An Inside Housing survey, in association with Mears, provides insight into the future of repairs, as well as the wider priorities and concerns for landlords and developers. Picture by Getty
In association with:
Social landlords are facing challenging conditions when it comes to repairs and maintenance. Grenfell has firmly thrown the spotlight on safety, while the 1% a year rent cut has forced many to look at savings. Finding the right balance has required renewed scrutiny of the different solutions available.
“Outsourcing is a very cyclical business. There will be times when local authorities or the government put out more outsourcing and then that comes back around,” says Gary Jackson, director of communications and customer success at Mears.
An Inside Housing survey in association with Mears had more than 130 responses, and asked landlords and developers what type of repairs and maintenance they were using. Nearly a fifth (19%) of landlords had directly employed repairs operatives for all repairs and maintenance provision. Nearly a third (31%) outsourced their repairs and maintenance provision, while the remaining half used a combination of both.
When asked how confident they were in their chosen solution, the vast majority – 84% – believed that they had made the right decision, with just 11% and 5% respectively admitting to being “not so” or “not at all” confident. Breaking down those who were confident, 17% expressed themselves “extremely” confident, while around a third (34% and 33%) were either “very” or “somewhat” confident respectively.
Respondents were asked to rank their top three priorities when it came to repairs and maintenance. Although there was a considerable spread of answers, the most popular were “quality of service” and “value”. “Safety” was also high on the priority list – a sign of the ongoing fallout from Grenfell, suggests Mr Jackson.
“All local authorities have had to look at safety since Grenfell; they’ve had to look at individual contracts. If you look at the criticism of what happened there, it was so broken down it was not clear who was responsible for what in the end. I think that is the safety aspect coming through,” he says.
Value for money
Value for money and tenant satisfaction were also high on the agenda. “Local authorities are legally obliged to get value for money, which is often the reason why they choose outsourcing – because it comes out cheaper,” says Mr Jackson.
“Tenant satisfaction is again coming from Grenfell. If you look at the government’s Social Housing Green Paper, it talks about ‘tenant voice’ a lot; how residents in social housing can feel more valued. Really, none of the current mechanisms are good enough for involving tenants, and their right to complain to the ombudsman is very limited. There is that element of people feeling excluded from the democratic process,” he adds.
In-house or outsource?
These priorities will often colour the choices landlords and developers make in terms of whether to go down the in-house or outsourced repairs and maintenance route, the survey showed. More than four out of 10 (42%) agreed that they would “definitely” affect their decision, with 35% saying they would “to a great extent”, 18% saying “to some extent” and just 5% “not at all”.
When it came to gauging whether or not an in-house, contractor or shared service solution was sustainable, “performance” was the top factor, cited by 47% of respondents. Other considerations included “cost” (15%), “cost transparency” (8%), “customer service” (8%) and “tenant feedback” (7%).
Looking to the future, how do landlords and developers feel the contractor relationship needs to develop?
A total of 28% said “greater collaboration between landlord and contractor” is needed, closely followed by “openness regarding costs incurred” and “effective use of IT systems and processes” (both 22%). “Greater transparency of a contractor’s financial viability” was deemed important by 9% of respondents, along with “sharing of contract performance information” and “new financial models” (both 3%), and “greater risk sharing” (2%).
Yet in the post-Grenfell climate “greater collaboration” means – or needs to mean – much more than simply working closely with commercial partners, emphasises Mr Jackson.
“I think it is genuinely about providing tenants with a voice and ‘ownership’ over their community. You see big, big estate regenerations that have been probably going on for 20 years on and off but haven’t really involved the residents or provided a real community space and community housing,” he says.
“Then, in terms of safety and repairs, hopefully what we’ll see is this being a turning point where residents have a lot more faith that their property will be generally well-maintained and will have an understanding when a contract is signed about what that really looks like.
“This should be a positive thing for all decent landlords to do, too. Because, we would argue, the more planned the maintenance and the more involved the residents are, the less money you will spend in having to do crisis repairs. I think it benefits everybody, this collaboration point,” says Mr Jackson.
“Social value” was also included by some respondents within their list of top three priorities, albeit at the lower end of responses.
“Social value as a concept used to be quite popular in the late-1990s; if you were a contractor or outsourcer coming in, you’d want to prove your added value. How does what you’re doing affect the community you’re working in, how does it bring a community together, how does it make a community feel part of a decision-making process? We’re seeing the rise again of social value with developers. That cyclical wind is blowing in favour of social value,” says Mr Jackson.