Change in action: involving residents in decision making with Ongo Community Voice

09 May 2024

Change in action 

In December 2023, the National Housing Federation (NHF) and Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) published a joint update on our work on the Better Social Housing Review (BSHR), one year since the independent panel made seven recommendations for the social housing sector.

Our ‘Change in action’ series of case studies highlights best practice so far from housing associations navigating the changes set out in the BSHR. If you have a question about the recommendations, or want to get in touch, please contact us.

Tenant involvement is at the heart of Ongo. It’s a key part of what we do, and is embedded as one of our corporate objectives. We have a dedicated Customer Engagement team to facilitate and deliver our involvement opportunities. However, colleagues at all levels play their part in engaging tenants.

We offer a full choice of opportunities which are actively promoted to all tenants, using different communication methods and campaigns throughout the year. From joining groups to engaging through surveys, complaints, compliments, service/topic themed focus groups and even sitting on our Boards.

Our recognised tenant body, Community Voice (CV), has full decision making power on all customer facing operational policies, and tenant shareholders hold a 56% vote at Ongo Homes AGMs.

This enables tenants to hold us to account, monitor performance, influence improvements and future service provision.

Overcoming challenges

We wanted to improve our membership recruitment, to ensure we were attracting and retaining members of the CV body.

We moved monthly meetings to a blended model, where members could join digitally from home as well as the option to attend in person. We also change the date and time of meetings each month to enable more people to attend.

Finding a suitable venue able to safely and comfortably accommodate the growing number of attendees, including wheelchair users, and ensuring fit for purpose facilities, was becoming more difficult.

We addressed the issue by moving CV meetings to our Community Hub in the middle of a busy estate. The hub is all on one level, is wheelchair friendly and has a community café where attendees can meet to socialise before or after meetings.

It’s important that CV facilitates real empowerment. The group has its own officers to chair meetings and discuss and manage their own devolved budget. Other powers in place include hiring trainers, paying travel and expenses for attendees, and purchasing assistive technology for attendees to engage effectively.

The officers meet monthly with the Customer Engagement Manager to agree the forward agenda and also to reflect on the previous meeting.

Ensuring a representative voice 

After researching our tenant diversity profiles in 2021, we identified that around 4% of our tenants were under the age of 30. However, our current CV membership didn’t reflect this. The team set to work: 

  • Using customer feedback from newly-introduced text messaging surveys to make changes. 
  • Hosting more community action days in neighbourhoods with low representation, incorporating door-knocks, improvement work, games and activities.  
  • Setting up a Digital Tenants group to test and provide ideas on our online services, including our tenant portal, My Home. This began with five members, and now stands at 19. Main achievements include influencing improvements to our repairs service and making rent statements easier to access. 

Following this work, the percentage of engaged younger tenants is now on average 9%. 

Informing, consulting and engaging with tenants 

Community Voice receive monthly performance information, including anti-social behaviour, health and safety and compliance. This enables them to question, challenge and influence improvements. 

  • Our Residents Building Safety Group helped us to agree the process for engaging with tenants that live in high rise blocks, influenced a newsletter and worked with us to agree our Resident Engagement Framework for building safety. 
  • Tenant Inspectors carry out estate checks, inspections of internal communal areas (within retirement living schemes and tower blocks) and inspections of ready to let empty homes. They also carry out mystery shop exercises. Failings identified are rated using a traffic light system and are shared with staff for rectification. Trends are highlighted and tracked over time to ensure improvements are realised. 
  • Supporting and working with resident associations and community groups helps us to identify and address issues out in the community such as fly-tipping and other anti-social behaviour. 
  • A tenant workshop was convened to agree our new Neighbourhood Standard. 
  • We involve tenants in the Regulator for Social Housing consumer standard self-assessments, workshops and recruitment of key positions. 

Influence in action 

CV has directly debated, influenced and approved many policies and frameworks, including: 

  • Damp and mould. 
  • Repair priorities. 
  • Mobility scooters. 
  • Special accommodation. 
  • Tenancy management. 
  • Customer engagement. 
  • Annual rent and service charges. 
  • Mutual exchange.

The group has also rejected certain policies, including a draft Net Zero policy which they felt could go further and be more ambitious. 
A CV workshop was held following feedback that it was difficult to find garages to rent and no information on whether they could also be used for storage. We improved our digital information and ran a marketing campaign to promote this. As a result empty garages were reduced from 251 to 80.  

Operating at the highest level

We hold the TPAS (Tenant Participatory Advisory Service) Exemplar accreditation and Leaders in Diversity accreditation (National Centre for Diversity) to ensure we’re operating at the highest level in involving tenants and being fair to all.  
These assist us to achieve our customer engagement outcomes. Going down the process of accreditations re-focusses the mind on the core requirements, whilst also identifying new and emerging best practice themes or changes in regulation. 
Getting customers involved in this process helps them to really question whether we are doing all we should be doing in terms of engagement, empowerment, listening and acting on feedback. By upskilling their knowledge they are more equipped to provide critical challenge, and enable us to improve our service delivery.