Time to listen

Is this the year Mrs Thatcher finally shuts up? She was a one trick pony. Whatever the question, let’s put it out to the market was her answer.

the-terminator

And New Labour said much the same. This is why the system of housing regulation gets off on the wrong foot.

It works on the basis that the main problem is lack of choice. If tenants could shop around everything would be better. What a lot of tripe!

And it’s still there right at the start of the new VfM standard. Lack of choice is the wrong exam question.

You could get PPI from almost 250 firms. Is that enough to pick and choose from? What a mess that turned out to be.

As Arnie Schwarzenegger says, “bye bye to the PPIs”. And is competition the be all and end all? Most of us seem happy enough to click onto Amazon now.

It looks a lot like a monopoly to me. But why should I care when it can give me a half price six pack toned tummy with free delivery in two hours?

I go to a lot of tenants’ meetings. They never ask to move to a better brand of landlord. The issue of choice is neither here nor there to them.

They have more important things on their minds. Here’s some of the messages I keep on getting.

Don’t ask us to come to a meeting if there is nothing to talk about. We don’t want to be engaged for the sake of engagement. If you have something serious to talk about then let’s get down to business. Give us the pros and cons straight. Then we can have a proper discussion.

The best debates I hear are on big deals like mergers and regeneration plans. It matters so the tenants turn up ready to get stuck in. And they do a good job too.

Mind you that non-tax paying monopoly Google sure helps them to get to grips with their landlord. Yes, I know the internet has some rubbish on it.

But is it any worse than the airbrushed annual reports of landlords or the opaque judgements of the HCA? Why don’t we fix these?

Don’t treat us like children. That’s another big message. What’s this all about? Look at a lot of the material that goes out to tenants.

It’s full of cartoons, zany pictures and Primary One language. Are we a landlord or are we running CBBC is the question this stuff begs? It’s time to bang an old nail into the bouncy castle at the fun day.

Does the landlord always know best? Are you just like mummy? No. There’s plenty of times when the tenants see things first.

What about the case of Connaught? The tenants on the ground saw right through them. But the top brass kept giving them more work.

We are not all the same. It is true that some tenants do need a bit of help with getting jobs or training. That’s fine. But others want to just get on with life and are perfectly well able to do so.

Please stop pestering them with coaching, mentoring and such like. Chances are they are better qualified than us.

You get tenants that want to take a more active role. They might want to sit on the board or form a mutual.

Then there are those that go through the finances with a fine toothcomb. And thank God, they do because sometimes they spot the right problems.

I often think of a guy that hounded his association with queries. Boy they hated him. But if he’d been listened to we would have saved millions instead of bailing them out.

Then there are the owners. Some are hanging on by their fingertips. Others are high net worth individuals that own many homes here, there and everywhere. But you need those sales to get the money for rented homes.

One size does not fit all. How many meetings do you go to where the use of the word resident or tenant sparks a fierce debate at the start? Then its downhill from there.

So that’s what I’ve been hearing, what have others been doing? Dame Judith Hackitt’s inquiry on safety has been looking at this too.

She thinks we need more of a tenants’ voice. Residents say they did speak up about fire risks at Grenfell. Why did that message not get through? That’s a good question.

But you can also ask why is it up to tenants to do this. Surely safety should be the first job of the landlord and the regulator.

It would be a lot better if the regulator’s main aim was to keep tenants safe. That should be their starting point not putting landlords through hoops as a proxy for choice.

Are we moving fast enough in a changing world? I might have seen a glimpse of the future.

In the middle of Glasgow, you will find the offices of TPAS (Scotland). I think they do a fine job with a grand chief executive. But around the corner the young radicals are occupying vacant buildings.

Why do they sit empty while folk have no homes? This isn’t a one off. I’ve heard more anger from tenants in the last year than I did in the previous 20. And no wonder.

So, take heed, if we don’t put our house in order someone else will do it for us. The tenants I’ve met this year are full of good ideas.

We ignore them at our peril. It’s time to listen to them not out of date economists.

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