How to Ensure Effective Customer Engagement in Supported Housing

Now that the Regulator of Social Housing has confirmed the final arrangements for Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs), landlords should be doing all they can to prepare for their introduction in April 2023.

The Regulator has specified that landlords collect some of the TSM data via tenant perception surveys. The landlord can decide how to approach this, subject to rules set by the Regulator. There is considerable flexibility in the way that landlords are able to conduct the survey: by post, by phone, face-to-face, online or however is best for their tenants. It will be the landlord’s responsibility to make sure that their survey results are meaningful. This would include ensuring that surveys are carried out in ways that do not stop certain groups of tenants from taking part.

Any form of customer engagement and resident consultation poses very specific issues for those who own or manage supported and sheltered housing. I asked Wendy Green, Coordinator at SHiP for some key takeaways for landlords to ensure effective customer engagement, which could be applied to the design of tenant perception surveys for TSMs.

Q: Wendy, what would you identify as some of the key challenges and issues in embarking on a customer engagement exercise?
In terms of key challenges, the main one is time; making sure you allow more time for planning and ensuring you liaise with supported housing staff at an early stage and not at the end when it’s all designed. Or you might find you are told ‘…that won’t work for people with learning disabilities, hostel residents’ for example.

Another issue to note is to remember to also include residents in agency managed services; they are also your tenants.

Q: What type of options would be suitable to ensure participation?
It is important to get the balance right when looking at a corporate approach versus a personal approach. Recent years have seen a move towards a standardised consultation approach. Consultation must be flexible and in line with customers’ wishes on how to be consulted/how to communicate with you. This may mean a change of approach for some RPs to engage with customers within supported housing or actually even in general needs housing where they have additional support needs. Personalising your approaches is the most inclusive way to conduct consultation and most likely to elicit response. It is important to ensure a range of options are available for participating. This could include online, paper survey, telephone survey or a face-to-face survey. For young people, maybe a simple Surveymonkey or a “free texts” survey can be very effective. A group session can also be very effective in supported housing or sheltered housing.

Q: What about those with learning disabilities and/or autism?
It was fed back to one of our member organisations that a thumbs up/thumbs down response rather than smiley, flat and frowny faces is often considered more appropriate; people said they sometimes ‘didn’t understand’ the faces. Thumbs up/thumbs down is common sign language especially for people with learning disabilities/autism and may be easier to understand.

Q: What ‘top tip’ might you give when planning customer engagement across your supported housing stock?
The key to this is to work closely with your supported housing staff. They know their residents well, they meet with them regularly, they often hold regular house meetings (so a ready-made event!) and they are always keen to have something new on the agenda. Residents in turn are always keen to talk about something different and, where you are able to give an incentive, will appreciate a small thank you voucher or tasty lunch. In some instances, residents have worked with staff to deliver consultation exercises jointly. This offers real empowerment and immense peer support, which puts the group at ease. All this turns a ‘feeling quite difficult’ task, into a really quite easy task to achieve, and something you can feel very proud of at the end. A key measure of how successful a consultation was is if you can evidence ‘what changed?’ There are examples in our recent good practice briefing note.

Q: Are there any good practice guides that would be of assistance for landlords who would like further information?
The National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing (NSE) is a voluntary code which sets out a set of minimum standards for local authorities and providers to apply to supported housing services. SHiP has also produced a publication “Customer Engagement Approaches in Supported Housing” which provides more information and good practice examples and is available on our website.

For more information, please contact Donna McCarthy.

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