Can we fix it?
All posts from: February 2012
Innovate or die. It is a statement which resonates in almost all industry and is surely apt for repairs and maintenance.
Although the horror shows of Connaught, Rok and Kinetics are now in the past, they nevertheless present a warning to current teams that nothing can be taken for granted.
We have shown many times on the pages of Inside Housing how fast the housing sector changes and its needs along with it.
The way contracts are now procured is much changed from the old days and the expectations put upon contractors is much changed too – often with a greater focus on the customer.
So I was interested to see Kier has launched an App for customers to log complaints and interact with the provider.
This is innovation and, although I am sure others may be doing something similar, it does show forward thinking and an appreciation of the customer.
For those scratching their heads thinking ‘what is an App?’ – these are applications, or small computer programmes, which can be downloaded onto a smartphone such as an iPhone or Android.
These are the small things that you see people looking at almost all hours of the day instead of engaging in meaningful discussion with one another.
From that last statement you may be able to guess what my gripe may be and yes, it would be about face-to-face interactions.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no luddite. I think things like this are really a step in the right direction and I have nothing but praise for this scheme. I also like smartphones - without mine I would not have been able to track ‘one of the worst ever’ Arsenal teams putting 5 goals past ‘the best ever’ team the noisy neighbours from Haringey have had at the weekend.
This is a fantastic way of making the service much more accessible for people and also frees up time for tenants who do not have to sit on the end of a phone waiting in a queue.
I only hope that when the repair is being done, people can drag themselves away from the phone long enough to make the worker a cup of tea!
A BBC programme looking at the role of coroners brought up some interesting and timely topics.
For those who did not see Death Unexplained, I suggest you do your best to catch it on iPlayer or watch the next episode as it is a well made documentary.
It centres on West London Coroners court. A place I know quite well from time spent on local rags in that part of the world.
Forgetting the grisly details of various autopsies ascertaining the cause of death of an individual, the part which most interested me was the death of ‘Fred’.
He was an elderly man who lived alone and did not appear to have any friends or family. He lived a quiet life - chatting occasionally to neighbours - but mostly popped in and out of his home.
He died in his flat and was not discovered for a number of months.
The only people to attend his funeral, paid for by the council, were his neighbour and her mother.
It is a situation that many housing associations will have experience of.
This year we have already had two separate cases where the body of a tenant has been discovered years after their death.
Often these people are not found until a gas check or repair is scheduled or rent arrears occur. In a civilised society it is not good enough.
But, what can be done in the housing sector to stop this from happening? We cannot prevent everyone from dying in their own homes – whether it be from natural causes, accident or crime.
But could the sector do more to prevent a person lying dead in their property for - and it has happened before – anything up to three years?
At the moment hands are tied somewhat. If someone is having full benefit paid to them and they have not been identified as vulnerable, then there is no real reason to get involved in their life. After all, social landlords cannot and must not act as nannies for their tenants – particularly at a time when the government is keen on getting people in and out of social housing as quick as possible.
Could there be better linking up with other ‘partners’ – police, council, contractors etc? Possibly. I don’t imagine it would be too hard for a contractor who maintains an estate or does responsive repairs to liaise with the landlord and identify the properties where people have been identified as isolated.
Surely a quick tap on the door and a good morning every once in a while would not only increase confidence in the landlord and contractor but also open up dialogue with tenants who have previously been under the radar.
This need not just be for contractors or landlords though. The police are frequently on the beat and are eager to foster good relations with ‘communities’ and I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down the chance of a cup of tea and a quick chat.
But then, perhaps this is all too idealistic. With swingeing cuts and belts tightened as ever before, do we expect people to go that extra mile?
I’m not so sure. One thing I am sure about though, it is inhuman to not have concern for our neighbour and for no-one to take responsibility or at least try and make a change is a stain that will take some getting rid of.
If there is genuine concern for ensuring someone lives the best life they can while in a home, then that concern should be equal once that person dies.
I have had the joyful tones of Jimmy Cliff reverberating around my head all day.
Unfortunately this is not due to the radio implanting ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ in my brain on the way to work this morning.
Had that been the case, I dare say I would have been much more productive today – like watching ‘Rocky’ before setting out on a 10 mile run.
No, Mr Cliff has been ever present in my conscious today thanks to Inside Housing’s focus on the tenant cashback scheme.
Darrin Gamble, head of neighbourhoods for the west midlands at Bromford Living (which is running a pilot), is a big supporter of the scheme. So much so that he uses the song as inspiration for the landlords attitude to ensuring it succeeds.
Mr Gamble says that the tenant cashback scheme fitted in with the group’s approach in the housing sector and its thoughts on innovation.
The aims of the group’s pilot are to reduce the cost of housing management, reward customers and discover what opportunities the scheme presents.
The landlord is also keen to see improved behaviour in some tenants too. Mr Gamble said in our Focus discussion that a customer who had damage to doors and boards came to them asking to be part of the pilot.
The tenant was told that they could not take part until the damage had been repaired. This was done and the tenant signed up to the scheme.
So far, it seems the scheme has been going well but one problem it has thrown up is tenants claiming cash for repairs that previously they would have done themselves.
Mr Gamble has admitted that this is an area which the group is looking at as the current amount of £300 for repairs is too high and would eat into any savings made. There is, however, no solution given.
On the other side of the fence sits Kevin Lowry, head of housing services at Northumberland Council, who argues that a failing repairs service should not be fragmented and replaced with more emphasis on tenants taking responsibility, but to ‘consolidate and make the service tenant driven and accountable’.
He argues that there is little evidence showing tenants’ desire to do their own repairs.
This is an intriguing point and if we take it further we could ask what will happen to the service once it is two, three or four years old?
Will tenants still be so keen to do repairs in their own home in return for cash? I’m sure we can all recall a point in our life when we have put off painting the garage or putting together the new desk from Ikea for a number of weeks.
Could it be that the novelty soon wears off and a number of homes begin spiralling into disrepair as tenants do not bother to report and undertake repairs?
The health and safety concerns aside, what about the effect on the actual house and the monetary value of it?
These are but a few of the considerations which came up in the debate this morning and there are sure to be a few more that crop up as the pilots rumble on.