Councillors question why housing providers are ‘marking their own homework’

Overview and scrutiny panel criticises the way housing associations are asked by Barnet Council to comment on their own performance, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Hendon Town Hall and (inset) scrutiny committee member Arjun Mittra
Hendon Town Hall and (inset) scrutiny committee member Arjun Mittra

Barnet councillors have proposed changes to the way registered housing providers report their annual performance – to place more focus on tenant voices.

The annual performance review of providers of social housing in the borough was critiqued by councillors on Tuesday (23rd) at an overview and scrutiny committee as it was felt providers were “marking their own homework”. 

Labour committee member Arjun Mittra said there was a gap between resident experience and the provider ratings in the report and asked for more clarity on how results were gathered.

Using housing association Notting Hill Genesis as an example, which was in the top three for satisfaction, he said he had “never dealt with a housing association worse”.

Cllr Mittra said: “The quality of their repair work is absolutely appalling, I’ve never spoken to a resident of theirs who expressed any form of satisfaction with the service that they’d had.” 

Nicola Bird, Barnet Council’s housing development partnership manager who worked on the report, said the information presented was based on results from questionnaires sent to all the housing associations, to gather how they were performing in key areas. 

Cllr Mittra responded: “So they’ve marked their own homework.”

He said this afforded them the opportunity to say “how great they were doing”, no matter “how rubbish” the quality of service was residents. 

Cllr Mittra asked for more “direct” engagement with tenants and residents and to reconsider the approach to how this performance data was gathered, describing it as “bland corporate HQ nonsense”.

Fellow Labour committee member Emma Whysall further questioned the validity of ratings, saying for the customer satisfaction section, which was administered by the providers in percentages, there was no indicator of “questions asked” or “methodology used”. 

Cllr Whysall said for this reason you could not “draw a conclusion”, as you could not compare two providers with each other as there was a lack of “standardisation”. 

In response Ross Houston, cabinet member for homes and regeneration, said within the sector itself there was a new regulatory regime coming in which would “lead to a lot more standardisation” into how things were recorded.

Councillors were happy to hear there would be a “refresh” in the formatting of future reports. 

Deciding on feedback to the cabinet, the committee made the recommendations to have more transparency around the comparative data, looking at how results were gathered, and explore possibly inviting tenants, residential associations and housing providers to future meetings.

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