How are housing organisations investing in the future of their tenants’ homes? Inside Housing and Mitie carried out a survey of social landlords to find out
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Social landlords are becoming much more creative in the way they look to enhance the performance of their stock to improve tenants’ lives. From simply investing in more energy efficient windows, to developing apps to better communicate with tenants, landlords are thinking hard about what interventions will have the greatest impact.
To find out more, Inside Housing, alongside facilities management company Mitie, launched a survey to examine what housing organisations are doing with the latest technology to improve not just their stock, but also the level of service they provide for residents.
Ninety respondents, from all parts of the sector across the UK, took the time to share their organisation’s approach to housing tenants and some of the ways in which they were innovating.
New technologies are increasingly having an impact on the ways social landlords run their businesses. Self-service repairs, to name one example, are giving tenants greater flexibility and choice in the way they engage with their landlords, while still achieving savings and benefits for the organisation.
There is much support from across the sector to embrace new ways of working. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents said their organisation most closely identifies with the phrase “new technology has a vital role to play in our tenants’ homes, and we should be at the forefront of this investment”.
Marie-Claire Delbrouque, director of housing and customer insight at Flagship Group, says new technology can play a vital role in improving overall customer experience. However, there are barriers to providing this improved level of service.
Forty-one per cent of participants stated that they would like to invest further in new technology for their tenants’ homes, but the costs are too prohibitive.
Ms Delbrouque admits that there are still significant financial pressures on organisations, but the advantages of embracing technology are too great to pass up. “There’s no denying that working in a digital way helps us provide a more efficient service, but I hope also a much easier, faster and more responsive service for customers,” she adds.
Similarly, when asked about their organisation’s main barrier to investing in energy efficiency and new technology, 46% of respondents cited a lack of funds.
Richard Hughes, partnership development director for property services at Mitie, agrees that funding for these sorts of measures has been a major issue for many organisations.
“I think the biggest challenge under the banner of technology has been the government’s inconsistency in some of the incentives,” he says.
The rise and fall of schemes such as Feed-in Tariffs, the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation hasn’t delivered the consistency required to drive long-term investment.
The power of data
But there is a feeling investment in technology and innovation can make a real difference to housing organisations. Asset management and property repairs (38%) and efficiency and productivity improvements (30%) were cited as the areas of business where new technology would be likely to have the biggest impact.
An intelligent use of data is something that is feeding more and more into the everyday running of housing providers. Eighty-nine per cent of landlords say that data ‘significantly’ plays a role in the running of their organisations.
Phillip Worthington, customer and community engagement officer at Stockport Homes, an arm’s-length management organisation that manages Stockport Council’s housing stock, says that the data they collect has a tangible impact on the organisation’s service delivery.
For instance, from data collected about its residents, the organisation discovered that one estate, Edgeley, was a stock location with a particularly high cost per unit. When it more closely examined the data to discover some of the root causes, it found it had a high proportion of isolated older men, many of whom also had an alcohol problem. There was also a high rate of unemployment.
A pilot was launched to tackle some of these issues, with many strands of the business working together when they otherwise usually wouldn’t.
“Looking at what we considered to be the savings from that Edgeley pilot has meant that people at the top of the organisation have decided that culture of working is better for the organisation, and we’re now looking at other pilot areas,” Mr Worthington says.
Another significant way in which landlords invest in their properties is through energy efficiency measures. All councils and housing associations are required to bring their properties up to the Decent Homes Standard, which requires properties to have efficient heating and effective insulation as a minimum.
With many associations and councils still needing to drive efficiencies thanks to external pressures such as the rent cut and Local Housing Allowance cap, it is promising to hear 38% of respondents have reported that their organisation’s energy efficiency spend is likely to increase in the next 12 months. A further 30% report no change in their spending, whereas just 10% report a decrease.
Mr Hughes of Mitie thinks it’s positive that so many organisations are taking energy efficiency seriously, given the reduction in energy costs it can result in for tenants. “People are feeling the pinch more and more each year as energy prices go up,” he says. That not only impacts the customer but also the communities in which they live.”
The prevailing view from the survey is that the majority of landlords appear happy to undertake work to improve the lives of their tenants, but costs - of material or new ways of working - are a barrier to doing as much as they would like.
Mr Hughes sympathises with this position. He says that although there’s an “element of necessity” in improving what is driven by legislation, there are many landlords that wish to set their sights higher on delivering improvements for their tenants.
“The challenge for housing providers is finding the capacity for that push for excellence and innovation alongside the bread and butter services they provide,” he says.