Sentinel Housing Association
According to Shelter this Christmas day, more than 120,000 children will wake up homeless. Many homeless families in the country will find themselves housed in Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodation, where it’s hard to maintain traditional Christmas traditions, let alone a sense of ‘home’. With Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council we’ve taken measures to turn this situation around in the town.
Across the country, over the past five years the numbers of those finding themselves living in B&Bs has risen by more than 300%. B&B accommodation often means parents and children living in a single room, with kitchens and bathrooms shared with other tenants; often they are housed miles away from their jobs, schools and family networks.
Sentinel and the Council have been working together to improve the issue in the town with a creative use of the Council’s funding provision for homeless families. Since 2014 we’ve been using the funding to buy Existing Satisfactory Properties (ESPs), buying and repairing properties for sale on the private market, and converting them into affordable housing specifically for these families.
So far 31 properties have been bought and refurbished, and homeless families have been housed with short term assured tenancies. This has reduced the number of vulnerable households in B&Bs by over two thirds from September 2012. As well as minimising the use of B&B housing for homeless families, the ESP programme has ensured the Council meets statutory rules in respect of the length of time emergency B&B is used. In fact, the total number of days homeless households in Basingstoke spend in B&B accommodation has been significantly reduced from 485 in 2012 to just 29 in 2016.
These family homes have helped the Council avoid an estimated additional B&B bill of £46,000 during the 2015/16 period. More importantly it provides housing that is much more suitable to families, providing a more settled life where they can begin to develop support networks.
This scheme provides good value against the cost of B&B - offering families a more steady home life is essential. We’ve been pleased to work in partnership with the Council to assist with housing homeless families in this way over the last few years and it’s great that we’ve recently secured a further round of funding for the project.
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Deputy Leader Councillor Terri Reid said: “Supporting the most vulnerable people in our borough is a key priority for us and we are always looking at how we can do this better. Over the past three years we have reduced the number of vulnerable households in B&B by over two thirds and significantly reduced the total number of days B&B accommodation was used for homeless households.
Using B&B accommodation is always a last resort for us, which is why we have put money towards providing homes for those people who need them most until they are in a position to move into more permanent accommodation. It is one of a number of measures we have brought into place to help prevent homelessness.”
Alex Nagle, Sentinel’s Assistant Director of Neighbourhoods & Customer Relations
With demand for housing in Hartley Wintney being at its highest, some local people are being priced out of home ownership. Aiming to provide affordable housing to allow local people to get on to the property ladder at a reduced cost, we've been working with Bewley Homes at the beautiful Hartley Row Park development.
Hartley Row Park is a development of 95 new one, two three, four and five bedroom homes in an attractive landscaped setting on the edge of the village. Of these, we'll be providing 38 one, two and three bedroom homes available on a shared ownership and affordable rent basis.
With its surroundings of gently rolling landscape of field and copse and thriving High Street, Hartley Wintney is a highly desirable place to live. House prices currently stand at 9.5 times the average annual salary, which means an increase of 28.8% in the last 5 years.
It’s great to be working with Bewley to provide such high quality affordable housing in a village like Hartley Wintney, where housing is at such a premium. Being able to offer a home ownership option to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy in the area is important. As a leading Association in Hampshire, we're tackling the shortage of affordable housing with our ambitious plans to provide an average of 600 new homes every year.
Local people have been applying for the affordable rented properties through the Hart District Council choice based lettings scheme. And others looking to get onto the housing ladder can apply for the shared ownership homes being sold to people with local connections, or those who live in the region.
Local Councillor Stephen Gorys, Cabinet Member for Housing at Hart District Council has said: "Hartley Row Park is another great example of partnership working in Hart delivering affordable homes for local people. In a high cost housing market area, it is important that we are contributing positively to residents' ability to secure homes they can afford. This new development is highly attractive and in a great location. Hart remains committed to affordable housing in the local area and we will continue to work with developers and housing associations to deliver new homes. I'd like to wish everyone who secures a property on this development every happiness in their new home."
The first of these properties were presented last month, and all of them completed the day after becoming available! Tina & Roger Brunet were one of the first to buy one of these shared ownership property, and they said:
“Having lived in private rented accommodation for a number of years we were very keen to get back into the property market. We were therefore very interested to find the development at Hartley Row included a shared ownership scheme. The application process was fairly straight forward and once our application had been accepted we were guided through the process by the Sentinel team. This even included helping us to appoint a mortgage broker and solicitor who specialise in shared ownership.
We are genuinely delighted to be in our new home, something that seemed impossible at the beginning of this year.“
Julie Porter, Assistant Director - Development Delivery at Sentinel
For more information about the development please visit www.bewley.co.uk/developments/hartley-row-park-hartley-wintney/overview/
It’s good to see that rented homes are back on the agenda. For a long time the political message has been that home ownership is the only tenure that makes you a valuable part of the market. Those in rented were forgotten and perhaps seen as slightly outside of the economy. We all know that people are in rented properties for a diverse number of reasons, including some who have a range of support needs; some of those, even with the best intentions are unlikely to get the opportunity to purchase a home on the open market. And so if organisations like Sentinel aren’t providing those, because there isn’t the funding to do it – whose going to? The answer is nobody!
And that’s why we’ve been doing market rented and market sales homes - to replace the grant that we used to get so that we can continue to provide low cost rented accommodation. Phillip Hammond’s announcement illustrates a clear shift in government that accords more with us and with the sector overall, including the National Housing Federation: a need to provide a range of tenures whilst giving us the flexibility and authority to build homes that meet a local need. So the government will be providing the money and will be judging us on our outputs, which is our contribution to the 1 million homes by 2020. This is regardless of whether we bring extra cash that we can invest, to make them rent, shared ownership, market sale or whatever tenure mix.
So for me the key benefit from the Autumn Statement is that it appears that decisions to determine what mix of new homes we should be providing, is coming back to us on a local level. And that we can get public subsidy to support that, which means we’ll be able to deliver more homes.
We’ve worked with the National Housing Federation over the past year to help them with different models, looking at a variety of rent-to-ownership scenarios; but the number one demand, if you walk into any local authority across the country is rented housing. So to see it back on the agenda is great.
Last week we were presented with a plaque for Servicemark accreditation from the Institute of Customer Services. After a week of celebrating Customer Service week, we were delighted to receive Sue Hopson from the Institute who congratulated us on our first class commitment to customer service.
After the assessment earlier in the year, the assessor wrote: "There was evidence of a great deal of hard work being carried out to maintain and raise customer service within the organisation, not just for the purposes of accreditation but to benefit residents and for the good of the organisation. There was also a clear commitment at all levels to achieving this, and a strong interest and desire to gain the accreditation which came across from employees at all levels as well as the directorate and senior management.
I am delighted to strongly recommend Sentinel Housing Association to The Institute Director team as a most worthy award recipient of the Institute of Customer Service Servicemark Accreditation."
There are only a few housing associations in the area have achieved this accreditation, and I’m really proud that we’re one of them. As a business we put people at the heart of what we do and everyone here is committed to that. Our culture is friendly, open and inclusive and we treat everyone with respect whether they’re a customer or a colleague. And it’s great that our approach has been recognised with a Servicemark accreditation from the Institute of Customer Service.
And the cherry on the top of this award was our own internal customer service awards. Staff can nominate colleagues for The ACE Awards (approachable, consistent and efficient) in a show of appreciation for their top class customer service, and the winners were announced during the same presentation.
We had winners and runners up in each of the categories: Approachable, Consistent and Efficient, and many nominations.
The wonderful thing about Sentinel is that we all understand that customer service is essential at every level of the organisation.
In the same week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) claims that the UK is facing a "critical rental shortage", the Conservative Party stated that its focus remains on home ownership. At Sentinel our number one priority is to build more new homes, and we’re committed to our current planned 5 year development programme which will see us building around 600 new homes a year.
In light of the divergences in the debate about renting or owning your home, we’re asking the question whether or not homeownership itself has a positive impact on individuals; and perhaps more importantly whether the more positive features associated with homeownership could be replicated in social housing and the private rental sector.
The political narrative today is that renting your home, in particular social housing renting, creates a negative impact on ‘life-chances’. Working in partnership with a research team at the University of Birmingham, we hope to answer the debate associated with homeownership and renting, in particular in relation to levels of unemployment and economic inactivity. The research which will involve in-depth qualitative study is due to be complete in summer 2017, and it will fill a gap in the current policy debate, which continues to be based either on a simple acceptance of the value of owner-occupation, or an uncritical defence of social housing.
As the fifth largest developer by size in the social housing sector, we build a range of property types, using the surplus from our open market activity to cross subsidise the development of additional affordable homes. Around 53% of our housebuilding budget is funded this way, with further funds coming through a combination of grants and private finance.
We’re continuing to increase our programme of market, social and affordable rented homes, as well as building homes specifically for shared ownership and the open market. It’s important that we and other housing associations are delivering a wide range of tenures across the country. New homes for rent as well as ownership are desperately needed, and that simply can’t be achieved by the private sector alone.
Mike Shepherd, their Development & Regeneration Director
We all need to try and play our bit in ending the housing crisis. We have to look for alternative routes rather than just relying on a dwindling number of Section 106 opportunities. That’s why when the chance arose to buy a large plot of land in our area we went for it. The 25.6 acre brownfield site at Chapel Hill in Basingstoke had sat redundant for several years with the previous owners unable to bring their development plans into fruition.
We saw this land as an excellent opportunity to provide new homes at a mix of tenures to suit everyone in the local community. Once we had bought the land we needed to find the right partner to develop the site for us. We secured the outline planning permission and set the design and quality standards for the site. Then, after a considered procurement process we entered into a joint venture with Barratt David Wilson – a development partner whose vision and aspiration for the site match our own.
We now jointly share the task and risk of building the new homes together – both private and affordable homes. Unlike many sites of this size 232 of the 578 new homes will be affordable, made up of a mixture of rented and shared ownership options.
In taking the lead we’ve gained the freedom to plan and develop a scheme that’s achieved a wide measure of support and encouragement from the local community and the council. We’ve included the local community’s views in the final scheme design, providing family homes in the centre of Basingstoke alongside new green open spaces.
And we’re not stopping there. Chapel Hill's part of our ambitious development programme in which we plan to build 2000 homes over the next 5 years. This model of development is one of a mixture of ways that we're using our financial strength to build more homes for rent and sale.
We know not everyone can afford to buy a home of their own so building homes for affordable rent is a crucial part of our strategy. So too is building shared ownership homes for people who can afford that bit more but are unable to buy their own home on the open market.
Figures this week from Legal & General predict the so called Bank of mum and dad will lend their children £5bn this year towards deposits. But with the average contribution around £17,500 this just isn’t possible for everyone.
Through shared ownership we’re providing an alternative which means people can buy a home without having to or rely on their parents or spend 10 years saving for a deposit.
People like Charlotte Boobyer and Graham Russell who took the chance to move back to the village they grew up in;
‘We didn’t want to waste anymore money renting privately but we wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy a home here without shared ownership. Its amazing being back in Hartley Wintney, we’re just around the corner from friends and family and we can walk our son to school. If anyone was thinking about shared ownership go for it, don’t be scared, it’s much easier than you might think.’
Over the last year we’ve build 113 shared ownership homes with another 131 shared ownership homes planned for this year. It’s a product we’re seeing increasing demand for in our local area. Time and time again customer’s feedback to us their satisfaction and sense of security that comes from being able to own their own home.
There are some things we all have to pay for in life. And heating a home is one that can often make a big dent in income. That’s why when we got the chance to help our customers save money and reduce carbon emissions we jumped at it.
We had been looking for ways to help our customers lower their living cost and the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHIS) gave us the perfect opportunity.
At a cost of £1.8m we’ve been able to upgrade heating systems for 200 of our customers, many who live in rural areas where a traditional gas heating system isn’t possible. They all had outdated solid fuel or storage heating systems which we’ve replaced with Mitsubishi Electric Ecodan air source heat pumps, new renewable technology which is much cheaper to run and offers more controllable warmth.
The RHIS will give us 30% of our investment back over the next 7 years. But more importantly customers will see a fall in their energy bills of around £500 each year.
Feedback’s been really positive so far, with customers focusing not just on savings but on the improved heat distribution around their homes.
The project’s also helped towards meeting our goals of reducing our carbon emissions as part of our corporate social responsibility strategy.
2 years ago I left school and was lucky enough to get the position as ‘Development Apprentice’. I thought this was a really good opportunity as not only did I have a full time job and was getting paid I was also working towards a NVQ and at the end of the year I would have a Level 2 qualification in Business and Administration.
When I was at school I didn’t really like sitting in a classroom and learning from books or learning from a teacher speaking to you, I was more of a practical ‘on the job’ learner. That’s why I thought an Apprenticeship would benefit me more than if I went to college for another 2 years. I feel if I went down that route I wouldn’t be where I am now. I applied for 3 different Apprenticeships and had a first interview at all 3. I think Apprenticeships stood out to me because not only was I going to be getting a qualification and get paid, I was going to get a lot of on site/on the job experience. And I feel I learn a lot more when I watch/assist someone with something rather than listen to someone and having to write it down. I think this is why I was attracted to Apprenticeships. If I went to college I would get A-levels and qualifications, however an Apprenticeship gives you this opportunity of gaining qualifications as well as getting paid and experience.
Once I competed my first year, the chance of a second year in a more advanced qualification got offered to me, and I couldn’t turn it down. The opportunity was amazing. It’s the equivalent of an A-level. I really enjoyed my first year, because the units you complete are very different from each other and there’s a different approach for completing each one. For example one unit could be doing a presentation, the next one could be a voice record of me saying the answers or it could be an observation, therefore my demonstrating an action and someone watching me do it. I really enjoyed these different approaches and it gives me a break from my normal office/site work. I think what I enjoyed most were the skills the NVQ were giving me. I’ve learnt so much and it’s helped me in my everyday tasks.
Professionally my Apprenticeship’s helped me a lot and I’ve been offered two new posts since I started. The Apprenticeship was a starting point and I worked my hardest and was luckily enough to be kept on. The skills I gained in the first year really helped me show off and sell myself to the company to take me on permanently. I’ve gained one qualification and am working towards completing my second one.
Personally my confidence has grown massively since I started here, and I think this is due to my Apprenticeship. The units and activities that need to be completed in the NVQ are about interacting with people and doing various actions. I feel I’ve become more comfortable in a working environment and have changed the way I approach things not just at work. My personal skills have improved and I’ve also gained some new skills I didn’t think I would this time 2 years ago.
I think I’m a good asset to my department here at Sentinel. I was a helping hand in my first year, dipping in and out the Growth, Delivery and Sales team. I gained a lot of experience in certain jobs that I’m now comfortable doing. I think this has helped the team. I’m now permanent in my new role and assist in certain sites specific to my project manager. I work more on the admin side now however I still attend site for various reasons. The skills I’ve learnt can help my team as I can apply them to everyday tasks and I’m never frightened to assist/show someone how I would approach a task. I hope after I complete my second year/qualification I’ll become an even more valuable member to the team.
After my first year I got offered the second year role as a ‘Development Trainee’ and to complete the level 3 NVQ and BTEC in Housing. I’m currently working towards this now and am on schedule to finish this before the end of 2016. After this, hopefully I’ll have completed them and gained the qualification. I hope to stay at Sentinel a few more years; and hopefully progress further and maybe eventually move into a more senior role. However I think if the opportunity was there to do a more advanced level NVQ/qualification I think I would like to do it.
To anyone considering applying to do an Apprenticeship I would say go ahead and do it, its one of the best decisions I ever made.
Before I started working in housing I was like many people. I believed all the myths we’re now trying hard as an industry to dispel. I didn’t really know about housing associations, I just thought lots of people lived in council houses and that many of them were on benefits and didn’t want to work.
Now after nearly 5 years working At Sentinel I’m glad to say my perception has changed massively. Our customers cover a wide demographic and yes some aren’t working, but our recent customer census said only 26% are purely benefit funded. What I have seen since joining the organisation are lots of people trying really hard to provide for their families who deserve a decent safe place to call home.
I recently met a man called Andrew whose story really touched me. Go back 10 years and Andrew had it all, a great job at a large company; he owned his own home and was married with two children. He worked hard and paid his taxes. But things started to go wrong for Andrew. His son, who had been academically gifted started getting into drugs and ended up an addict. This put pressure on his relationship with his wife and they broke up. Slowly things started to unravel for Andrew. The family home was sold and he was left with very little. Friends looked after belongings for him and he went into rented accommodation. But it was just too expensive and that’s when he heard about our homes and what we could offer him.
We were Andrew’s safety net. Talking to him made me proud to work in housing and of all our staff and the difference they’re making to everyone’s lives everyday. Andrew’s so grateful for the home we’ve given him and the services that come with it. He doesn’t take any of it for granted. It made me wonder how many more Andrews are out there, thousands of people who would have had no where else to turn if it wasn’t for housing associations and the great work we all do.
The government wants a million homes built in England by 2020. That’s a lot of homes. But even if this figure can be met will they really be affordable to those in need?
Will they help to meet the housing crisis that’s gained so much coverage over the past couple of years? Possibly not. A new affordability map on the BBC’s website titled ‘Where can I afford to live’ launched this week. It allows would be buyers and renters to look up the area they want to live in and see if it’s affordable for them. It also shows them the percentage of places across the UK they would be able to afford.
The South East is especially expensive and not just in London. Wages in many areas just aren’t keeping up with the levels needed to buy a home.
To help tackle this we’ve pledged to help get people on the housing ladder through shared ownership homes. Only buying a part of their home and renting the rest means a much smaller deposit is required and areas which once might have just been an aspiration can become a reality.
The housing crisis is having a massive impact on people all across our region. Young first time buyers are living longer and longer with parents and finding it really hard to get the massive deposits required to buy on the open market. And it’s not just first time buyers, families often out grow their homes and then need another option to find a larger home.
We’re committed to help the government meet its targets by building 400-500 homes each year, divided half between affordable, and half shared ownership homes so people can own a home of their own.
Our customers are getting hit hard and fast from lots of directions. The loss of community services from local authorities and the reduction to the benefit cap are making their lives harder and we all expect worse to come.
As part of our approach to tackling this we’ve just launched a 5 year community investment strategy and put together a new team to help deliver it. Like many across the industry we’re faced with both opportunities and challenges around filling the community investment gap and we need to make sure every pound we spend delivers the best outcomes and that means measuring, monitoring and ultimately justifying what we’re doing.
We know this is nothing new across the sector but we’re really excited about some of our early success stories.
Over the last 2 months the new tenancy sustainment officers have been working with customers referred to them by our income team. The trigger is rent arrears but digging deeper we’ve found people who for one reason or another simply can’t cope with day to day life. And for many of them their problems are far more complicated than simply not being good with money. So, we help them with the bits we can and point them in the right direction for any other support they need.
Here’s a few examples:
Mr E lost his job and his confidence didn’t apply for any benefits and ended up with rent arrears. We successfully helped him apply for housing benefit, council tax benefit, job seekers allowance and employment and support allowance. And with back payments that came to £2808. Now he’s cleared his rent arrears and found another job.
Mr J went to pieces when his Mum died. He knew he couldn’t stay in the same house so he downsized. He didn’t apply for any benefits and not only had rent arrears he had no gas, electricity or food in his home. We used our own hardship fund to buy food and get his services reinstated. Then helped him apply for housing benefit and job seekers allowance both were backdated and came to £1624. Now he’s cleared his rent arrears and is actively looking for work.
Mrs E owed £1700 in rent and we were about to take her case to court. During one last attempt to get her to respond we helped her apply for a discretionary housing payment and she was awarded £681. We also helped her apply for housing benefit which was backdated and now her arrears are cleared and she’s back on track.
Mr H took over the tenancy at his mother’s home after she died but didn’t pay rent for some time. When we first visited him he had rent arrears of £2520 we helped him apply for housing benefit and he was awarded £1893.69 back dated housing benefit. His rent arrears are now clear and he’s keeping on top of his bills.
We’re on the up, the economy that is. According to the Bank of England we’ve now reached growth levels which will soon warrant a rise in the base interest rate. It’s yet another measure making it harder for people to own their own home. Our answer like many of yours is shared ownership. And following recent proposals by Osborne more shared ownership homes than ever before are expected to be built. But we need to be slicker as an industry if we’re to make the numbers stack up.
Our sales team were set a new targetof 100% completions within 12 weeks of handover. We identified processes that were slow or unnecessary and now we’re hitting an average of 3 weeks from handover to sales completion.
Here’s how we did it:
Attending site meetings – We decided to work better with other staff who can get the information we need without us having to attend. Let’s face it you don’t really need 3 Sentinel staff to attend 1 meeting. With 9 sites on the go that saved around 15% of sales team time.
Financial assessments – We started to work better with the financial advisors, getting them to do most of the work for us. They receive a lot of automatic business from us, saving them money on their marketing costs. So they couldn’t say no. We estimate that’s saving about 10% of team time.
Attending handovers – We decided to follow the lead of estate agents and some other HA’s. Customers now collect the keys from us on the day of completion instead of us meeting them. That’s saving around 10% of our time.
Securing customers early – We encourage customers to pay their deposit electronically that’s another weeks saving against our old process of accepting cheques.
Getting our panel solicitors to work to our agenda. We introduced a 28 day exchange process, instead of working on the 3 months valuation expiry date for each property as an acceptable date for completion. Panel Solicitors are sent our leases in advance for them to read and raise legal enquiries in advance. That saves around 3 weeks when appointed by a customer. Getting the panel solicitors to agree to work to a 5 day completion from handover instead of a standard 10 day is saved another week.
Speeding up the mortgage lenders valuation process. We asked all mortgage lender surveyors to accept construction drawings and marketing packs to base their valuations on instead of visiting the properties. That’s an expected saving of 4 weeks in the conveyancing process. Not all lenders agree to this but we keep on trying!
Marketing new sites at short notice – We tested new marketing designers for speed, quality and price. We now have a dream team to choose from depending on the needs of each new site.
Step into the digital age. Initially we encouraged and accepted scanned application forms and documents. That cut the process time by about a week. Since then we’ve developed a fully digital online process. We now also send all marketing packs electronically. Customers need to request a hard copy if they want one. We expect to save around £50k with fewer print runs and lower postage costs.