Earlier in the year, we had an invite from SOHA Housing to come along to their offices to meet the Minister of State for Housing, Alok Sharma. The Minister had been asked by the Prime Minister to travel the country to gauge the views of residents of Social Housing about the issues that are affecting them now. Thus far he had visited, York, East Anglia and Birmingham when we met him in Oxford.
We invited 10 tenants to come along to the event where they discussed their concerns with other tenants from the region. The Minister sat with the groups listening to their conversations and answering their questions where he could.
At the end of the round table talks, the main topics were summarised, with the Minister promising to write to all of the tenants present with feedback of the day and to provide everyone with a copy of the green paper that the output from these countrywide meetings would feed into.
The Minister spoke about the terrible tragedy at Grenfell earlier in the year and that the investigation should be completed around Easter time. He commented on the importance of carrying out an independent review of building regulations, without Government intervention.
The main points that came out of the round table discussions were:
Financial Incentives - for tenants to downsize, and to include pensioners in this, as they are currently unaffected by the section of the Welfare Reform Act ('bedroom tax').
The need to support the vulnerable - and to work with the various partners to achieve this. There were also points raised around anti-social behaviour, in particular around investment into youth services within the community.
Communications - specifically about the language used (especially for those where English is not the fist tongue). Some tenants highlighted the lack of communication between tenants and their landlords.
Independent Complaints resolution and Scrutiny - and making landlords accountable 0 where does the 'buck' stop? There was also a conversation about making tenants accountable, especially with regards to the condition of their properties and their behaviours.
Universal Credit - not to treat those transferring to Universal Credit as a new claim; the financial impact on claimants waiting for their claims to come into payment.
Government Funding - how tenants don't feel 'valued' because of reduced funding. There was a point made about cutting debt in line with lost income and how the debt settlement should be re-opened.
Swindon Council tenants spoke about the difficulties faced by those switching to Universal Credit from other benefits. They also stressed the need for Government departments to work better together and to communicate more effectively.
They said that they found the event interesting and it was good to meet tenants from different areas.