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August 17, 2010

A word of warning

As third sector organisations of all shapes and sizes line up to compete for public service contracts, a word of warning comes in a new report jointly commissioned by JRF and Baring Foundation. The report highlights how housing associations have lost their independence and campaigning zeal as they became steadily enmeshed in the struggle to meet government housing targets

Their influence diminished after they took on responsibility for provision, according to study by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Baring Foundation

Voluntary sector organisations that run public services should be aware of the pitfalls encountered by housing associations, according to a report from Charity Commission board member Andrew Purkis.

The study was jointly published by social research charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and grant-maker the Baring Foundation and written by Purkis, whose tenure the commission’s board was extended for three months in July.

It says housing associations have lost their independence and their role as campaigning organisations has diminished as a result of assuming responsibility for housing provision and the need to respond to government targets and demands.

“It is a very long time since individual housing associations saw themselves as campaigning bodies,” says the report. “Here are voluntary organisations that are in day-to-day contact with 2.5 million families, including many towards the bottom of the social heap. They see their vulnerabilities and are shocked by neglected needs, but you will rarely hear a squeak about these from the vast majority of housing associations.”

The report says that, in most cases, not even a “tiny percentage” of associations’ operating surpluses is used to fund campaigns on behalf of tenants other than part of the membership fee associations pay to housing association umbrella body the National Housing Federation.

Purkis said voluntary organisations that “go the same way as housing associations” with regard to running public services could lose some of their independence.

“There is a lot of pressure on the voluntary sector in terms of delivering public services,” he said. “But each voluntary sector organisation should look at the experience of housing associations and consider the implications of becoming too dependent on government.”