Opinion: Is there hope after Surviving Squalor on ITV? | News

Opinion: Is there hope after Surviving Squalor on ITV?

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN CEO

Yes, but only if we treat it as a big wake-up call. For 25 years the Housing Quality Network has been trying to boost standards in social housing. We want to do what it says on the tin.

Now, we have to thank ITV for shining a spotlight on the sector and spurring us on.

Apologising on the spot and without any flim-flam is the least any landlord must do before going on to fix the problem. And the landlords I’ve been speaking to that were on ITV did just that. No burying their head in the sand, they got on with it.

When you look at Twitter, more and more tenants are reporting their landlords to ITV. The criticism is just, and it’s not going away.

So, what can we learn from those that have been on already?

The biggest issue by far is that lots of staff saw these problems coming and nothing happened. None of the disgusting conditions spotted by ITV were a surprise to staff, but too often they were a bolt from the blue to top management.

Are all the hours spent on reporting to boards, councils, and regulators absolutely necessary? Do the demands of the job get in the way of leaders talking to the frontline, listening to tenants, and looking at estates? Is this wise? Time is finite, so we must use it well.

You’ll find out more from the young folk in the call centre or the operatives in the vans than you will from anyone else. They’re the beginning and end of your brand in the eyes of residents. Speak to them.

If they’re not listening to the residents, no one is. Jenny Osborne of Tpas has called for more empathy: it needs to start at the frontline and run through the organisation like the lettering in a stick of rock.

Think of it as a race to find out bad news. You’d better win it. The sooner you get a sniff of a problem, the more time you’ve got to put things right for the tenant.

If you don’t get in early, you’ll be piecing the story together from scraps under pressure when the complaint that shames you comes in. And the odds are that it will one fine day. Many sound people just like you are working at the landlords featured by ITV.

We’re going to be on the TV a lot unless we have well-trained, keen staff that are upfront with us. That’s the simple truth. And I know it’s not always easy to recruit the right people, but the job of a leader is to be wide open to internal criticism. Because if you don’t listen, someone else will.

Of course money will be a factor. By this stage every landlord should know how much money it needs to spend on its homes and where the funding gaps are. The RSH have been very strong on this and deserves praise here. Thanks to their efforts, every landlord ought to have the diagnosis. But what about the cure? I doubt there will be enough cash in the system to fix all the problems spotted by ITV. Let’s have a moment of reckoning with government.

Finally, what ITV has shown us is just how easy it is to set up a consumer regulator. A small team of crack journalists using social media has done the job in a matter of months. They’ve gathered reliable intelligence and named and shamed landlords very quickly indeed. As far as I can make out, no one is appealing against their findings.

I agree 100% that many landlords must do better and HQN will do everything we can to help people get on with that.

But dearie me, this is another example of how dire some parts of the government machine can be. How long has it been since Grenfell?

We’ve got a lot to learn from what ITV’s Daniel Hewitt and Sophie Alexander are broadcasting. So, I thank them – but at the same time there’s a clear and present danger.

Until we put our house in order, social housing is under threat. Will ministers use the scenes from the programme as an excuse to cut and run and divert money elsewhere? We’ve all got to strain every sinew to get back our good name. The Housing Quality Network stands ready to help.