The government’s preferred choice of Housing Ombudsman has been quizzed by a Commons select committee over “highly derogatory” views of social tenants.
Richard Blakeway, chief adviser to Policy Exchange’s Housing and Urban Regeneration Unit, struggled to confirm or deny the following:“Their [tenants] quality of life is a joke. 46% of social tenants on estates love their dog more than their neighbour.”
Blakeway did tell the Housing Communities and Local Government committee that the comments – purportedly made a the British Property Federation Conference – did not reflect the view he has of social housing and that he had worked “incredibly hard” at the LGA to secure the likes of the Decent Homes Fund.
But members pressed further, saying such comments served to show why social housing tenants felt let down.
Blakeway was told of a need to ensure he can “produce justice” for social tenants should in becoming Housing Ombudsman.
In turn, Blakeway told the committee that it was of “critical importance” to him that the role was seen to be “fair, impartial and independent to create a positive culture around redress”.
Blakeway’s past work with Boris Johnson as London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property and special advisor to David Cameron saw the committee call his impartiality into question.
Blakeway – who advises a number of organisations on housing and regeneration – maintained he had no political bias and offered to end roles with Homes England and Bexley Co, the development company created last year by London’s Bexley council, which wants to build more than 2,500 homes in 12 years.
Pressed on his overhaul of previous work within the private sector and no real experience working within social housing, Blakeway said he had previously “worked closely” with social landlords through the Housing Moves scheme.
“I know that I had a real concern about the quality of some of the accommodation I was seeing whilst working in London,” he said.
“We even set a policy in the Mayor’s housing strategy to try and address overcrowding because you had large families living in accommodation which was not suitable for their need.”
Asked if he was in favour of council housing, Blakeway said: “Yes.”
The Committee also questioned Blakeway on his London links and the approach he would take to social housing in the rest of the country compared to the capital.
He told members his role with Homes England for two-and-a-half years had enabled him to “travel a lot”, and expectations of landlords were the same no matter where tenants lived.
Questioned over what he would bring to the Ombudsman role, Blakeway told the Committee of the need for a single compliant handling standard as well schemes changes that could be made resulting in a “more effective” redress.
In evidence, he also highlighted the removal of a democratic filter – it currently takes eight weeks to solve a problem and 5% of cases unresolved end up being mediated and are dealt with more quickly as a result.
“It doesn’t serve its purpose anymore. It will take time to remove it, but the consensus is that it needs to go,” Blakeway said.
Blakeway was speaking at a pre-appointment hearing – an opportunity for committee to scrutinise the quality of ministerial decision-making over appointments and assess a candidate’s suitability for their appointment, including their knowledge, skills, and independence.
The committee is due to publish a short report on the appointment of Blakeway as soon as this Thursday (4th July).
Pictured: Richard Blakeway by Francesco Guidicini.