CIH’s new professional standards – a help to engagement?

Wednesday 7th of April 2021

Tpas Chief Executive, Jenny Osbourne blogs about her experience supporting the CIH to develop their new professional standards. 

As the English social housing sector’s engagement experts, Tpas was one of the key stakeholders consulted about the CIH’s new professional standards. We hosted a roundtable to discuss the draft standards with tenants which brought forward some really insightful challenge and overall support.

After almost two years’ work, the standards are now out, and I was excited to see how they could help our members and our work to promote tenant engagement.

The last few years have been a real roller coaster ride in terms of social housing’s relationship with engagement. The shocking wake up call of Grenfell, Alok Sharma’s, and others, engagement roadshows, and the warm words of Green Paper felt like engagement was on the rise.

But this was followed by the failure to tackle stigma or promote a National Tenants’ Voice, and the mixed messages in the White Paper – great to see consumer regulation, but still no action on stigma. Alongside this though, there have been really positive moves from housing providers and the sector’s professional body.

We’ve had the NHF’s Together with Tenants initiative, encouraging HAs to incorporate a tenant voice within their governance structures; and last year, the Chartered Institute of Housing published ‘It’s Not Okay’, a joint report with See the Person campaign that pulled no punches about housing professionals’ personal responsibility in relation to stigma.

This is the context into which CIH’s new professional standards framework was dropped on 15th March. They’ve been working on the standards for two years, through a changing landscape that’s challenged tenants and residents as well as housing professionals and providers. So in this context, and looking towards the ‘new normal’ (whatever that turns out to be!), what did the unveiling of the professional standards reveal?

Well the first thing to say about the professional standards is that they’re not compulsory. Although the White Paper talks about a review of professional training and development, nothing’s happening yet.

In the meantime, just as many housing providers choose to measure themselves against Tpas’s National Tenant Engagement Standards, people working in housing can choose to measure their professionalism against the CIH’s standards. Our Tpas standards have influenced as well as reflected national policy, so let’s see if the same happens with CIH’s.

The idea is that people should be able to use the standards to check their attitudes and behaviours, and guide the development of their professional skills and knowledge – helping them progress and succeed in their career. They’re based around seven characteristics, with standards and examples of practical application outlining the detailed expectations that go with them. The characteristics themselves are quite high level – acting transparently and fairly, being knowledgeable and so on – but the framework becomes more demanding as it gets more detailed.

The standards are intended to be relevant to housing professionals across the CIH’s whole membership, working at different levels on five continents. So it’s good to see the emphasis they place on respect for tenants and residents, and the importance of building trust. I’m also really pleased that there are specific expectations about challenging false assumptions, challenging stigma and challenging colleagues or organisational practices, especially where practice is unethical. We all know that the social housing sector contains many people that will embrace this aspect of the standards, and hopefully find it empowering. And I really like the way the standards emphasise self-awareness – both in terms of skills and knowledge, but also in terms of behaviours and the impact they have on others. It’s important that people are encouraged to ask for help when needed.

Although the new standards provide a very positive framework, they don’t yet cover everything we’d like to see. More detail on ensuring tenants’ voices are heard would be good, as well as something about supporting tenants to act as their own advocates – ‘acting in tenants’ best interests’ feels a little dated here. And what about something specific on respecting legal rights?

But as tenants at our roundtable said, they are a great addition to the sector.

Perhaps the best thing about the new standards though is that they make no assumptions about the people that housing professionals serve. Where the White Paper links professionalism to tackling anti-social behaviour and mental health needs; and some recent commentators have linked social housing services to people living in poverty, the CIH’s new standards take a much broader view. They don’t focus on tackling the ‘problem’ of social housing tenants, or the ‘challenges’ of social housing. The new standards are designed around the skills and values that support high quality, respectful housing services. Which is basically all any of us want from the organisations we rely on isn’t it? Hopefully, this approach will mean they stand the test of time, and remain relevant to all the different roles in the housing sector.

So will these standards be a help or a hindrance? Well it’s a bit too early to judge, but at this stage, we like the tone and the focus, and I think we can give an early seal of Tpas approval. We’ll be hoping that they help the housing sector continue the move towards a more tenant-centred, professional way of working, we’ll be watching closely to see how it works out and stand ready to help in any way we can in the future.