Monday, 19 October 2009

Just Where And To Whom Does A Quango's Responsibility Lie?

As a result of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the Tenant Services Authority (TSA) was created and took over the statutory duties of the Housing Corporation.

If one looks at any housing association website and their 'raison d'etre' one will find they all make great mention of their respect for tenants, especially those in sheltered accommodation and whose residents are generally elderly and vulnerable and all their 'Mission Statements' waffle on about  tenants concerns, involving tenants in matters affecting them. To pick some housing associations at random, consider Cottsway Housing Association - which is the preferred provider of West Oxfordshire District Council.  "As a dynamic and progressive housing association, we are very clear about our aims, objectives and aspirations for the future. In particular, we are committed to providing an efficient and effective housing service that meets our customers’ needs"  and "We want to make it easier for residents to get involved in the decision making and the monitoring of our services and activities". Consider also Sovereign Vale Housing Association who state in the section 'tenant involvement, in turn within the section 'services': "At Vale we ensure that by putting our residents at the heart of decision making, residents drive our service delivery improvements forward in a way that is what they want rather than what we think they want.".

In particular, consider Riverside Housing Association which 'took over' English Churches Housing Association. In one sheltered accommodation complex Riverside/ECHG have elderly and vulnerable tenants living in flats with 'open' asbestos (brown - one of the dangerous variety), a 95 year-old lady who has had rainwater ingress through light fittings, fire-doors which are supposed to automatically close when the fire alarm sounds and don't, paths in the garden where slabs have lifted and which, due to algae growth are like a skating rink in the wet and carpets with holes in which are a 'trip hazard'. Have these matters been dealt with? No. Why? Because Riverside are in the process of selling ECHG's stock in West Oxfordshire to another housing association and obviously do not wish to spend money (which they haven't got) on what they consider to be 'unnecessary' repairs. Numerous complaints and requests for information have gone answered. As an aside, the process of transferring stock is subject to oversight of a 'Panel' which includes three tenant representatives, whose views are that they are being 'side-lined' - however that is another matter and will be the subject of a separate post, once the process has finished - which should be in about 10 days time - and you will not believe what you will be reading!

The TSA's own website echoes the aim of 'looking after tenants' and, under the section 'Who we are' states "First and foremost, we are a champion for tenants – standing up for their interests and aspirations, and putting their needs first." But - and as we all know there is always a 'but' -  in the section 'Frequently asked questions' it also states "TSA does not normally investigate tenant or leaseholder complaints or get involved in disputes between an association and an individual or group of complainants. However, we might investigate a matter directly with an association if we’re concerned about a specific issue or if we see any patterns or trends appearing in the complaints received. In these circumstances we will look at overall performance matters and will not resolve or report back on individual or group complaints.  All complaints, including those about service charges, repairs and maintenance must be taken up directly with the housing association." The two statements are, as can be seen, a direct contradiction when considering their 'raison d'etre'.

So who do tenants complain to? In respect of asbestos - where work has been carried out and sections of asbestos removed without adherence to the necessary regulations - the Health & Safety Executive and Environmental Health would seem to be reasonable bodies to approach, but then you find that each states it is the other that is responsible. Then, in desperation, you turn to your MP. Unfortunately, your MP is also Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition and is obviously an extremely busy man, however you hope that at least an acknowledgement from his office might be forthcoming. Following two e-mails, plus one from your local Conservative District Councillor, the response is Zilch, Nada, Nothing!

So, when the housing association concerned does not respond, when two government quangos cannot decide who is responsible for a health issue and your MP does not respond to your pleas for help - just who the hell do you turn to?

In answer to the question posed as a heading to this post, obviously quangos - and possibly MPs - were not created for the benefit of the public, the very section of society about who they should be most concerned!

Update: On 20th October contact was made by the office of my MP, apologising for the lack of contact, and an appointment agreed. Whilst no proof is available, it would seem that someone 'tipped off' Conservative Home - so can one, once again, presume the blogosphere is 'all powerful'?


Mark Wadsworth said...

They are run for the benefit of themselves.

Lola said...

I run a FS business regulated by the FSA - a Super Quango (Failed).

Some time ago I spent an hour or so on the 'phone discussing, nay challenging' yet another piece of FSA stupidity. Eventually they agreed that I was right and what they had prescribed was stupid and unworkable, but that I would do as they said or they'd 'shut me down'. I kid you not.