Monday, December 18, 2006

Resident involvement - and exclusion

The Housing Corporation's "Delivering change through involvement" consultation paper should be welcomed. It generally chimes with the talk in the housing sector and through out public services of changing the emphasis from regulation towards accountability to and participation by customers/patients/users/residents

I fear that the requirement for housing associations with over 250 properties to have at least one resident/tenant board member will attract the most attention and debate – with other issues overshadowed. (I believe that housing associations should have resident board members but feel uncomfortable with yet another regulatory requirement being imposed on housing associations when we are meant to be heading towards lighter-touch better regulation.)

The consultation paper notes examples of good practice in involving residents. Several of these are seen in organisations shaped by a co-operative or mutual (member owned and controlled) approach - Preston's Community Gateway Association, Redditch Co-operative Homes. (More generally, these kinds of organisations may well be the key to making stock transfer attractive and winning the trust of council tenants wary of housing associations.)

One depressing note is hit by the consultation paper when it refers to benefit rules and board members:

The Elton Review [on regulation in housing] recommended that the tax and benefit rules for resident board members in housing associations that pay their board members should be revisited. The Department for Communities and Local Government/Housing Corporation joint action plan for delivering the Elton recommendations confirms that this matter has been raised with the Department for Work and Pensions. Regrettably, there are no plans to change the tax and benefit system at this time.

Currently if a board member is paid (or even if they decline payment when board remuneration is adopted by a housing association), they can on occasions lose all their means tested benefits - which could be well in excess of any payment. When many housing association residents are in receipt of such benefits, this puts actual and potential resident board members in a difficult position. They can be excluded from involvement on housing association boards - never mind the mandatory one resident board member!


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