On 23 January 2024, the Housing Ombudsman published its latest Spotlight report on the attitudes, respect and rights titled, 'Relationships of Equals'. 

The focus of the report is on the meaning of vulnerability within social housing, and how social landlords could better support the needs of those tenants, and their household. 

The Ombudsman service defines vulnerability as, “A dynamic state which arises from a combination of a resident’s personal circumstances, characteristics and their housing complaint. Vulnerability may be exacerbated when a social landlord or the Housing Ombudsman Service does not act with appropriate levels of care when dealing with a resident’s complaint... if effective reasonable adjustments have been put in place, the vulnerability may be reduced”.

The Ombudsman draws from a large number of case studies within the report, along with direct quotes from residents and landlords, to help form a view as to how the sector is doing as a whole. These cases reflect on learning for landlords with examples where there were maladministration findings, but also those which highlight good practice. 

There are a number of recommendations from the report, including:

  • Establishing a new Royal Commission for housing – sought to re-establish housing policy as a health intervention with a long term strategy, including reviewing the meaning of 'general needs', given the changing demographics within the sector.
  • Introduction of a new duty for agencies to co-operate, to enable there to be easier communication to ultimately best support those considered vulnerable within social housing. 

Along with specific recommendations for social landlords:

  • Undertake a review at Board level as to whether the organisation is currently offering a ‘human-centric’ service provision and identify the barriers as to why it is not currently the case – this should include reviewing mission statements to ensure they reflect the current and future service.
  • Implement a vulnerability strategy, including how it is defined, who assesses, and what the review process is. This must be in line with the Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Care Act 2014.
  • Test the policy in practice against the 3Rs – recognise, respond and appropriately record vulnerabilities.
  • Implement a specific reasonable adjustments policy.
  • Carry out a 'Resident of the Future' forecast for the next ten years, drawing upon the available information around demographics, both locally and nationally.
  • Introduce minimum staff training requirements such as Dementia Friends, and training on customer care, mental health, learning disabilities, and sight and hearing loss.
  • Ensure awareness and accessibility to the complaints procedure – this is also highly relevant to ensure compliance with the Statutory Complaint Handling code, which comes into force on 1 April 2024.

From our extensive safeguarding expertise across vulnerable adults and children and our immersion into the social housing sector, we see strands of risks that lay across three broad areas:

  1. Inherent potential vulnerability of the resident due to demographic and/or circumstances, such as age; disability (physical and hidden); inequality and economic deprivation.
  2. Occupancy risk such as domestic abuse; overcrowding, condition and repair status.
  3. Community safety risk such as crime hot spots, cuckooing, county lines and other types of home invasion.

Alongside these risks the sector has a responsibility and a legitimate expectation to work multi-agency to support residents with any of the above risks, as anticipated by the Care Act 2014 and Children Acts (where children are resident). Some residents will face multiple risks, bringing complexity and higher levels of risk especially around community safety, where housing has an important part to play principally around information sharing. 

How can we help?

We can assist with: 

  • Reviewing and amending your adult/children safeguarding/vulnerability strategy, policies and processes to ensure that they are legally compliant.
  • Creating or reviewing a Reasonable Adjustments policy.
  • Training staff on key obligations (including those under the Equality Act 2010, Human Rights Act 1998 Care Act 2014, Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the Children Acts).
  • Assist and support on complaints, investigations, s42 Care Act enquiries and statutory reviews.
  • Board development and training, along with housing officer training.

Should you require any further help and guidance, please contact Sarah Orchard or Deborah Jeremiah who will be happy to assist.

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