Housing association’s performance figures met with incredulity from councillors and residents

Islington housing scrutiny committee, 19 November. Photograph: Islington Citizen.

A presentation on Clarion Housing Association’s activities in Islington has been met with sceptical quizzing by the borough’s housing scrutiny committee.

Clarion’s regional director Catherine Kyne was interrupted minutes into her initial presentation by Cllr Diarmaid Ward (Lab, Holloway), executive member for housing and development, who spoke from the floor expressing disbelief in their key performance statistics.

The housing association states that 80 per cent of its residents are satisfied with its service, with 72 outstanding complaints and one “member enquiry” – a complaint forwarded through a councillor, MP or ombudsman.

Cllr Ward broke in saying: “I do apologise, but even I’ve got more outstanding member enquiries than that. Are you sure about this? I would ask you to check that figure.”

Clarion’s director of housing Vicky Bonner also touched a nerve in the room whilst discussing national policy changes set out in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s green paper ‘A New Deal for Social Housing’.

Bonner said: “I particularly like the fact that the government is talking about the stigma of social housing, and how we all must work to stop that.”

Cllr Ward responded: “If you approach talking about social housing in this borough as ‘carrying a stigma,’ you’re approaching it from completely the wrong angle.

“The problem in this borough is people not having a home, like the 35-year-old I met the other week who was living in a bunk bed in his parents’ home, or the mother I met who was in a one-bed flat with two kids.

“There is no stigma around having a genuinely affordable, comfortable warm home, so it’s completely the wrong approach to talk about the government’s thing of, ‘We want to combat the stigma of having a social home’.

“The stigma in this borough is not having a council home.”

Cllr Michael O’Sullivan (Lab, Finsbury Park), who chaired the committee, pointed out that nine members of the committee, including himself, had been residents in social housing.

Kyne and Bonner were rigorously questioned by both councillors and resident observers at a 19 November meeting of Islington’s housing scrutiny committee.

The representatives of what was formerly Circle 33 Housing Trust, prior to a recent merger, were repeatedly challenged by those present on the quality of repairs made to their properties, as well as the association’s level of reinvestment in the borough amd the lack of any provision for lifetime tenancies in its properties.

Resident observer Rose-Marie McDonald said: “Your repairs are poor. When your stats came up, I couldn’t believe it.

“I’ve had people come to me saying that people come to make repairs, left again, and nobody’s come back for months. People are having to challenge for water, hot water, broken boilers, draughty windows, and nothing is being done.”

Clarion says it completes 1,000 repairs a day, with 82.6 per cent of them fixed at the first attempt this year, established an in-house repair service in November, and are piloting approaches to raise awareness and support around changes to the benefit system under Universal Credit.

Changes to be expected, according to the association, include new vans and uniforms, a shared purpose, multi-skilled operatives, and happy customers.

Whilst Clarion is committed to delivering 50,000 homes over the next ten years through development, there are no current plans for development in Islington due to land value and availability, though the group has stated it is “keen to explore how we can work with the borough to support the delivery of new homes”.

Bonner accepted that there were “real issues” with former company Circle 33’s performance, repairs and complaints, saying that its relationship with stakeholders was “best described as strained”.

Resident observer Dean Donaghey said: “You seem to be singing off the same sheet that we’ve heard before, giving excuse after excuse, and none of you are coming up with anything new.

“Why don’t you excel yourself and come up with something new?

“You want to make Clarion the best that you want – stop copying other people, get something behind you that is firm and solid and push past the competition. Because the people that I’ve talked to that use you, I wouldn’t even want to say what they call you lot.

“Blaming the company of the past is no excuse. You’re now in charge, you’re at the helm. Stop blaming the last captain of the ship and start grabbing it by yourself, and then you wouldn’t come here and get a good kicking.”

Kyne responded that Clarion did not feel like it was “getting a good kicking”,and that “hearing what you’re saying and learning from our complaints is what’s important”.