab your readers’ attention. Add a sentence underneath if necessary to explain what the information is about.
The first paragraph should get people’s attention and explain the purpose of the information. Keep it short – no longer than 40 words. Aim for two or three sentence paragraphs – no more than four. The font size should be 12 points or more. Smaller print is difficult to read.
You should also use a regular font such as Arial, Times New Roman or Comic Sans; this is because these are easy to read.
The design of newsletters should be well thought out and eye-catching. Try to convey information in different ways to keep your readers’ interest. Use pictures, clip-art, diagrams and bullet points. Avoid complicated tables and charts.
Increase your print size to signpost information in headings and subheadings.
Use bold highlighting, capital letters and bullet points for emphasis. Colour adds interest to the page and can draw attention to important points. Formatting text in columns helps present information in more manageable chunks and takes up less space.
Photographs look best if you can print out in colour. Give consideration to your choice of colours. People with colour blindness commonly confuse green and red, and yellow does not photocopy well.
Making Your newsletter useful
It’s helpful to add a paragraph or section that explains how the information will be useful to tenants. Try to spell out the benefits of keeping the group informed.
Testing your newsletter
When you have finished writing and designing your newsletter ask:
- Is it accurate?
- Is it readable?
- Is the tone friendly?
- Does it meet its objectives?
- Does it meet tenants’ needs?
- Is it attractive?
Licensing and copyright laws
Generally permission must be obtained before photographs or other information from the Internet is reproduced in publications. If you are using Microsoft to word process your newsletter you must have a licensed copy of the software. Landlords will be able to advise tenant groups if they are uncertain about these issues. In addition, if you are using pictures of anyone of 17-years old and under, permission to include the picture must be obtained from parents or legal guardians.