How four social housing providers set about tackling gas safety and improving service to residents
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SOMERSET WEST AND TAUNTON COUNCIL: Recording access and work completed
Year installed: 2017
Homes serviced: 4,500
Six-month savings: £55,000
Challenges in accessing properties used to be a significant issue for the gas servicing and repairs team at Somerset West and Taunton Council. Part of the problem was it was difficult to demonstrate to tenants when, where and why the team had been unable to access a home.
When Rich Wiseman became the organisation’s property investment manager in late 2016, he decided to fix that. He and colleagues introduced a new technology from Gas Tag that not only solved the problem, but also provided greater insight into engineers’ work and their level of compliance with best practice.
This involved attaching tags to the meters in each of the organisation’s approximately 4,500 gas-equipped homes and giving engineers mobile devices with the Geo Tag app installed.
Now, when it hasn’t been possible to gain access to a property, the engineer uses the app to take a live, geotagged photo with a time and date stamp. This enables the council to show residents when they have been unable to access their properties.
“When we come to booking in an appointment, we can actually view the amount of access attempts that we required the last time it was serviced,” says Mr Wiseman. “We can take account of that in our procedure to access the property because we’ve got that business intelligence.”
However, if engineers are able to access the property, they can touch their mobile device to the tag on the meter, making it possible to enter details of what was done. These details are then automatically uploaded into a cloud-hosted, web-based system.
“You can see your compliance in real time,” explains Mr Wiseman. “It also gives you a level of compliance you don’t have without it, because every engineer has to complete their work record on the Gas Tag app and they have to go through each step sequentially – so you know they’re going to be following best practice in what they’re doing to record information and test the equipment.”
These are just some of the reasons, he says, that the council has estimated Gas Tag saved it £55,000 in the six months after it was set up.
PLATFORM HOUSING GROUP: Oversight of a contractor-partner
Year installed: 2016
Homes serviced: 2,200
Servicing satisfaction: 100%
When Waterloo Housing Group and Acclaim Housing Group became one organisation in 2016, leaders were left with a dilemma regarding gas servicing.
Mal Sagoo, asset management director for Platform Housing Group (which was formed late last year by a further merger with Fortis Living), explains: “Prior to the merger, Acclaim’s gas servicing in Matlock was done by a very small contractor – but a good one.
“It had about six engineers servicing 2,200 units and they’d been doing it for years. Their record was really good. They were achieving 100% quite frequently for servicing done well. We had very few complaints from customers about their service.”
The new organisation was keen to keep using this small operation rather than giving the work to a bigger contractor. “We’d have finished the company and we would have lost six jobs in the Matlock area, which is an area in which we’re active.” But there was a challenge.
“They did everything manually,” says Mr Sagoo. “I remember walking into the office and seeing one of the owners photocopying our gas safety register certificates. So we wanted to extend their contract, but they had to have an IT system – and they were very hesitant about investing in that.
“So we went back to the board and said, ‘Do we make this investment with them and help them along, and this becomes part of our social value?’”
The board agreed and invested in Gas Tag. Mr Sagoo says this has given the group oversight of the contractor and the contractor an excellent IT system.
“We can look at Gas Tag and it says exactly when somebody’s been [to a property], what they’ve done and how they’ve done it. We don’t have to ask for that data – it’s out there in the cloud and we can just pick it up.”
That means, he says, that the contract “runs with the least people per unit and is the easiest to administer”.
“Part of that will be because the contractor knows the customers and part of that is we’ve lost this monthly contract meeting where half goes [on] discussing and trying to get the right data picture.”
The success has been such that Platform is now discussing extending Gas Tag to all its gas servicing contracts.
Gas Tag’s meter tags and app enable organisations to track the progress of their engineers and evidence when access has been impossible
HOUSING PLUS GROUP: Compliance visibility
Year installed: 2018
Ask Alan Core how residents’ attitudes to gas safety have changed in recent years and his answer is a simple one: a lot – and with good reason.
“Our customers wanted improved visibility,” reports Mr Core, head of assets and compliance at Housing Plus Group. “And we wanted to be able to give them more assurance that we were meeting our compliance requirements.
“It’s no longer acceptable just to say that you’ve got a compliance percentage of x and you’ve got a piece of paper, so you must be compliant and you must be safe.”
When re-procuring gas servicing, leaders at the group therefore decided to add a new requirement – use of a technological compliance system.
Gas Tag has now been in place since April last year.
“It’s giving all round visibility,” reports Mr Core. “It gives us more than just a tick in the box in terms of whether we have a piece of paper that’s in date. It’s about true compliance, not just about achieving or surpassing targets.”
STONEWATER: The right processes
Year installed: 2019
Homes serviced: approximately 32,000
Of the more than 32,000 properties owned or managed by Stonewater, a very high percentage have gas. The person with day-to-day responsibility for ensuring compliance with all safety recommendations – which has been at 100% for the past three years – is gas and heating manager Victoria Robinson. It may seem like a daunting prospect, but she has a cool-headed methodology.
“It’s about focus on process, training and staff knowledge – that’s staff across the board understanding the importance of it, not just in the asset team.”
Keeping track of compliance across the entire stock has, she says, been made much easier by developments in information technology. “IT has progressed so much over the past few years that it enables us to have a really good understanding and a picture at any time.”
Working to implement Gas Tag means, she says, “I can have a snapshot at any moment of where we are.” The system even alerts Stonewater if a contractor does not have the relevant qualifications to undertake a particular job.
“I think as long as you’ve got a good process and a good IT system in place, and you can build good relationships, then managing compliance is not difficult,” says Ms Robinson.