Tenant Management Organisations are small, tenant-led organisations that take on a number of landlord functions from local councils. The one managing Grenfell Tower, however, was actually an Arms Length Management Organisation – wholly owned by the council, writes Anne Power. She explains why the difference matters in light of the disaster at Grenfell.
When the Grenfell fire disaster happened, very few people had heard of Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs). The Kensington and Chelsea borough-wide TMO, formed in the 1990s, is known by tenants locally around Grenfell Tower as a “fake TMO”. It has now lost its role on the estate and may soon be disbanded. Among the 200 TMOs nationally, that particular organisation is a total anomaly – not community-based, not cooperatively run, not representative. It was set up to cover the whole borough and simply took on the existing council housing department and stock.
In sharp contrast to this model, TMOs are locally based, grassroots community groups that want to improve local conditions in their social housing estate or small area. They range from around 100 to 1500 rented properties in a single estate or area. Frustrated with remote council landlords who seem not to care, tenants often form a local group that fights for local control over local tasks to make their estate work – day-to-day repairs, caretaking, empty property, nuisance, rubbish, environmental and social problems.
Since the mid-1970s, over 200 of these TMOs have formed. They negotiate a management agreement with their council landlord to take on limited, local responsibilities, paid for out of an allowance from their rents. The council retains the ownership, a significant share of the rent, and overall responsibility for the properties, including allocations policy, capital investment, major repairs, public accounting and performance. For tenants to take on even part of their landlords’ role, to handle a budget, staff employment, service standards etc., they need proper training and dedicated time. Governments of all parties have supported the development of TMOs since the 1980s, funding training and introducing the Right to Manage.
Credit: ChiralJon, Flickr/CC BY
Tenants in the Lancaster West estate where Grenfell Tower is located and in other big estates in the Royal Borough wanted more say and better housing services. The Director of Housing proposed a borough-wide TMO that kept the housing department intact. It was not a TMO, because the tenants could not take on the complex task of running the whole of the borough’s near 10,000 unit housing stock. The housing department staff were transferred over into the “new” organisation on existing terms and conditions, and the so-called KCTMO took over all council housing management functions, making it an Arm’s Length Management Organisation of the Council – an ALMO.
The actual management agreement between the borough and effectively the Director of Housing, who became the CEO of the TMO, is still unclear. An ALMO is a government-approved public structure, wholly owned and controlled by the Council, which separates the Council’s landlord services from other Council functions such as schools, libraries, and swimming pools. Kensington and Chelsea decided to keep the name Kensington and Chelsea TMO, in the hope that tenants would identify with it. There were a handful of tenants on the board as there are in other ALMOs. Grenfell was, at least in part, a consequence of the lack of local control; tenants of Grenfell Tower had warned months before of the risk of fire or other disasters because of the neglect of safety by the ALMO (KCTMO). The public inquiry will take many months to reveal the truth; prosecutions may take even longer.
Through austerity cuts, since 2015 financial support for tenant training has gone, and there has been little interest in TMOs. Kensington and Chelsea, following budget cuts, was quick to close day care centres, local libraries, and direct services, including the repair budget of KCTMO. It cut capital spend– hence the cheaper, less fire-resistant cladding on Grenfell Tower and the cheaper building contractor, the lack of fire sprinklers, and the meagre on-site supervision. The Council at the same time cut the Council Tax of the highest band of tax-payers.
The borough has a high level of evictions and resulting homelessness from private renting. Often Buy-To-Let landlords owning former council flats now let to homeless families, paid for by the borough through housing benefit, at vast public expense. Several homeless families were housed in ex-council flats in Grenfell Tower.
The National Federation of TMOs, with several hundred members, is shaken to the core by the fire and its aftermath. Many small TMOs are based in similar high rise blocks to Grenfell. Publicity about the “fake TMO” puts their track record at risk. Yet overall, TMOs have outperformed their local council landlords on rent arrears, re-letting flats, speed of repair, cost and tenant satisfaction.
The government has established a Recovery Task Force to secure long-term recovery as the clear “responsibility of the Council”. This means taking in house the ALMO that can no longer masquerade as a TMO, but all Senior Officers in the Council are under legal orders to say nothing; this includes the Kensington and Chelsea TMO, now with a new chief executive. There is no clear mechanism to respond to the urgent needs of the 2000-3000 residents living on Lancaster West estate, under the shadow of Grenfell since the recent suspension of the ALMO’s operations there. The Council seems deaf. People need action to restore normal conditions on the estate and rebuild trust.
So the Council must act to close down the “fake TMO” and take responsibility directly, both for what happened and what should happen next. A new Interim Director of Housing should take over, to work with the borough’s Interim CEO to develop a decent housing service. The first step is to put in place a neighbourhood manager on Lancaster West, someone who can pull together the core housing services, now so desperately needed, with residents directly involved, to restore the confidence of a deeply shaken community. The lessons of Grenfell resonate across the entire social housing world.
About the Author
Anne Power is Professor of Social Policy and Head of LSE Housing and Communities.
A good article but it misses out that the Lancaster West Estate had their own TMO (an EMB) from 1993 until the larger organisation (KCTMO) closed them down in 2013. Looking at the blog of the Grenfell Action Group they made enquiries about reviving it in 2015 but it doesn’t appear to have gone very far.
KCTMO was set-up as a means of escaping the threat of the (Conservative) governments Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) regime in 1996. Without this threat it’s doubtful KCTMO would ever have been established. It became an ALMO in 2002 in response to the (Labour) governments funding of Decent Homes and the fact that they wouldn’t give the funding to local authorities (or TMOs). In many ways the organisation that now exists is the product of central government policy without which the entire housing stock would have remained under direct council control.
Going forward I get the impression that the community will not want the council to take back control as there is a complete lack of trust but the alternative would appear to be being managed by a Housing Association and I’m not sure that would gain much traction in the community either. Is not the answer for the community to take complete control themselves either through a self-financing TMO (a proper one) in the mould of Leathermarket JMB in Southwark, or a community controlled housing association such as WATMOS (Walsall/Lambeth)?
I have a huge admiration for Anne and her lifelong passion for community control. However the facts in her account are not fully correct. KCTMO is a tenant controlled TMO and the great ,majority of its board are resident members. When it became an ALMO in 2002, the government was at first insisting on its losing its tenant majority on the board. ATIC, a lobby group for tenant control, with support of NFTMO and co-op housing groups, organised a meeting where Lord Falconer, the housing minister, was persuaded by Gordon Perry, the then CEO of KCTMO, to agree a special exception for KCTMO to remain tenant-controlled while gaining ALMO status and the associated capital investment. I do not want to comment on the terrible Grenfell disaster beyond saying that it is hardly fair to blame the TMO structure for a problem endemic in the social housing industry, well known from Lakanal and fully exposed over many years in Inside Housing. But neither can we duck away from the problems of governance and accountability in TMOs, well understood by NFTMO. KCTMO, of course, took no further part in ATIC (having been glad to accept help to fix their political problem
“the facts in her account are not fully correct. KCTMO is a tenant controlled TMO and the great majority of its board are resident members.”
Not according to Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensington_and_Chelsea_TMO which states that in 2017 it had a huge total of EIGHT residents on its board of thirteen (the other seven being non-residents), representing nearly TEN THOUSAND properties.
So according to James Lusk here, “8 out of 13 equals “the great majority”, and having that slight majority board constitutes it being “tenant controlled”. Sorry but that assertion that Anne Power was “not fully correct” sucks, sucks very badly. Maybe stinks would be a more apposite word.
A key problem in the causation of Grenfell was LACK OF TENANT INVOLVEMENT AND OVERSIGHT. Indeed, AVOIDANCE of tenant involvement.
Re which see my next comment here…..
You are quite right Robin – a key problem (maybe the key problem) was a lack of tenant involvement. My point is that KCTMO was a TMO ie all tenants and leaseholders were entitled to join, the board was elected by these members, and the majority of the board comprised tenants and leaseholders. It is shocking if, as has been reported, this board then refused to listen to the concerns raised by Grenfell residents, or give them an independent fire safety inspection as they requested. Lee’s comment gives some of the background. My point is this: it is a serious and dangerous error to draw the lesson that KCTMO was not really a TMO. The correct lesson is that user control of governance does not in itself secure user empowerment. All power is a trust and people who are entrusted with power must be ready to use it to empower others, Size and scale of responsibilities make no difference to this principle.
The KCTMO tenant involvement failure as I see it was a matter of the numbers. The fact that all the tenants can become “members” amounts to little as all they can do is elect some of the Board. Like I am a “member” of an NHS Trust but that gives me (or even a hundred of me) no significant power.
The power lies elsewhere. The 8 tenants in a board with 7 professionals will be easily subdued by those more capable professionals. And 8 tenants is far too few to deal sensibly with 10,000 properties. More sensible was the arrangement we had in Ladywood, of an elected Ladywood Housing Liaison Board of twelve-or-so tenants (and ONLY tenants), handling just the few hundred properties in our locality. From 2015 the Birmingham City Council have closed down that Ladywood Housing Liaison Board, using an entirely false excuse (see my second comment, which has not yet appeared on this page). They have no good reason for doing so but so what they can get away with not bothering to answer for their actions, even the judicial review court doesn’t give a d that they breach their TIAES obligations without honest excuse.
“My point is this: it is a serious and dangerous error to draw the lesson that KCTMO was not really a TMO.”
Anne Power here has made a solid case that it was only a TMO in the most superficial, misleading sense. I have yet to see any rebuttal here.
“The correct lesson is that user control of governance does not in itself secure user empowerment.”
No, the correct lesson is twofold: (1) that a board of 8 tenants with 7 professionals will be dominated by the professionals and fail to represent the tenants. And (2) that a board of 8 tenants is wholly inadequate for managing or even just supervising such a large number of 10,000 properties. It needs to be more like the Housing Liaison Board we had in Ladywood until the council chose to get rid of it (on bogus excuse) because some people have other priorities than honest effective tenant involvement.
What is the actual purpose of this TMO’s? doesn’t it just make it harder to find out who is responsible?