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Social housing tenants face stigma and discrimination

21 July 2022

Social housing tenants in England face such stigma and discrimination that they are often ignored and disrespected by their landlords, a Newcastle University academic has told MPs.

 

A report published this week by the cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee addresses a series of issues relating to the supply, quality and regulation of social housing in England.

The inquiry was launched in November 2021 in light of a series of media reports revealing appalling levels of disrepair in some social housing.

It found that the condition of some social housing in England has deteriorated so badly as to make them unfit for human habitation.

In addition to complaining about the conditions of their homes, the Committee heard that some tenants are also concerned about the quality of service they receive and how they are treated or spoken to by their housing provider.

The outside of flats in London

Dr Amanze Ejiogu, Senior Lecturer in Accounting at Newcastle University Business School, told the group of MPs that research he had carried out with Dr Mercy Denedo from Durham University, had highlighted “countless” cases of tenants being ignored after requesting repairs. When repairs were carried out, the work was often completed with disrespect and a lack of regard for the tenants. 

They explained that the Grenfell Tower fire had helped to highlight the stigma experienced by social housing tenants by shedding light on the ineffective, discriminatory and dismissive complaints procedures. Their research had heard “several examples of social housing professionals and their contractors stigmatising tenants through their lack of respect when engaging with tenants, ignoring repair requests, ignoring anti-social behaviour complaints and using derogatory rhetoric.”

In their ‘Regulation of Social Housing’ report, the LHUC Committee says that social housing providers must significantly improve their complaint handling process, and points to a power imbalance between social housing tenants and housing providers as one of the biggest problems facing the sector today.

The report recommends that providers be required to support the establishment of a genuinely independent and representative tenant and resident association and calls on the Government to establish a national body for tenants’ voices to drive up standards in social housing.  

It also recommends that providers ensure their boards and senior management teams better reflect the diversity of their communities and calls on the regulator to incorporate this requirement into its revised consumer standards.

Dr Ejiogu said: “We welcome the Committee’s recognition that stigma is linked to a power imbalance between landlords and tenants as well as the absence of a genuine and strong tenant voice at local, regional and national levels. While the Committee makes recommendations for the permanent establishment of the Social Housing Quality Resident Panel (SHQRP) as the National Tenant Voice, we believe that currently, the SHQRP lacks the independence, autonomy and scope to fulfil the role."

What is required is an independent and genuinely tenant-run organisation, devoid of external control and influence, which can advocate for tenants.

Dr Amanze Ejiogu, Senior Lecturer in Accounting

Dr Denedo, Assistant Professor in Accounting, Durham University Business School, added: “Addressing stigma requires a change in organisational culture within housing providers such that a stigma consciousness is imprinted into their DNA. This can only be achieved with focused and sustained action on stigma by boards and senior management teams. In addition, tackling stigma in social housing also requires that rhetoric that stigmatises tenants is challenged, and an awareness of stigma be embedded in political narratives and housing policies as these impact on societal and media narrative on social housing.”

In addition to evidence from Dr Ejiogu and Dr Denedo, the MPs also heard from social housing tenants directly about their experiences and ran a survey that received more than 600 responses. They also visited two social housing sites to hold a roundtable discussion with tenants.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, said: “Too many social housing tenants are living in uninhabitable homes and experiencing appalling conditions and levels of disrepair, including serious damp and mould, with potential serious impacts on their mental and physical health.

“The poor complaint handling process of some providers not only adds insult to injury but the resulting delays in resolving tenant complaints actively contributes to the levels of disrepair. Sadly, beyond the distress of experiencing poor living conditions it is undeniable that tenants also face poor treatment from providers who discriminate and stigmatise people because they are social housing tenants. This must change. Providers need to up their game to treat tenants with dignity and respect and put tenants at the centre of how they deliver housing services, including by regularly monitoring the condition of their housing stock.”

Press release adapted in part with thanks to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee.