Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

To Make HAs Better Landlords, Make Them Better Employers!

The government has published a paper seeking views on their 'vision' for social housing, which they say should provide "safe, secure homes that help people get on with their lives." If this is truly their aim, then government needs to focus not just on measures directly aimed at tenants, residents and service users, but on the way that housing associations treat their staff too. 

 

Our branch represents members in around 170 housing associations. On a daily basis, through individual casework and collective disputes, our reps and officers receive a litany of complaints about bullying management, draconian and counter-productive policies, and cuts to pay and other terms and conditions. Often, the excuse used by HA executives is that it is necessary to keep down staffing costs in order to invest in housing development and services to tenants. In fact, the money saved through these efficiency drives is rarely invested in such worthy causes, ending up recycled instead into HA executive salaries. Inside Housing reported that CEO pay within the sector rose by "an inflation-busting increase of 4%", much higher than any settlements reported by our members, and that "the average housing officer earned £21,000 – a rise of 2.2% on the previous year". Top earners receive salaries not far off £400k. The evidence also shows that the current agenda is failing miserably on delivering housing which is affordable to  rent or buy (see our earlier analysis of the Green Paper here). Nor is the sector's record on handling complaints benefitting from these 'efficiencies'. The Housing Ombudsman reported earlier in the year that the number of complaints that went forward into their formal remit for investigation after completing the landlord’s complaints procedure increased by 7%" (here). 

 

 

While the discussion paper's aims are laudable, unless there is more pressure on housing associations to treat their staff fairly, there will be no significant improvement in the standards of services for tenants, residents and other service users. Many of our members care passionately about the work that they do, and stay in the sector because they want meaningful work, even if they could earn more elsewhere. Yet too many are being forced out. When HAs cut the number of fully trained staff, and replace them (if at all) with less qualified and experienced assistants, service users suffer longer waiting times and lower standards of care. When they artificially restrict the amount of time that maintenance staff can spend on repairs, they raise the likelihood that these repairs will be inadequate and of poor quality. When they penalise staff financially for taking time off when they are sick, they force workers to come into work when they are unwell, risking the welfare of those they come into contact with. When workers are offered a real-terms pay cut year-on-year, it increases turnover and means that service users rarely see the same support worker twice in a row, and the transient workforce is unable to gather the length of experience that is needed to deliver truly outstanding service.

 

A review of the articles published on our website stand testament to the deplorable attitudes of housing associations towards their own staff, and by extension, their residents and service users. We recently reported that Catalyst, one of the largest and richest housing associations, unilaterally introduced a sickness policy which resulted in managers being forced to issue formal written warnings to staff who have been signed off as unfit to work by their doctor, and meant that staff reported for work despite being sick (here). We reported on the behaviour of Peabody, another mega-association and a household name, who threaten to move their call centre for Peabody Direct out of London and admit that the majority of staff won't transfer with the service. These staff are expertly trained to pick up on social issues including child safeguarding, domestic violence and poverty, and the loss of their experience will surely put vulnerable people at risk, as well as undermining the quality of this service (here).

 

 

Our news pages abound with such examples, in each case, it is possible to show that when staff pay, terms and working conditions are attacked, there is a knock-on detriment for tenants, residents and service users. Government needs to improve the level of legal protections for employees, and ensure that workers are involved in decision-making on the strategy and direction of their employer. Adopting the 'Sector Standards' developed by this branch would be a good place to start. They need to recognise trade unions in order to safeguard against bad practice and provide a route to redress when employers behave badly. They must also take wages and staffing levels out of comparisons on 'value for money' to end the 'race to the bottom' for employees. Unite campaigns daily on addressing these injustices, and it is only through such measures can a true and lasting improvement in service standards be achieved. This will benefit not just those who work in housing associations, but all those who rely on the vital services they provide.

 

19 August 2018

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