By Tim Cowland, Senior Consultant, Socitm Advisory

The housing sector is used to political turmoil. So as the government wrestles with its future direction, we must continue to focus on the changes and challenges that will impact our tenants and regulatory environment.

The social housing sector is very much behind the drive to give residents more power and introduce more effective processes for solving issues when things have gone wrong.

The principles underpinning the new Social Housing Regulation Bill align with housing associations’ collective values and social purpose.

Whilst I see the vast majority of landlords are already hitting and exceeding the new standards requested by the regulator, it is vital that they can demonstrate this in a timely fashion through effective processes and access to the right data and information.

The Bill encompasses a wide range of new measures including regulator intervention when landlords are underperforming, inspections, powers for the regulator to make emergency repairs, regulator-issued fines and the creation of new Tenant Satisfaction Measures.

There are lots of positives for residents, but they will only be achieved if housing associations are able to implement new systems and ways of working focused on delivering quick and accurate performance metrics and transparency to the public and regulator.

Is your organisation ready and prepared for the changes? And what steps might you need to take?

At Socitm Advisory, we have spoken to several of our clients who all note that they will require existing processes to be reviewed and adjusted to ensure the new requirements can be met.

This may have staffing and cost implications, as meeting the requirements in a timely manner means more resources being directed to these priority areas.

Another key consideration is the use of data across an organisation. Many Board and Exec team members report being concerned about their data governance and whether it is in a suitable state to be able to support the business in meeting the new requirements.

For example, does a landlord have the required complete and accurate data sets to be able to prove that the services they are providing are of a required standard if a claim is made of underperformance? Do they have a complete understanding of their data architecture to be able to respond to the regulator’s inspections at short notice?

Put simply, does a business know what data they hold? Can they be sure it’s accurate and up to date and can they locate it?

Some will be asking whether their current applications are able to respond to these new demands? New repair categories may need to be created in response to the changes which have more urgent response or fix times.

Are applications and data ‘fit for purpose’ to allow the business to be able to record and report on tenant satisfaction measures on demand?

Requirements to meet the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act have been in place for public authorities since 2000, and I can well remember the initial panic this caused as systems, data and processes were hastily reviewed to allow the anticipated requests to be responded to.

Until now, housing associations have been exempt from FOI and have not therefore had this responsibility, However, with the new requirement for housing providers to respond to residents’ requests in a similar way to FOI, a housing provider will need to be sure their data is accurate and up to date, and that they have the necessary processes in place to respond to these requests if the data is not already freely available elsewhere.

Getting ready

The first step in the process should be to complete an ‘as-is’ audit of your applications and data – giving you a clear picture of where you are.

You would be surprised how many organisations do not have a full understanding of what applications they have, and how data flows between them.

The next step would be to consider what influences there are on the future evolution of your applications and data. What is your corporate strategy? What proposed changes are detailed in service plans? Are applications coming to the end of their natural life? What are the contractual arrangements? What external influences are there (such as the changes described in the Bill)?

Once you have a clear picture of the current environment and the internal and external driving forces, you can start to build an understanding of future needs.

Socitm uses skilled Enterprise Architects (EA) to carry out this work and can offer the service to landlords, as many organisations do not have the capacity to retain these skills in house.

The EA will develop your picture of the future, based upon the identified priorities and changes to process, and will outline the journey to get there in a detailed roadmap. Similarly with data, an audit followed by the development of a desired state will help you agree a plan to address the most pressing issues.

In my experience, our clients are welcoming new measures and the positive impact they will bring to residents and communities. It is right that the power is more balanced and that tenants can expect to be heard and have any problems acted upon.

More visibility of how landlords are performing will lead to better transparency and a rising of standards for all.

So, let’s make sure we are prepared for success, ready to demonstrate great services and ready to be scrutinised fairly and accurately should the need arise.