At our ‘Joining the dots’ event last week, we heard how important it is for all departments and all levels of the organisation to communicate effectively with one another. Whether it’s around issues of safety, complaints or general good practice, the importance of this joined- up approach couldn’t be understated.

One of the keynote speakers was Ashling Fox, Deputy Chief Executive at Peabody. She spoke openly and honestly about the tragic case of Shelia Seleoane, a Peabody tenant who died in her home two years before her body was found.

Keen to learn from the case and share the lessons with the wider sector, Ashling outlined how there were many failed attempts and missed warning signs.

One of the key areas of learning was around siloed working and not spotting the “bigger picture”, with many staff members and departments following their own procedures but not joining things up. This could have meant them acting sooner and giving more information to the police service.

She also focused on the need to change the terminology used by the sector. For example, phrases such as “general needs” weren’t helpful and needed a rethink.

And while Covid-19 was not a main cause of the delay, it did add to it. Ashling reflected on the need to look at the impact of the pandemic and how behaviours have changed after such a fast move to digital services.

The other key themes from her presentation were around identifying and understanding the needs of all tenants. For example, ensuring that there are no “silent sufferers” in our homes, those that need support but don’t make themselves visible. There was also a need to identify those residents whose circumstances had changed so they could be suitably supported.

The report commissioned by Peabody into the case, highlighted some other key themes:

  • Culture – the need for everyone to “see, say, do”
  • Targets – be mindful that these don’t encourage the wrong behaviours by creating blinkered vision
  • Change – make sure everyone knows about changes, that the full impacts are considered across all services, and that staff are fully trained to deal with a range of scenarios
  • Neighbourhood patch sizes – the importance of the ability for staff to “know” their patches and spot trends
  • Insight and data – its importance and how to use it effectively to build a strong working picture
  • Policies and processes – making sure they aren’t operating in silo but working across, and linking together different services
  • Stakeholders – have closer links and relationships with partners, including the local council, police and other agencies.

Ashling also talked about the wellbeing dashboard Peabody are developing and the need for business intelligence teams to be working closely with operational teams so that they had the right information and really did understand “what was happening on my patch”.

In the second session, Rebecca Reed from the Housing Ombudsman Service underlined many of Ashling’s points.

She spoke about the importance of data, saying “you need to know your properties and be proactive”. This is needed for organisations to predict the likely problems and prevent them from occurring.

One in 12 Ombudsman cases had an issue related to how data is handled, Rebecca said, with organisations not knowing enough “about the demographic of complainants as well as who isn’t complaining” being another key issue.

Frequent issues related to:

  • Filing breaches – data either being inputted wrongly, badly used or held in the wrong place
  • User errors associated with data handling
  • Not identifying the data sets that are required
  • Lack of exception reporting on “bad data”.

Jo Richardson, former CIH President and Professor of Housing and Social Inclusion at De Montfort University, gave her perspective on the issue, highlighting many of the same points.

Jo also spoke about how “language impacts on delivery, approach and culture”. Giving a more staff perspective, she highlighted how young people were concerned about their career prospects, many felt weighed down by bureaucracy, frontline staff felt they weren’t being heard, and that professional and social support was needed for them.

Looking at some of the practical ways housing providers can improve on these issues, Kate Roberts of IFF Research looked at the use of surveys and feedback.

While many already use surveys in the sector, Kate said there was a need to “ask the right question and give people space to raise their issues” rather than using a more prescriptive approach that restricted the data gathered.

Using the headline feedback collected from the surveys, organisations can then “drill down” into the detail and adopt a ‘you said, we’re doing’ approach rather than “you said, we did”.

This addresses many of the issues associated with having to have acted something before reporting back (under you said, we did) such as ensuring a period of silence, engaging with customers on the right course of action, adapting your approach to suit resident needs, and keeping people up to speed.

The final session was from Eleanor Solomon, Partner, Anthony Gold Solicitors, who looked at the recent disrepair cases they’d been working on.

She said the common themes seen were a lack of respect shown to residents, issues with contractors, and lack of record keeping. Eleanor said that, in many instances, this came down to systematic problems such as a lack of the right internal culture, disempowered staff and a negative culture towards tenants.