Innovation Exchange

West Lothian Tenant's Panel Financial Scrutiny

Introduction

Key activities

Benefits and impacts

Learning

Further Information

The Tenants’ Panel (the Panel) was originally introduced in West Lothian in 1999.  It was recognised that effective tenant involvement is best achieved by working together.  The Panel was set up to provide tenants with an insight into the inner workings of the service and an opportunity to communicate with the Head of Housing and senior managers on issues affecting tenants.

 

The Panel is currently comprised of five tenant representatives (elected from the council’s two housing networks), Senior Managers and the Head of Housing Customer and Building Services (HBCS), plus the Executive Councillor for the Services for the Community Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel Committee

 

The tenant representatives, who have been key to the ongoing development of the Panel’s remit over a number of years, and who have also been extensively involved in developing performance scrutiny measures to meet the aims of the Scottish Social Housing Charter (SSHC), have further widened the panels remit by introducing scrutiny on a financial level. As a result, in June 2015 the service introduced the Financial Scrutiny aspect of the Panel. This means that we now have three separate types of Panel meetings; Full Panel, Performance Panel and Financial Scrutiny.

 

 

Theme: Housing and Regeneration

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The Financial Scrutiny meetings are a partnership between Housing and Financial services. The first meeting took place in June 2015 with an overview of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA). The aim of this meeting was to provide the tenant representatives with an understanding of the role of the HRA and how it must operate, to enable them to develop an understanding of all associated income and expenditure.  This in turn would lead to the development of an agreed plan for further investigating all aspects associated with the financial management of the service.

 

The topics for future meetings were agreed during the initial session, and so far have covered:

  1. Overview of HRA and meeting framework
  2. Mortgage to Rent
  3. Principles of Housing budget and budget review
  4. Policy Voids
  5. Guidance on the operation of local authority Housing Revenue Accounts (HRAs) in Scotland (June 2016 meeting)

 

The aim of the Financial Scrutiny meetings is to provide means and opportunity for the Tenants Panel representatives to ensure that West Lothian tenants are receiving the maximum benefit from their rents and the best standard of service possible. It is recognised that there should be financial transparency so that tenants understand how their rent money is being spent.

The Financial Scrutiny aspect of the Panel has been a steep learning process for the tenant representatives but they have shown great commitment to this aspect of the Panel.  The benefits of tenants working with other people, such as the services Financial Accountant, learning new things and getting a better understanding of how services operate are clear for both the tenants and the landlord. The tenants are keen to understand all aspects of the HRA to enable them to effectively scrutinise how money is spent, ensuring best value for money for their fellow tenants.

 

The Panel’s continuing quest for effective scrutiny of all aspects related to housing is driven by their sense of responsibility to fellow tenants.  They ensure staff are held accountable for the services being provided and are diligent in feeding back their findings to fellow tenants, The Panel members report back to their Housing Networks on a monthly basis and when required, ensure articles are placed in the councils newsletter to communicate with and inform all tenants on how their rent money is being spent.

The Panel has worked effectively over a period of 17 years, building relationships, knowledge and earning the respect of housing staff, who appreciate the time and commitment the tenant representatives provide in helping build a better service for all tenants.  In that period the membership has changed, with the exception of two very experienced tenant members; ensuring continuity, which has been crucial to the ongoing development and broadening of The Panels remit.

 

The Panel has evolved from one traditional type of meeting to include Performance and Financial Scrutiny meetings, thereby involving tenants in all aspects of service delivery.  Their ability to challenge and scrutinise has brought about change and improvement in both performance and outcomes for all tenants and service users of council housing in West Lothian.

 

The introduction of the SSHC has helped them develop a robust plan for scrutinising performance in line with the charter indicators.  This has further helped to grow their knowledge of the service, which in turn has led to their desire to further scrutinise and understand the financial aspect of delivering such a large service to tenants.  This has been driven by their aim to ensure tenants are receiving an excellent value for money service.

 

The tenants on the Panel have been fully involved in developing the framework for all meetings, and would strongly recommend that this approach is adopted by other organisations. They feel it is crucial for the agenda to be tenant led, ensuring transparency over all aspects of scrutiny.

The TIS National Excellence Award recognise and celebrate the outstanding work of those who are committed to making a true difference within the Scottish housing sector. The Panel was recognised for their Financial Scrutiny activities by winning the Most Inspiring Scrutiny Group at the 2016 TIS Awards.

Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:

 

Caroline Campbell

Housing Research Analyst

01506 283403

Case study added to site: February 2017

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