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25 June 2020

The shared responsibilities of housing associations with residents

The shared responsibilities of housing associations with residents
This week, we launched Safety First in Housing, a framework developed in partnership with Welsh Government, which will support housing associations to achieve and maintain a transparent approach to health and safety matters with their residents. It is the first of its kind in the UK.

The safety of tenants is paramount for housing associations and they work tirelessly in order to uphold the highest possible standards. Safety First in Housing will support the development of a safety engagement strategy based on three core principles: transparency, openness and accountability.

These are important principles for all of our members, and all will aim to achieve them in their own unique way. The framework gives housing associations the flexibility to support their tenants and ensure safe and healthy home environments, in a way that is most appropriate for the culture and practices of their organisation.

Three years on, the tragic events at Grenfell should still keep fresh in our minds why genuine two-way engagement with tenants is so important, and what the consequences can be if this is neglected. Those events have rightly made housing associations reflect on what effective engagement with their residents means, and became a key aspect of Safety First in Housing. The document provides a consistent framework to develop the relationship between landlords and residents on health and safety, and outlines how routes of communication should be established if they are not already in place.

Of course, this document has not been developed without the input of those who know best – housing associations and their tenants. We brought together those with in-depth experiences and understanding of health and safety, who were able to provide insights and knowledge on what the framework should cover and the commitments that should be made. We also engaged with tenants at TPAS’ Annual Conference to test the content of the framework, to understand the experiences of tenants receiving safety information, and to ask what safety information they think should be shared, how it should be shared, and how they raise concerns with their landlords.

Rebuilding the trust of tenants and strengthening the relationship with landlords was a key theme with residents, and it was clear that the fire at Grenfell unearthed and created great feelings of distrust, helplessness and detachment. Our learnings are reflected in Safety First in Housing, but this work must continue into the future.

So, what is the minimum standard of the framework?

By signing up to Safety First in Housing, housing associations are committing to ensure transparency with residents and stakeholders on health and safety matters. It ensures a process is in place to provide relevant and comprehensible health and safety information to tenants.

This includes information on smoke alarms, key advice on fire safety, the fire evacuation strategy, gas safety certificates, asbestos information and electrical safety information. The framework also commits housing associations to provide details on how to access further information on a property, ensure that information and advice takes into account the differing needs of residents, and provide a clear process for raising concerns and complaints.

It is hoped that the framework will form the basis for future regulation in Wales. The principles of the commitments are designed to be adapted to accommodate all tenures, including specialised housing or temporary facilities. They should be applied across the board as a minimum standard, so that all residents of whatever tenure can feel safe and secure in their homes.

It must be remembered that the commitments made to adhere to Safety First in Housing are a minimum standard. Many housing associations will already go above and beyond these to keep their residents safe, and as a sector we have ambitions to take these standards further. We know that a continuous dialogue with residents is crucial to the success of such a framework, as will be its regular review to ensure that tenants are supported on health and safety matters in the most effective way.

Read more about the framework here.