#HousingDay – Time for social tenants to veto rent increases

Council and housing association landlords don’t like criticism says Tom Murtha in a piece written for #TenantsDay in which social landlords try to convince us they give a toss about their customers the tenants.

Tom is right that they don’t like criticism, is right that they are impervious to it and also that they overtly present a Panglossian view of what they are and what they do for tenants. Tom then goes on to discuss the role of tenants vis-à-vis their landlords and I use that phrase vis-a-vis as what is the role of tenants?

Housing leaders past, present and future are so coy about the ethereal role of tenants that they use many deliberately vague and meaningless terms such as tenant engagement, tenant involvement, tenant consultation to label something they never ever get around to defining – Let’s engage with, consult with and involve tenants with what exactly?

How about let’s give tenants a say in rent increases?  As average social housing rent levels between 2010 and 2017 increased 34.2% and three time wage inflation of 10.8% when tenants have clearly had no say in that have they?  Yet this is where any form of social tenant role must start and especially when discussing power as for 99.99% of the circa 6 million adults who live in social housing are concerned about rent levels and getting repairs done.

increases and inflations 2010 to 2017

Note: The 34.2% is the overall SRS average rent increase and the yellow line is the average Housing Benefit increase and which shows that social (sic) landlords are even shafting the poorest tenants, the HB cohort.

IF their so-called social landlords are free to increase rents by three times the rate of wage inflation and double the rate of prices inflation then why would they be bothered to involve themselves with anything else.

The same goes for the surveys and articles we read that say housing associations have cut their repairs spend by 14% and 12% in the last two years.

It is not about listening as Tom says it is about deeds and actions.

Frankly social landlords are taking the urine out of their existing customers the tenants and their families with unacceptably high rent (and service charge) increases and less and less of a repairs service.  Pay more and get less service are what landlords are imposing on the tenant and tenants think they are powerless to stop it.

Tom then goes on to discuss power:

Fear of losing control and power is often at the root of a reluctance to truly embrace tenant power in housing today. We are happy to work with tenants in a limited way but we often draw the line at full involvement and true tenant power. And as Julia said we are still fearful of those who criticise loudly when we are wrong. Unless housing leaders are truly willing to genuinely share power with tenants we will not achieve full tenant engagement. This involves giving up some control. Something that many leaders find difficult

Tom, I respectfully and strongly disagree with you here.

Firstly as I say above what is this ethereal concept of sharing power if tenants cannot have a say or even a veto on rent rises and repair spend reductions?  You have to define what the vague phrase tenant power means and in practical terms yet nobody ever has or will define it.

Secondly, and far more importantly, I emphasise your words share power as unless tenants can veto excessive rent rises and excessive repair spend cuts then they have no power at all do they and the word power is meaningless and just another landlord PR stunt to give an appearance of being a social one – which their rent increases and repair cuts belie.

Thirdly, if as you rightly say landlords will never give up one iota of real and genuine power then it is time that tenants grasped power for themselves and organized their own national tenants union.

Around six million adult VOTERS live in ‘social’ housing and logically that would make them THE largest political power group if they did organize.  A body that would easily have the power to force any Government to abandon plans for inflation busting rent rises and to force any Government to put up the capital subsidy funding as the SHOUT report called for and to veto above inflation rent rises.

Anything less than this such as the Colin Wiles idea you mention of all tenants being shareholders is simply not enough as is any other radical plan which you rightly say is needed. Anything less won’t give tenants the power they need and the power that social landlords need to stop the vicissitudes of the current Tory governments who are predisposed to kill off social housing.

Social landlords don’t have that power but 6 million social tenant voters do.

It is time they exercised their massive latent power and wielded that power which landlords are never going to give them


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