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HQN chief Alistair McIntosh provides his top tips on how to be prepared for your next In-Depth Assessment
“When I first became a Member of Parliament, I was astonished and dismayed to find I was effectively the post-box for local housing associations’ complaints service. Were I the chief executive of such an organisation, I would be mortified if local Members of Parliament were receiving the level of correspondence that some of us do, and I would be taking action” - Kit Malthouse, Minister of State for Housing (Hansard, 14 March).
That’s the message from the top. What’s next? Well, the RSH says it’s going to check you out more often. How should you prepare for these IDAs? You’ve got to be on standby all the time. So what should you be doing? Here are our top tips:
Work out what you need to spend on homes and make sure you have the cash to do it
That’s your basic job in a nutshell, isn’t it? So no wonder the RSH is all over this.
Obviously you’ll need to convince them your homes are safe. And they are painfully aware of the lamentable standards in a lot of new homes. Do you have this problem? If so, what are you doing about it? Ensure you have an up-to-date stock condition survey.
This needs to be independently validated too. Then the numbers should be put into your business plan. The RSH will check to see that you have the money to pay for the works. And they know all the tricks in the trade about smoothing the numbers to get you through any tight spots. Don’t forget that Hackitt was scathing about socalled value engineering. And with good reason. We’ve put this right at number one on our list.
If you don’t know what you need to spend here the RSH can pull the rug from under your feet on the business plan. It won’t be on rock-solid ground and this can harm your Governance and Viability ratings.
Prove that your homes are safe
Are you sorting out legionella, electrics, gas, asbestos, fire and lifts too? How can you be sure? Are these being checked out by technical experts that know what they are doing? Do you act on their findings quickly?
The RSH will also want to see the internal audit reports for these. If they are based on tiny sample sizes or the level of assurance seems too high they will sniff this out and ask questions.
“A way of thinking in which one is basically pessimistic, but manages to use it to his/her advantage.” Yes, you’ve got to sign up to the national obsession with Brexit. You need to stress test your business plans for any fall out here.
The usual things we see in stress testing are sales stalling and repair costs soaring while income tumbles. You need to come up with the right crises for you. And you need to pile them on top of each other. What does this do to your plans and how do you get back on track? The RSH has been asking you to run these tests for years now.
So they expect it to be done to a high standard. Really you should be testing and updating your business plan pretty much continuously. Saying that you run an annual stress test is a prime example of an oxymoron.
Sort out value for money – it never goes away for long
The honeymoon period for the new VfM metrics is over. Now you need to calculate each one accurately, know why you differ from peers, act to close any gaps, and collect extra metrics that show you are meeting your strategic objectives.
If your costs look high then get beneath them. Don’t offer up glib one liner justifications. That won’t wash. You need a proper analysis of the knock-on impact on costs of things like running care and investing in new IT.
By the same token you can spend too little. The RSH will not be at all happy if they think you are being penny wise and pound foolish on repairs.
Don’t kick the can down the road
No one likes to take tough decisions. Many try to put these off for as long as possible. But what will become of you if the RSH pops in at the wrong time? There is no time to lose on sorting out a badly-behaved board member, shabby service, tricky development or some other thorny problem.
And you need to think about the future. When the Green Paper finally grinds out it will raise the bar on service standards. Are you ready for that?
HQN can help – we’ve carried out more than 50 mock IDAs and almost 100 stress tests – contact Anna Pattison for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org