Tooled up for success
Social landlords could save thousands of pounds and boost tenant satisfaction by improving their repairs services. Here, Debbie Larner explains how a new campaign aims to help them do just that
Around £9 billion per year is spent on repairs and maintenance of the UK’s social housing stock, making it one of the biggest spending areas for
landlords. Plus, how tenants rate their landlord overall is directly influenced by their experience and perception of the repairs and maintenance services they receive.
In the current economic climate, landlords are faced with the challenge of how to balance investment in maintaining valuable housing assets against the need to make savings and demonstrate real value for money.
While the added-value services, such as offering a handyperson scheme to do DIY jobs and text messaging customers before their appointments, can be important, getting the basics right remains the Holy Grail for both housing providers and their tenants.
This is why the Chartered Institute of Housing and repairs and maintenance contractor Mears Group have joined forces to champion the importance of getting the fundamentals correct.
At the beginning of this month we launched Getting the Basics Right, a campaign that will see us working with housing organisations to identify the key attributes of an effective repairs and maintenance service, including repairs, voids, planned repairs and gas servicing.
These must be common attributes that apply to all landlords irrespective of their size, type or whether they have in-house repairs and maintenance teams, external contractors or other delivery model.
The campaign will run for nine months until the CIH’s annual conference in Manchester in June, and will gather examples of what is working for individual organisations.
Housing providers already know customers want good service and high-quality workmanship provided by understanding and friendly staff, and that they want flexible appointment times, quick response times and to be kept informed of progress. What customers want most is for repairs to be done right first time.
Providing an all-singing, all-dancing repairs and maintenance service may seem desirable, but customer feedback, including thoughts and opinions contributed to the Tenant Services Authority’s national conversations, which gathered residents’ views in 2009, suggests getting these core elements right is fundamental.
‘Additional services that improve the lives of tenants are always welcome but most importantly tenants want to see the basic services delivered well,’ says Michael Gelling, chair of the Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisation of England. ‘If you have a leaking pipe, the priority for tenants has to be for it to be fixed quickly, first time around, at a time that suits the tenant.’
‘Our experience has shown that when you have these stable foundations and you deliver consistently, you can drive up standards and performance in other areas,’ agrees David Miles, chief executive of Mears.
Get the Basics Right will be supported by a repairs charter for housing, which will set out some of the commitments that housing and repairs professionals have identified to be the backbone of a successful repairs and maintenance service.
To ensure that the charter reflects opinion across the sector, a steering group has been brought together to ensure wide-scale engagement and involvement. Steering group members include representatives from TAROE, the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, the Tenant Services Authority, the National Housing Federation and a host of front line repairs professionals from organisations including Chester & District Housing Trust and Wolverhampton Homes who will help to develop the framework.
It is the front line repairs operatives, housing professionals and tenants who really understand what makes a good service and how to get things right - so over the next nine months we will be talking to the people who know. There will be a range of events, surveys and forums to get your views heard.
‘[The campaign] will be of real benefit to landlords who are operating in tough financial times and have to weigh up the priorities and determine a realistic way forward,’ says Grainia Long, interim chief executive of the CIH. ‘This campaign will not only stimulate debate but help to identify excellence across the sector and support landlords to identify what they need to do to get the basics right.’
Debbie Larner is head of practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing
Initial findings: best practice examples gathered so far
Moat Housing Association
By placing an emphasis on fixing repairs first time, Mears and 20,834-home Moat Housing Association have taken ‘right first time’ levels from 82 per cent to 94 per cent within a year.
The Crewe-based association’s 11,000 tenants are asked when they want a repair to be completed, rather than the repair being put into a priority classification.
The council makes the best use of limited resources and minimises disruption by carrying out repairs when the operatives are already doing cyclical work.
The 6,000-home association found some tenants requesting up to 37 repairs each year. A home MOT pilot scheme was introduced to improve performance and reduce costs. The top 100 users given an annual repairs inspection and a ‘no claims bonus’ for those who didn’t report non-urgent or unnecessary repairs. Early analysis indicates a reduction in repairs of more than 40 per cent. It saved £28,000 last year.
Livin (formerly Sedgefield Borough Homes)
The 8,500-home County Durham-based landlord keeps tenants informed on response and gas repairs if an operative or engineer cannot complete a repair in one visit. They arrange a follow-on appointment before leaving the tenant’s home which reduces chase-up calls.
Campaign aims: Getting the Basics Right
As well as providing a range of practical measures to support landlords, the Getting the Basics Right campaign, run by the Chartered Institute of Housing and repairs and maintenance contractor Mears Group, will:
- generate debate about how things could be delivered differently and what the sector can do to drive up standards;
- challenge and facilitate debate about what an excellent repairs and maintenance service should look like;
- consider how landlords can give tenants a wide range of opportunities to influence and be involved in the management of the repairs and maintenance service;
- understand what value for money really means, including how residents can be involved in making some of the fundamental budgetary decisions;
- consider what the key elements of ‘the basics’ might be and what ‘added value’ might mean in today’s challenging economic climate;
- agree what wider organisational commitments underpin an excellent service and what providers can usefully do to successfully deliver against these