I don’t know if I’m the only one in this position, but the thought of giving evidence for the first time to the DLUHC Committee’s inquiry into the Regulation of Social Housing is a very daunting prospect.
The walk through the Great Hall in the Palace of Westminster, then climbing the stone steps to the long Committee Rooms corridor (of course having to walk to the very end to ‘Committee room 16’) are reminiscent of Hogwarts! They do nothing but add to the sense of occasion and increasing stress levels.
It’s reassuring though to talk to the other panel members before the session starts, and then before you know it, you’re called in. You’re aware it’s being broadcast live on Parliament TV, but try to ignore that, and convince yourself that in any event, viewing figures are likely to mainly comprise family members of the people giving evidence. I know that’s not the case but it helped me!
As it turns out, giving evidence is not actually that bad. In fact once it got going, I found myself strangely enjoying proceedings and was pleased to be a part of something that was designed to help improve standards. Our inquiry submission drew in the views of residents as well as members which meant I was confident I was representing members’ views.
I got the chance to say the main points we felt were important, namely:
- PlaceShapers welcome the Housing White paper and in particular the shift to proactive consumer regulation and the removal of the ‘serious detriment’ threshold for engagement. We fed back that customers were also of this view.
- Engagement with customers is key. I talked about the feedback they have given on the Housing Ombudsman and the positive events we have held jointly with the Regulator of Social Housing across the country as part of the build up to the Tenant Sector Metric consultation and wider Housing White paper issues.
- PlaceShapers are committed to core purpose. The ‘trend towards commercialisation’ is not something that we recognise amongst PlaceShapers members – the activities we prioritise, and the approach we take, is different. I was glad to be able to give examples from PlaceShapers members about what this looks like in practice.
- PlaceShapers must balance their priorities when it comes to spending, especially with the additional costs from building safety and net zero carbon being added into the mix. The priority will be to make sure our existing homes are safe and maintained well and improved through NZC works. We will continue to develop but this may have to reduce dependent on how the costs pan out in the future.
- PlaceShapers are committed to high standards. The cases featured on recent TV reports about damp and mould were unacceptable, but not representative of the wider sector, a view also held by customers based on the feedback they have given us. I pointed out that the energy prices increase would compound the problem by making it more difficult for people to be able to afford to adequately heat their homes, one of the contributing factors to instances of damp and mould.
We now eagerly await the results of the inquiry and in the meantime are focusing on feeding in members' and residents’ views on the new satisfactions measures.
Of course, after such an auspicious occasion is over it’s appropriate to mark the occasion and maybe even celebrate. My chosen fancy was an M&S Ploughman's sandwich and bottle of water on the train home that evening. Chair of PlaceShapers, livin’ the dream.