Rochdale Boroughwide Housing members approve controversial rule changes

Local politicians have written to the regulator over the changes, which the mutual says improve its governance as part of its reforms following the death of Awaab Ishak

Members of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) have approved a controversial set of rule changes, which transfer some functions from the Representative Body to the board, at a special meeting on 2 November.

CEO Amanda Newton says the changes will “strengthen RBH’s governance and help move us forward on our journey to regulatory compliance”, but local MP Tony Lloyd and Rochdale Council’s cabinet member for housing and regeneration, Daniel Meredith, say they will remove powers from tenants and employees.

The two politicians have written to the social housing regulator over the matter, saying they have been contacted by concerned tenants and members of the mutual.

Summarising the changes to members before the vote, RBH said the mutual’s Representative Body “will have an additional function which is “to ensure the work of the society is focused on the needs of tenants“.

It said both tenant and employee members of the Representative Body will be involved in scrutiny reviews of RBH’s services, three times a year, with the outcomes reported to the board and to the newly formed Tenant Services Committee. The representative body will be able to monitor whether changes have been implemented to improve services to tenants.

But some functions of the Representative Body will transfer to the mutual’s board. These include approval of the corporate strategy and actively monitoring performance to the corporate strategy, appointing board members, and approving remuneration of the board and executive team.

“Our Representative Body will still play a critical role in helping develop corporate strategy, as well as RBH’s vision and its values,” said RBH. “The Representative Body will also still have a role at the interview table for new board members and the chair of the board.

“Remuneration of board and executive members is always set out in the financial statements which are published on RBH’s website, so that information will always be available to all tenants and employees.

In their letter to the regulator, Lloyd and Meredith say this “goes against the mutual co-operative“ spirit of RBH.

“We have all raised concerns,” they add, “that the rule changes remove key decisions from tenants, employees and partners, decisions ranging from corporate strategy, board member adoptions, senior management pay, decisions relating to housing stock and tenants.

“Any mutual co-operative should involve all in the decision-making process and not just used for scrutiny of the board.”

The letter says it is raising the concerns “because we have been informed by RBH that the rule changes are based on advice provided by the Social Housing Regulator. We all believe the advice does not reflect a mutual co-operative.”

Writing to members after the rule changes were passed, Newton said: “Thanks go to everyone that has engaged throughout the process and helped us to have a meaningful two-way dialogue about how we move forward positively.

“I recognise that some members did not support the proposals and we will continue to listen and engage and ensure that all members feel able to be part of bringing our mutual to life. I am looking forward to working together across members, the board, the executive and our elected representative body to strengthen our mutual and deliver great services.“

Before the vote, she told members the changes will mean that:

  • “We will take a big step towards meeting the requirements of the Regulator of Social Housing and being a compliant housing provider,
  • “access to funds that will enable us to continue to invest in our homes and create great places for people to live – we can’t access them if we are non-compliant,
  • “the representative body, made up of elected tenants and employees, will be able to hold the executive and the board to account for delivery of great services.”

She added that the changes would also bring “greater certainty over a sustainable long term future” for the Seven Sisters tower blocks at College Bank. RBH hit local opposition in 2017 when it announced plans to knock down four of the towers. Now, following a change of management, the mutual has signalled its intention to save the buildings and is proposing a transfer of ownership to Legal & General Affordable Homes.

“We want to save the Seven Sisters,” said Newton, “but need a partner and we must be compliant with our regulator to achieve this”.

The question of the Seven Sisters prompted another rule change, that tenants will not be excluded from membership of RBH where their homes may in future be owned by another landlord but managed by RBH.

This change will ensure that tenants in College Bank are able to remain members of RBH if the proposal to transfer ownership of the blocks to L&G goes ahead.

RBH says the rule changes are part of “lessons learnt” after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who had been exposed to black mould while living in an RBH property.

Newton told Rochdale Online the mutual was required to work with the regulator to address “a number of issues to improve our position”.

She added: “As part of this process, we asked members to strengthen the ability of the Representative Body to influence the organisation and enhance the accountability of our board”.

RBH has also created “more ways for customers to get involved and have a say in how we’re run and how we deliver services,” said Newton, with “a new plan for engaging customers from across all areas which includes things like customer voice forums, which give people a chance to tell us what’s going on in their community”.