Tenant consultation – who, how and when?
While it may be considered a 'soft' discipline when compared to more nuts-and-bolts matters like undertaking repairs or setting rents, tenant consultation is an important aspect of the work of a social landlord.
Do you need to consult?
Consultation duties can stem from a tenancy contract or statute, or more generally from the recently revised RSH's Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard.
Most commonly, a duty to consult will be triggered, where:
- There's a planned significant change to housing management for example, demolitions and redevelopments, closure of facilities, outsourcing of repairs or other services, changes to tenant involvement structures such as TMOs, or altered tenant services.
- Alterations are proposed to tenants' rights for example, removal of 'rent free' weeks, changes in mutual exchange or succession policies, alterations to services (all subject to the terms of individual tenancy agreements and in relation to service charges, the consultation requirements of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985).
- A stock transfer or corporate restructure/merger is proposed: which would cause a change in the identity or nature of the landlord or its business (the statutory consultation required prior to a LSVT of tenanted council housing to a housing association is beyond the scope of this article).
Who will be affected?
Tenants who are to be affected by the proposed change must be consulted, as well as tenants' groups. There is no minimum number of tenants who must be affected before the duty is triggered – so if a single tenanted dwelling is to be transferred, the tenant of that dwelling must be properly consulted.
Landlords should give consideration to the 'reach' of consultation methods – does the message get to all tenants who need to know? How can hard-to-reach groups be included? Would different methods of consultation (e.g. emails, roadshows, meet-ups) extend reach and make consultation more effective? What about 'hard to reach' tenants?
How and when?
Consultations must be carried out fairly and on a genuine basis. They must be undertaken when the proposals are still at a formative stage, and adequate time given for tenants to consider the material and respond by a given deadline. Language should be conditional (e.g. 'would be' rather than 'will') to make it clear no decision has yet been made.
Proposals and rationale must be set out in an appropriate amount of detail – enough to allow tenants to understand the implications, but not so much that the information confuses. Options should be outlined, and actual and potential advantages and disadvantages (with costs) to tenants should be explained as these will apply both in the immediate and the longer term.
Responses must be taken into account when finalising any proposals and a board meeting should discuss the consultation and take responses into account, before a final decision is made. Timing is critical with major decisions that could require tenant consultation. Landlords should be able to demonstrate to tenants (and the Regulator) how they have taken the consultation outcome into account when reaching a decision.