The social housing sector is facing a crisis of sub-standard conditions. Gary Cawley, director of CPC, looks at how to tackle disrepair head on
There’s no getting away from it – the social housing sector is facing a mounting crisis from the continuing resident reports of sub-standard housing conditions.
It’s a disaster for residents. But it’s also a reputational crisis of our own making, and a financial one that’s emerging from the confluence of a few issues. It’s a fast-moving situation and one we collectively need to get ahead of.
But fear not. It is something that we can tackle. Smart use of procurement frameworks and dynamic purchasing systems will need to play their part.
I would say that, right? This is our blog after all. Well, yes…but hear me out.
First things first – the issue
I’ve written about The great social housing disrepair conundrum previously, but things are moving at speed.
ITV continues to investigate the poor living standards that some residents are having to endure; in a recent report the National Housing Federation’s chief executive Kate Henderson apologised on behalf of the sector. That’s after ITV revealed complaints to housing associations increased by 35% in three years.
This alone should set alarm bells ringing, but now the media’s attention is inevitably also starting to turn towards income and chief executive pay (which stands at an average of £340,502 for the top 10 associations). Sat side by side, next to some of the shocking images of residents’ living conditions, it’s easy to see how these reports will lead to widespread criticism and increased scrutiny for all social housing providers – even if all of your homes are in pristine condition.
It doesn’t matter that the emerging cases are a small number, it just matters that it’s happening at all, and it will lead to the whole sector being tarred with the same brush.
I suspect this will also embolden those ambulance-chasing solicitors who are starting to thrive off the back of the no-win-no-fee models usually associated with PPI or personal injury claims.
A recent report from Inside Housing revealed a rise in claims under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which makes it easier to make claims against a range of issues including damp or general disrepair.
And of course, rather than go through the lengthy and potentially very expensive legal process to fight the claims, providers are instead choosing to settle and pay out. Aside from the monetary loss, this is going to be placing a huge strain on already stretched, and stressed, teams.
So how can we stop this runaway train from derailing completely?
Something else feeding this crisis will be the impact of coronavirus restrictions, with some stock conditions surveys having stalled, but it’s now time to get back to it.
You don’t need me to tell you how important stock surveys are, but there’s a desperate and growing need to ramp up repair and maintenance programmes again quickly; triage and prioritise the most important cases, with tools like the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
And here’s where frameworks and dynamic purchasing systems (DPS) will play their starring role.
Not only will they take the strain off your teams by removing the need to hunt out quality and compliant suppliers, but if you do find there are serious cases to address urgently, the speed of a DPS will be immensely helpful.
Taking our Whole House Refurbishment (WH) DPS as an example, when expressions of interest are issued to suppliers for jobs, they have a maximum of five days to respond if they want to be considered, which is ideal when speed is of the essence. And as the DPS is for works of up to £500,000, it’s perfect for a smaller jobs such as bathroom renovations or decoration.
If your stock survey turns up larger-scale works across your portfolio, then you can use the Whole House Refurbishment and Associated Works (WH2) framework to quickly and easily appoint suppliers, many of which will be local to you so will have a good understanding of the housing stock in the area.
Let’s not forget that at the heart of this are tenants who just want a quality home to live in, so if from your investigations you do find any properties that wouldn’t meet the Decent Homes Standard, speed is of the essence to get it sorted quickly, to get those residents back into a safe and healthy home.
Communication is key
When undertaking your stock surveys, repairs and maintenance, make sure your residents know about it.
Show them some love and understanding by letting them know that your rolling programme will keep their homes up to scratch, because that’s what they deserve.
Use your tenant newsletters and magazines and your own website to keep them informed as to how it’s going, every step of the way. They need to see that you care about their wellbeing by proactively updating their homes. Where a home has been repaired quickly, shout about it from the rooftops.
You also need to make it really easy for them to find out where and how to inform you of a repair, and how to book a survey appointment when you’re due to be in the area.
By doing this, you’ll be helping to combat all of the negative news they will have seen in the press, and allay any fears they might have about social housing providers in general and your organisation specifically.
Coordinate with your energy efficiency programme
Many housing providers are starting to get to grips with their energy efficiency retrofit programmes, with lots taking advantage of funding like the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme.
The hope is that more money will be forthcoming in the wake of the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, too.
So, is there an opportunity for you to align your retrofit and maintenance programmes? It’s highly likely that the least energy efficient homes will also be those in need of some kind of repair; rather than disrupt a family twice, is it possible to install energy efficiency measures and undertake essential maintenance at the same time?
Though it’s important to bear in mind that, under some Government funding schemes such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO3), installers now need to be PAS 2035 qualified. You’ll also need to employ the services of Retrofit Assessors and Retrofit Coordinators, which will ensure a whole-house approach to improvement measures.
Suppliers on CPC’s Energy Efficiency Consultancy Services (N8C) framework have been assessed against the PAS 2035 standard, and will be able to guide you through this new update.
A word on the DPS
With the DPS, as there’s ongoing appointment of suppliers you can also recommend local companies to be included.
We would love to hear your recommendations of suppliers that we could contact. Please do let us know!