Dear Grant Shapps
You recently made a number of criticisms of social housing, claiming that:
“For years the system for social housing has been associated with injustice - where rewards are reaped for those who know how to play the system the best.
"Despite this terrible image a lazy consensus in social housing has ensured that, for an entire generation, no one has bothered to do anything about it.”
We support your intentions – and agree some things need to change – but cannot accept the allegation that social housing providers have been failing to address the issues we face. As Housing Minister you must intervene where you identify failings but can you evidence the basis for such sweeping criticisms? As Bromford CEO I would like to offer you our evidence which demonstrates the reverse. I invite you to visit us to see the way our colleagues work every day to change the lives of some of society’s poorest and most vulnerable people, encouraging and supporting them to break out of dependency.
I see housing providers, LAs, ALMOs and HAs, striving to meet the needs of individuals and families in need and their wider communities.
But whenever government seeks, for all the right reasons, to control allocations policy from the national perspective there will always be unintended consequences. Thus new guidance, in seeking to redress previous failings, will also inevitably create anomalies and unfairness in different ways.
We’re already implementing new approaches through our “something for something” Customer Deal - so we do not accept that social housing providers have not been bothered to do anything – but we have all been constantly buffeted by well-intentioned but inappropriate policies from central governments . So we really welcome the way your new guidance is largely phrased to reduce constraints on local authorities and free them to work with partners like us to design the most effective approaches. But the language you use undermines that sense of trusting local partners to do what’s right for their customers and neighbourhoods.
Retaining “reasonable preference” priorities in lettings policies is rightly an essential safeguard for vulnerable people. But we also have tenants who need to move home for a variety of reasons so we hope our local authority partners will allow us to use available homes creatively to meet a range of needs.
A recent and typical example was where we had to allocate a new 3 bedroom home to whoever won on the Choice Based Lettings bidding instead of offering a transfer to a longstanding family in a 2 bed, parents both working, 16 year old son with autism and ADHD and another baby due who want to remain in the local area with support networks. More flexibility would have enabled us to keep this family in the community in accommodation that suited their needs and then offer their property to another family on the waiting list –meeting two families’ needs with one new home. I agree with you that it’s crazy to create allocations schemes that are a disincentive to people who do what they can to improve their own situations.
For years national allocations guidance has prevented housing providers from collectively designing policies to make best use of existing supply to fulfill local housing needs and reward aspirations. For example the previous expectation on ‘open waiting lists’ proved complex, cumbersome and costly to manage – while not enabling any more people to get housed. The lifting of such constraints and freedom for councils to determine their own criteria is a great opportunity for fresh thinking.
Day by day we are ‘turning the tanker’ around, not least through our ‘something for something’ Customer Deal with the people we house. We are committed to supporting our customers’ aspirations for training and employment and broader neighbourhood contributions through volunteering. We talk about these opportunities and expectations to prospective customers, working with them ahead of a letting to establish what represents a really successful tenancy relationship for both parties and how to get there.
Our experience is that most of our customers want to overcome their difficulties, to make good decisions, to take care of their homes and to achieve a positive outcome for their families – and Bromford’s intervention helps them to do this for themselves in the long term. So it is counter-productive to make comments that can only insult both our colleagues and our customers. Some people will always try to manipulate any system but they are not representative of the overwhelming majority.
Would it not be more effective to stimulate discussion around how we can all make best use of your proposed new freedoms rather than launching these with unfair criticism of housing providers?
There are already some good building blocks in the way some choice based lettings schemes, alongside local lettings plans, have helped to turn around the image of social housing and delivered more balanced and mixed neighbourhoods. Lets’ improve on that, rid of us existing restrictions and increase local flexibility.
Let’s not waste the opportunity we now have with unjustified rhetoric that drives everyone into opposing corners.
Do come and visit us at Bromford. Take the opportunity to meet us and our customers, let us show you our evidence and, in turn, we invite you to lay bare the evidence you applied in accusing social housing providers of not being bothered. Will you do that?
CEO Bromford Group