A blog from involved customer and Scrutiny Group member, Julia.
I’ve been a tenant in South Staffordshire for 24 years. For the last eight of those I have been what’s called an ‘involved customer’. I’m part of the Scrutiny group and joined the Housing Ombudsman’s national Resident Panel in 2021.
With a full-time job it can be hard to fit everything in but you know what they say – if you want something doing, ask a busy person!
For me, it’s about doing something that helps other people. Homes Plus wants to place the customer at the centre of the services that we receive and the new My Voice platform provides a range of different ways for people to express their views and provide feedback. As part of the Scrutiny group, I see my role as representing those views and giving tenants a strong, collective voice.
This year, the Scrutiny group has been really closely involved with work to review customer-facing policies as they have been updated following the harmonisation of our landlords. Those policies have included Complaints, Compensation and the Quality Homes Standard. You will start to notice a Customer Friendly stamp, giving the assurance that new documents and information have been approved by involved customers.
We are here to offer challenge, focus on the customer experience and suggest improvements.
It isn’t a negative or defensive relationship. We are seen as ‘critical friends’ and are given the training and support that we need to hold the business to account. There is listening and learning on both sides. Sometimes, we gain a better understanding of why a particular decision has been made. At other times, we can provide an important insight into the impact of a service on the customers who receive it.
It feels rewarding when I can see that Homes Plus is listening and respecting our views. For instance the complaints information has been reworded to make it easier to access and training for new staff will now include sessions on the importance of empathy and respect for customers.
Last year, I applied to become part of the Housing Ombudsman’s Resident Panel. I probably wouldn’t have done that without the confidence I have gained through being on the Scrutiny group. I didn’t expect to get very far and was surprised and delighted to hear that I had been accepted.
The Resident panel allows us to learn from each other and promote excellence. It is making sure that the voice of customers is clearly heard in the response of the ombudsman to complaints received by housing associations right across the country. We are already seeing significant changes, as a result.
In 2022 I had the opportunity for another ‘first’. I was asked to help prepare the Homes Plus annual report, for customers. I’ve really enjoyed that and it has opened my eyes to the work that goes on behind the scenes. I was closely consulted at the beginning and said that as customers, we want the report to be short, to the point and concentrating on what we need to know.
For us, our priority is how the association has spent our rent. So now, that information is right at the start of the report. There are links to articles where people can read more and animations to bring the facts and figures to life. It even meant me recording a short film introducing the report. Although my job involves speaking to people every day, that was very nerve wracking!
Each year, there is a special focus on the work of tenant-led scrutiny, during Scrutiny Week. In 2022, Scrutiny Week takes place between 3-7 October and if you look for the #ScrutinyWeek on social media, you will find lots of great examples of the impact of scrutiny on communities, services and people.
Scrutiny Week is presented by TPAS, the national tenant engagement experts. Homes Plus is a member of TPAS, meaning that any customer can access the free training, live and pre-recorded webinars that they offer. Visit tpas.org.uk to see what’s available.
I think it is great that there is a dedicated week to showcase scrutiny success and encourage networking. Even more important though, is that really good scrutiny happens all year.
Read the Homes Plus annual report for customers here.