Visiting the new Social Security Agency in Dundee

 

Last month, myself and three other City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) tenants (Barbara Stark, Christine and big Jim Galloway (who was the driver) were invited to visit the new Social Security Scotland Agency headquarters in Dundee.  The purpose of the trip was to find out a bit more about the work of the Agency and ask questions.  We first had a meeting with Miriam Craven, (Head of local Delivery and Client Experience of Social Security Scotland) and her colleagues.  We found out some interesting facts and were impressed that our questions were answered not like “oh we’ll get back to you, or I don’t know but will find out.”  We were then shown round the offices which are on the 1st floor of Dundee Council offices it was a real eye opener for us.

We were part of a working group which helped to formulate ETF’s response to the Social Security Scotland consultation and it was good to see that many of our recommendations have already been implemented.  Below is what we each thought of our day in their office.

Myself: I found it very informative, especially reading different stories from people Social Security Scotland have helped by issuing the new Carers Supplement Benefit for those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance.  The supplement is given twice a year and £221.00 is usually given every 6 months. For some families the money is a life saver.

Big Jim: Just a fun day with lots of important information gained by myself.  Being given a chance to speak to the new staff on the front line gave me a good insight into what is happening with the new rules. The company was nice, and a good day was had by all.

Barbara: It was a great day and it was very informative.

Christine: It was very good and to actually see the work in action was brilliant.

One card got the tears to us all, it simply read “This has stopped me from ending it all, the money was a god send I can now feed my kids.” Another card simply read “I can now give my children Christmas presents, thank you”

Sharon Robertson, CEC tenant, Gorgie

Update from ETF Housing Student Placement

 

My name is Cath O’Shea and I was a Housing Studies student from Stirling University who recently finished a placement with ETF.  I would like to share with you some of my experiences and issues that I have encountered during my time at Stirling University and whilst on placement with ETF.

In June, along with other ETF staff and tenants, I attended the Silent Vigil for Grenfell victims. This was a really powerful event which moved me to tears. We stood at the side of Princes Street in the rush hour holding up 72 placards showing individual images of the children and adults who died in the fire at Grenfell. This silent vigil spoke volumes about the importance of ETF’s work.

It was great to meet lots of tenants by carrying out ETF surveys alongside tenant volunteers. Sheltered Housing Tenants from around the city were being asked about their experiences of living in sheltered housing including their thoughts on the service provided by wardens.

The second survey in Citadel and Persevere high rises in Leith involved asking tenants about their experience of the recent improvement works. The results of both these surveys will be analysed in September.

I learnt about what tenant customer scrutiny panels can achieve at Dunedin Canmore Housing Association. The tenants’ group there looked into and are influencing how Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) cases are dealt with.  It’s really important for ETF to maintain links with HAs to share good ideas.

I reviewed Manor Estates website. They can definitely make it more welcoming to tenants and encourage increased tenant participation by making a few changes.  At Manor Estates I was involved in analysing their tenant satisfaction survey. My main learning point is about just how misleading data can be.  Manor Estates are working really hard to try to improve tenant satisfaction and to deliver a quality service. However, their tenant satisfaction level look like it has dropped this year from last by about 20%. The cause of this drop is actually because data was collected very differently this year. Data was collected by text message rather than face-to-face and more importantly the results are based on 150 responses rather than approx. 600 responses collected last year.  Watch out if you’re ever comparing survey responses from year to year or between organisations as the figures you see may not be comparable unless you have the full picture of how they were collected!

I contributed to ETF’s consultation response work writing draft responses for the Social Housing Charter review, the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing post 2020 consultation and an update for tenants on Scotland’s new Social Security Bill.  This is all fairly dry stuff but the devil is in the detail and responding to consultations is a key way to get tenant’s views to shape future services.

When I reflect on my time with ETF and Manor Estates, it’s obvious that Power dynamics are at the heart of issues between landlords and tenants.  There is a need to hold landlords like Councils and Housing Associations to account. Without this, standards will slip. The Human Rights Based Approach that ETF are leading on provides a fresh route to try to balance the power levels between tenants and landlords.

Finally a big highlight for me has been meeting so many nice people, as well as learning a lot about housing and particularly how tenants can get involved to influence and lead on improvements. ETF staff and tenant volunteers are doing amazing work with very limited resources.  I want to say thank you and good luck to all and I hope ETF take on another Housing Studies student next year!

Tower Blocks UK

Let’s make sure tenants voices are heard-to make a difference

Back in the 1980/90s, a group of us campaigned for safety in Tower Blocks resulting in the demolition of nine Large Panel System (LPS) post war blocks in Londons’ Docklands.  This also led to a movement to connect tower block tenants across the country which resulted in many positive outcomes including changes in Building Regulations.

Shocked that the Grenfell Tower fire could have happened we’ve formed a network again and set up a website www.Towerblocksuk.com as a hub for sharing information and resources with groups and individuals who live in, or are concerned about tower block housing safety issues in the UK. Times have changed but not always for the better.  Please visit the website which explores some of the history, why it’s relevant today, how we can now work together, subscribe to the newsletter, or volunteer your experience.  We update the website regularly, especially the news section and upload relevant videos.  We are particularly concerned about LPS blocks as they are reaching the end of their expected lifespan.

Dame Judith Hackett has reviewed Building Regulations since the Grenfell fire and recommended, amongst other things, “effective resident involvement and engagement in order to develop a national culture of engagement for residents of all tenures”.

In June I was fortunate to visit Edinburgh, the Moredun estate and I met with Heather Ford, Maud Wylie, Cath O’Shea and Mark Henry from Edinburgh Tenants Federation.  I was particularly impressed by the progressive Human Rights approach you have taken and your emphasis on how to achieve a proper equal partnership with the Council.  We have much to learn from each other and support each other in. I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a good working partnership which can help to build that national culture ensuring the tenants voice is always heard and acted upon.

Liz Lowe

Tower Blocks UK

My First Deputation

My name is Sharon Robertson and I am a City of Edinburgh Council tenant who’s an avid tenant participator in all things. This blog is the first one I have ever written. It’s about my experience of giving a deputation to councillors earlier this year about rents.

I and two other people, Christine Hudson and Jan Mawdsley wanted to talk about the rent increase proposed by the City of Edinburgh Council and how it would affect not just ourselves but those in difficult financial circumstances, and we asked for the rents to be frozen.

We wanted to present together; we are all individual Council tenants with one active in a tenants’ group. To prepare, we met up a few times to put the deputation in our words; simple with no jargon, so everyone could understand.

Due to the fact that two of us are not members of a tenants’ group we weren’t allowed to give the deputation as individuals. This perturbed us as we are on the Tenants Panel which was setup to allow individual tenants to participate in tenants’ interests.

Eventually, it was agreed that one of us could present, but with less time and attached to ETF’s own deputation. So we had to narrow our own experiences down to about four to five minutes. This upset us as we couldn’t be heard individually – each of us with our own concerns.

It was agreed that I should present our views to the full council at the City Chambers. This was very daunting as I had only presented to a small meeting before.

After I gave our presentation I ended by saying, “You’ve said a lot about financial pressure on HRA for the council, what about the tenants and our mental wellbeing? Who’s going to be investing in us as people?  When you consider the rent increase, take this away today – consider the impact it’s going to have on vulnerable tenants.”

I invited councillors to for a month to walk in our shoes, without your credit cards, without your current salary or living in comfort to experience the way a lot of your tenants live from day to day; deciding whether to choose heat, food clothing over your rent costs, then come back to the tenants and justify your 2% rent increase.”

So far no councillors have taken me up on that suggestion, nor did they ask me any questions, nor did they come forward after to discuss what I had said in the deputation.

I actually felt like I had been looked down upon and not treated as an equal. It made me quite angry to hear I had not been heard with our deputation.

To make deputations you need to be attached to a group not a single tenant, which defies logic as most Council tenants are individuals and not linked to any residents’ group.

It was a good experience to do this though, as it has given me new skills to speak up, for not just myself, but for others too.

Sadly, a short time later one of the people who had helped during the making of our deputation Jan Mawdsley passed away. May she rest in peace.

Christine Hudson, Sharon Robertson, Clare MacGillivray, Jan Mawdsey

Gateside Community Hub

Over the past couple of years, I have taken over the running of Gateside Tenants and Residents Association (GTRA).  Most of my time spent with GTRA has been trying to have a community hub built for the residents and boy what a slog it has been! If you thought it was an easy task think again!  If it wasn’t for GTRA’s Committee and all their hard work, this would have been an impossible task.

The costs alone for building the hub are three or four times what you would expect, so you have to take this into account.  The amount of phone calls, emails and meetings just to get this far is ridiculous, but it is a must.  I found this out the hard way.

The amount of planning takes up 50% of your time and the rest includes waiting for replies to phone calls and emails.  I must say the City of Edinburgh Council has been great with all their help along the way.  Help provided by the Council has involved paying for the temporary road and assisting in the planning process.  There was many a time when I thought what’s the point? And do I need all the stress?  At times I’ve been ready to pack it all in but I won’t let the residents down.  If they want a community hub they will get it.

The main problem we have encountered is funding in that most funders require a business address.  This is a problem as GTRA’s committee all work from home.  There is no point going to the big funders as the smaller funders have less stipulations on their forms.  However we have found that it’s still hard to meet the criteria of the funders, but we live in hope.

I was lucky enough to buy a cheap unit from a company in Glasgow for about half the price and designed the inside to suit our needs.  We have a lot of interest from local people wanting to become involved, including the Lord Provost who came to the site to help.

If I was asked to do this again, the answer would have to be no.  However I would be interested in helping another group.

GTRA would like to thank the following for their involvement in the Project:

Paul Vaughan, Chair, GTRA

Members’ Survey

We are very keen to know what our Members think of the work that we do in order to continually improve services and offer opportunities for involvement.

You can win a £25 shopping voucher by giving the Federation feedback on our work. Whether you’re involved with ETF as an individual or as one of our Member Groups, we’d love to hear your experiences about being involved, as well as your priorities for ETF in the coming year.

We use this information to check how we’re performing, to report to our funders (City of Edinburgh Council) and more importantly to make sure that as YOUR Federation the work we do reflects tenants’ priorities.

Our new deadline for completing the surveys is Friday 30th March 2018.  When completing the surveys you will be entered into the prize draw.

Members groups can complete this survey.

Individuals can complete this survey.

If you’d like help to complete the questionnaire or would prefer a paper copy, please contact the Federation office on 0131 475 2509 or email [email protected].