“It was a great relief to get a home with mhs with a fair and affordable rent”

Stephen Palmer joined our Customer Scrutiny Panel (CSP) in summer 2016 with the aim of changing the way people think of social housing.

Since then he’s developed new skills, has gained experience in presenting and coaching, and has progressed to become Chair of the CSP.

But for Stephen it’s much more than just a title or a position. He hopes to tackle the stigma associated with social housing.

He moved into his mhs home in May 2016 after being forced out by a private landlord, despite having lived there for five years, and paying rent on time.

“We were living in a new build home, but it turned out to be of a poor design and was falling apart around us. The landlord decided to give us less than one month to move.”

Stephen, his wife and step-daughter were then suddenly facing homelessness and had to register on Kent Homechoice.

After six months of searching, Stephen, who suffers with rheumatoid arthritis and small cell lung disease, and his family were offered a two-bedroom ground floor flat with us.

“It was a great relief to get into an mhs home with what was a fair and affordable rent” he said.

But it’s been far from easy for Stephen as some of his close friends and family struggled to understand why he needed support from a housing association.

"Social housing has a certain stigma attached to it and some don’t understand why I’m living in this environment. We’re led to believe that owning our own home is the pinnacle of achievement, but for many people this simply isn’t possible. If you lose your health or your job things can quickly go downhill. But actually it’s not just about when things go wrong, we’re living in a climate where the average house price in Medway is nine times the average salary – many people struggle to buy a property." - Stephen, resident

This is what drove Stephen to join the CSP. “It’s a big organisation and the fact that the CSP even existed was a surprise. The Board of Directors take the CSP seriously. We’re able to look at all elements of the business and act like a trusted friend, giving valid perspectives from people who live in an mhs home”.

The panel meet around eight times a year to ensure delivery of the highest standards of service, to look at our services and policies, challenge the way things are done, listen and reflect on tenant views and more.

"When I joined the CSP I didn’t understand much about the housing market but I certainly felt compelled to help the business improve efficiency. Within about six months of being on the panel I felt I was able to have a real say, alongside other members, on the things that matter to mhs homes. Now as Chair I get to steer decision-making and policy on the CSP." - Stephen, resident

Though Stephen’s journey has been tough, his home offers him and his family a level of stability, that he says he’d have struggled to find in the private rented sector.

“We’re very proud of where we live and even though we rent we like to treat it as though it were our own, and maintain a high standard”, added Stephen.

Though he’s registered as disabled he always tries to keep himself busy: “Although I’m physically impaired my brain is still very engaged”.

And that’s the other reason why the CSP is so great – it’s offering Stephen and his fellow members the chance to develop and use new skills.

"I’ve helped interview new prospective members of the team and coached on presenting to the Board, all things that are drawing from old skills that I’ve used in the past. But there’s so much to learn, especially about how housing works in general." - Stephen, resident

Stephen’s retraining in cyber security and ethical hacking and hopes to pursue a career in this field sometime soon.

And as for the CSP, he’ll continue to serve for the next four years. “I now relish the challenge of helping a new team grow, and ultimately serve the best interests of everyone living in an mhs home. There’s opportunities to join the CSP, if you’ve got a desire and commitment to help mhs be the best it can be. It’s about being able to give something back.”

For more information about our Customer Scrutiny Panel click here