Interim briefing on Southwark Councils Resident Involvement Review. This briefing has been prepared by Southwark Group of Tenant Organisation (SGTO) Jan 2019.
Who are SGTO
SGTO is a borough wide charity, it originated from the Association of London Housing Estates, which was founded by the London County Council in the late 1950s. In 1984, Southwark tenants decided to set up their own organisation and be responsible for their own affairs. SGTO receive funding from the Tenant Management Fund –which is made up of levy on rent. There are six paid members of staff including a Senior Manager, an Administrator, three engagement officers (one of whom verifies the accounts of TR&As) and a Campaign and Research Officer. SGTO produce a monthly publication and a monthly group meeting inviting key note speakers from Southwark Council or the housing sector to address our members. SGTO support Tenants and Residents Associations from across the borough and each engagement officer has a specific patch as part of their remit. All the work of SGTO is initiated by tenants and residents. Our Campaign and Research officer is able to campaign and research on the issues that members identify that are affecting them as tenants. SGTO have a board of 15 tenants who oversee the work of its staff.
It should be noted that the term ‘tenant’ represents both Southwark Council tenants and Southwark Homeowners who pay service charges to Southwark Council
What are the existing tenant voice structures?
Tenant and Resident Associations (TRA) Southwark Council tenants can form or join their local Tenant and Resident Association (TRA). People can join TRAs regardless of what type of home they live in. A TRA member can become a delegate to attend Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO) monthly group meetings. Participants are eligible to be voted by their TRA members as a representative to attend Area Forums and help represent their community and improve their housing environment and local area. An Area Housing Forum delegate can be elected as a representative for the Tenants Council. Anyone from the public can attend SGTO group meetings but only delegates will have voting rights.
Area Housing Forums Southwark have 12 Area Housing Forums (AHFs) One or two for each housing area. Southwark consult the forums on a wide range of issues before making a decision. These forums also: give all sections of the community the chance to have a say on how services are provided by the council, act as the main advisory group on housing related community issues in the area, allow attendees to raise any matters of local concern. AHFs are attended by: elected delegates from TRAs, council officers, councillors and observers.
Tenant Council (TC) The Tenant Council acts as a link between the Local Area Housing Forums and the council. It advises both on borough wide matters that affect tenants and residents. Tenants Council is made up of Southwark Council tenants and its membership is appointed annually. It is made up of two delegates and two deputy representatives from each local area housing forum, one delegate and one deputy representatives from SGTO, Councillors with an interest in housing – can speak and give their views but cannot vote.
Members of the public can attend as observers and observers can speak but have no voting rights. Meetings are around every 6 weeks.
Homeowner Council (HOC) Homeowner Council acts as a link between local area housing forums and the council. It advises them both on borough-wide matters that affect homeowners. It is made up of two delegates and two deputy representatives from each local area housing forum. One delegate and one deputy representative from LAS2000, four directly elected representatives from homeowners living in street properties, two directly elected representatives from those freeholders who pay a service charge, two directly elected representatives from non-resident homeowners and councilors with an interest in housing can speak and give their views but have no voting rights) Members of the public can attend as observers and observers can speak but have no voting rights. Meetings are around every 6 weeks.
In 2017 Southwark Council commissioned the Social Engine and Kaizen Partnership to produce the “Kaizen Report” [separate briefing entitled Kaizen Report]. The questions on this report were leading and received under 1000 responses from residents and under 1% of tenants gave feedback.
In August 2018 Southwark Council created a Resident Involvement Panel, there was no input from Home Owner Council, Tenant Council or SGTO into how this panel may best be created to improve resident engagement in the borough. The aimed makeup of this panel was 5 tenants with little or no experience of existing structures, 1 x rep from Homeowners Council, 1 x rep from Tenant Council, 1 x rep from Youth Council, 1 x rep MySouthwark Homeowners board, 3 Council Officers and a Chair. The Panel were due to meet 7 times between August and November.
Throughout the course of the Panel meetings the makeup changed. Attendance is listed as below [see page 20 of the report]:
Panel members managed to negotiate an 8th meeting as they required more time to consider the proposals from the chair. A report from the Panel was expected in November 2018 but was released and circulated on the 4th of January 2019. Leaving under 4 weeks to respond as consultation closed on the *31.01.19.
*The Tenant Council chair negotiated an additional 7 days and consultation will now end on the 07.01.19. This still gives very little time to respond. A number of Area Forums agendas have already had been planned and the Resident Involvement Review was not included on the agenda.
Why is the Tenants Council and SGTO boycotting:
Tenant Council and the SGTO have been asking to work in partnership with Southwark Council to improve and strengthen resident engagement in the borough for a number of years. Southwark Council have carried out the review and devised a panel asking that Panel members have little or no experience of tenant voice existing structures.
This excludes people with expertise.
Area Forums and T&RAs have passed motions to boycott the Panel believing it to have a predetermined outcome.
The timeframe in which decisions are being made is too short; the Panel was scheduled to have 7 meetings with members negotiating an 8th meeting. Meetings commenced late August and were due to end in November 2018. We expected the Panel’s report in November but as an additional meeting was negotiated the report was only circulated to groups at 5pm on Friday the 04.01.19, however, there was no extension initially offered for the consultation deadline.
There is no need assessment for the 11,000 new council tenants (and families) coming into Southwark properties over the next 11 years. There is also no approach to the 20% increase in population expected.
Recommendations of the Resident Involvement Review:
There are 23 recommendations from the Panel to be adopted by Cabinet in March 19. The majority of the recommendations are not prescriptive. You can read the full report produced by the Panel here
That Panel report recommendations include:
[Recommendation 9] That the current Area Housing Forums be reduce from twelve to five new Housing Forums – mirroring the housing management areas, with two each in the larger areas and one in the smallest. These Forums would be open to all council tenants and homeowners in their respective area. It has been suggested they have a standard agenda that is resident driven with digital polls conducted by residents to determine what will be addressed in the meetings.
Southwark Council service points have closed and libraries are overridden. Southwark’s digital strategy hopes to get TRA halls online, a high number of tenants and residents can’t use a computer which means they will be excluded from the agenda planning. It also means that some of the most vulnerable residents will be left unable to engage.
At present there are 12 Area Housing Forums that meet every 6 weeks. Southwark population is predicted to grow by 20% over the next decade. This will mean that there will be even more issues to discuss and 20% more people raising issues. Reducing meetings to quarterly meetings will further reduce the platform in which people can voice their concerns.
[Recommendation 18] That there should be a Community Fund that TRAs, TMO, Resident Groups and community organisations bid for. The group deciding applications would consist of councilors, officers and residents – it is unclear what the ratio will be.
[Recommendation 19] That there be a borough-wide fund or funds where by a strategic body or bodies working with the council sets the objectives, decides upon applications, review impact annually and apply learning for future fund objectives and criteria.
[Recommendation 22] The Panel acknowledged that the council also houses residents with other specific tenure types, such as: Temporary Accommodation, Shelters, and Travelers who should be part of future involvement approaches.
There is no evidence that these groups have contributed to Resident Involvement Review. There are also very little information of these groups’ contributions to the Kaizen Report.
What has happened in other boroughs?
We have spoken to residents from Lambeth, Lewisham, Kensington and Chelsea and Hackney who are from boroughs who have undergone a similar Resident Engagement Review. They have commented on how things have been forced online, meetings between Homeowners and Tenants are always combine – despite there being different issues to discuss, meetings are restricted to a limited time frame and are reduced drastically in numbers and frequency. All boroughs have commented on how they are directed online to raise issues and prevented from organising and that tenant voice in their boroughs have been restricted.
How have these impacted on Federations across London?
The chair of the Resident Involvement Panel – Phil Morgan had also carried out the review in Hammersmith and Fulham. SGTO were contacted by a member of staff who worked for the Hammersmith and Fulham Federation. We were informed that following similar reviews funding to federations ceased as funds become council controlled and thus can select who receives funding.