Making tenants’ voices heard at Bernicia

As early adopters of Together with Tenants, Bernicia has used the initiative to assess and improve resident engagement practices. The Charter has been a guide in collecting valuable feedback, enhancing engagement, and fostering positive change. 

What's the story?

As an early adopter of the Together with Tenants Charter, Bernicia has taken a reflective approach to evaluate its engagement and involvement practices. The Together with Tenants Charter provided a framework to consolidate valuable feedback from residents, align engagement efforts, and drive positive change from learnings. Embracing diverse voices within the organisation has helped us become committed to active listening, smarter strategies, and increased accountability.

What did we do?

At Bernicia, we saw our adoption of the Together with Tenants Charter as a fresh start rather than a complete overhaul. Recognising the importance of co-designing services with our tenants, we collaborated closely with them to develop a 'golden thread' approach.

The first step involved gathering tenants' views on our existing services. Subsequently, we utilised this valuable intelligence to refresh service standards and create tailored local offers. These insights were then published and promoted, allowing tenants to monitor and hold us accountable.

Our five-pillar approach consisted of:

  1. Methodology
  2. Consulting
  3. Developing and designing
  4. Publishing and promoting
  5. Delivering, monitoring and accountability

Our 'Your Say, Services Your Way' campaign played a pivotal role in gathering feedback from over 2,700 tenants, even amidst the challenges posed by Coronavirus. Their input not only addressed the services provided but also emphasised the significance of how services are delivered, focusing on effective communication, visibility, individualised options, and streamlined processes.

Empowered by this valuable intelligence, we have revitalised our operational service offers, consolidating them into a succinct 'Bernicia Promise'.

For each service, we set out what tenants can expect so they can tell us if we fail to deliver our promise. In ‘keeping our promise’, we commit to being accountable to tenants by being open, honest and transparent about our performance and how we operate.

Our promise:

  • Your customer experience - A customer experience that lets you know we care about you. Our people will be friendly, helpful, respectful and flexible to your needs.
  • Your home - A quality and reliable repairs service that’s easy to access and gets repairs done right first time wherever possible. A place to call home which makes you feel safe and secure and where you are proud to live.
  • Your tenancy - A fair process for letting properties, making it easy to understand the allocations and letting process and how we can support you when you’re living at home.
  • Your neighbourhood - A neighbourhood that is well maintained, clean and safe, enabling you to enjoy the community and place where you live.
  • Your rent and charges - Rent and charges that are easy to understand, are affordable and provide value for money. Simple ways to pay and view your account, open and transparent about how your rent is calculated and spent.

Each element of this promise is supported by metrics chosen by tenants, which are measured and reported on regularly. This process allows us to stay true to our commitment to continually improve our services to meet the needs and expectations of our valued residents.

What's been the impact?

Adopting Together with Tenants has helped us establish a clear and transparent process for developing commitments and being accountable for our delivery. The 'Bernicia Promise' is now supported by comprehensive service standards, ensuring tenants know what to expect and how to address any service gaps. This approach has fostered strong relationships and trust, with tenants valuing our honesty and colleagues taking pride in our service offer.

In response to the valuable feedback received during the 'Your Say, Services Your Way' campaign, we have implemented several positive changes:

  • Improved communication - We launched a tenant-focused website that provides easy access to promises, performance data, and up-to-date news.
  • Enhanced visibility - A proportion of grounds maintenance services have been insourced, allowing tenants to witness the positive impact in their communities.
  • Personalised service - At each interaction, we ensure that tenant details are up-to-date, reflecting our commitment to treating individuals with care and respect.
  • Streamlined services - More self-service options have been introduced, and our high-performing call centre continues to meet tenant preferences.

To assess the impact of these changes, we have implemented multiple processes to capture, collect, and learn from tenant feedback.

Guided by a smaller group of highly informed and empowered tenants, the Tenant Voice Panel and Customer Feedback Panel play a crucial role in validating tenant perspectives. They actively contribute to decision-making, prioritise improvements, and align our actions with tenant needs. These panels are firmly integrated into our governance structure and maintain a strong relationship with our Customer Services Committee, which includes three tenant members.

As part of their responsibilities, involved tenants conduct an annual compliance check, ensuring that we continuously adhere to the principles of the Together with Tenants Charter. This ongoing commitment reflects our dedication to maintaining a positive and collaborative relationship with our tenants, always striving to enhance their experience and meet their expectations.


What barriers, challenges, points of learning did you identify?

Initially, our plan for the 'Your Say, Services Your Way' campaign involved in-person interactions through roadshows, events, meetings, and individual visits, aiming to engage tenants where they live. However, the outbreak of Coronavirus disrupted our plans, forcing a shift to a digital campaign that still encouraged meaningful tenant participation.

Despite the challenges, careful planning enabled us to achieve high levels of engagement, reaching a representative sample of tenants through the digital approach. While feedback on the campaign was positive, we recognise the importance of exploring a wider range of options in the future to ensure inclusivity and comprehensive feedback.

Crafting a succinct 'Promise' proved to be another challenge, requiring input from involved tenants to find the right words, terminology, and tone for the promise and supporting service standards. Similarly, selecting appropriate metrics that resonated most with tenants required active involvement and input from those affected, ultimately leading to metrics that truly mattered to them.

Throughout this journey, we have learned the value of flexibility, creativity, and the significance of engaging tenants directly in decision-making processes. Their perspectives have been instrumental in shaping the success of our Together with Tenants initiative, reinforcing our commitment to listening, learning, and continually improving our services to meet tenant expectations.

What can others learn from your experiences?

Our experience with Together with Tenants has been transformative, not only consolidating our relationships with tenants but also fostering a culture that recognises the interdependent nature of this partnership, rooted in trust, obligations, and responsibilities. Emphasising the significance of all touch points of engagement, we celebrate the immense value of the tenant voice and ensure full engagement across our organisation.

To maximise the impact of tenant feedback, having the right systems in place to channel their voices and produce meaningful insights is crucial. Utilising these insights, we drive tangible outcomes that benefit our tenants, while also keeping them informed about the difference their voices make. Maintaining high levels of engagement and trust is essential.

Lastly, embedding the engagement framework firmly within our governance structure allows for a clear flow of the tenants' voices throughout the organisation, ensuring visibility, review, and strategic reporting. Learning from our journey, others can create a harmonious and collaborative relationship with their tenants, building a stronger, more tenant-led housing association.

In its simplest form this means:

Resident engagement chart from Berncia

External recognition

In 2021, tpas assessed our tenant voice arrangements against their National Engagement Standards. This was a positive experience which showed we met all standards and excelled in three of these.

Together with Tenants is the only way you can do this.

                                               Tpas review of Bernicia's resident involvement activities

Who to speak to

Evelyn Williams, Policy Officer