Letting you into a little secret, we wanted to call this blog ‘Three for 2023’ and thought it was quite catchy.
But unfortunately, when we discussed this year’s priorities as we see them for the housing sector, we realised they weren’t going to fit neatly into our initial title.
So rather than miss anything out, here it is, our ‘Four for 2023’ (see, not so catchy), looking at the areas that we see as the most important for our clients and other organisations to be focussing on this year.
1. Quality of homes
As we read in Sarah Thomas’ most recent blog, the quality of the sector’s housing stock is continuing to receive considerable attention. The death of Awaab Ishak and subsequent damp, mould and repairs issues that have come to light since have cast a shadow over social housing that will take a long time to lift.
This follows the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower fire and subsequent pressure to ensure safety in high-rise buildings. In this case, most of those living in the building were social housing residents.
In 2022, the Better Social Housing Review looked at the quality of social housing in England, producing a number of recommendations for housing providers including:
- Refocussing on the core purpose of social housing – to provide decent, safe homes for those who can’t afford the market – and only once that purpose is met to look at what other services can be added.
- Working together to develop a national audit, preferably with all housing associations applying the new HACT UK standards.
- Partnering with tenants, staff and contractors to develop and apply new standards for excellent repairs and maintenance processes – taking us back to providing decent and safe homes.
The most recent Residents Survey Report from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, showed that the most common reason given by residents unsatisfied with the maintenance of their home were mould, damp and condensation.
Repairs and maintenance has always been a hot topic in housing – it’s usually the top priority for residents and can make or break a housing provider in terms of the quality of their homes.
We work with lots of great housing providers. We know many affordable housing organisations have homes that are well looked after, and satisfied customers who love their homes.
But whilst many have homes that are of a good standard and systems in place to keep them that way, the increased scrutiny from the Housing Ombudsman Service, media and public will ensure that the quality of homes in the social housing sector will continue to be a priority for 2023 and beyond.
2. Energy efficiency and retrofit
Everywhere we look these days, we hear the words sustainability, energy-efficiency and ‘net zero.’ At times they are used when they probably shouldn’t. When a little bit of digging would find an organisation wasn’t doing all that much behind the words – or in other words ‘greenwashing.’
But many organisations, including us as an agency, and lots of our clients, really are committed to reducing our carbon emissions and impact on the planet in line with the government’s target of net zero-carbon by 2050. You’ve only got to watch Sir David Attenborough (we’re big fans, but who isn’t) for five minutes to know how important it is that organisations prioritise the energy efficiency of their workspaces, and in our clients’ case, homes.
Inevitably, homes get older. And it isn’t always feasible to build new homes to replace old ones, especially going into 2023 with capped rents and squeezed budgets. Additionally, customers who have made their life in a home wouldn’t often choose to up sticks and move to a new build, even if they were offered one.
That’s where retrofit comes in. This is a growing area of commitment for housing providers as they look to improve their existing properties with sustainability measures such as solar panels, insulation, and ground source heat pumps.
Some of our clients have been bidding for and taking advantage of the government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, but the challenge to the sector remains huge, with funding of around £100 billion needed to complete the required retrofit of social homes.
Housing associations collectively provide homes to around six million people and the impact of those homes is massive as part of the UK’s journey to becoming net zero-carbon.
3. Resident satisfaction
Last year, the Regulator of Social Housing asked landlords and residents to give their views on a proposal to create a new system for assessing social housing providers. The new system, which comes into force in April, will bring revised consumer standards, and a new set of Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs) that our clients must report on. The result will be that we will have a nationwide picture of how well social landlords are doing at providing good-quality homes and services.
With a rigid set of measures, it is hoped that tenant satisfaction will become even more of a priority and lead to higher levels of satisfaction amongst residents of social housing. A recent report by our client Housemark showed the challenge housing providers face here, with overall tenant satisfaction having decreased by five percentage points since 2020 to 79%.
The tougher approach by the regulator is seen positively in the housing sector and comes in addition to recent work by many housing organisations to involve their residents more in the running of their homes.
Increasingly, residents are being invited to take part in resident groups and boards, scrutinising the work of senior leadership and their landlord’s performance. They are being involved in improvements to websites, portals and apps, as part of organisations’ ongoing digital transformation. And they are more frequently being invited to check and report on repairs and maintenance work carried out by contractors, reporting back on how satisfied they really are with the standard of the work their rent pays for.
The new TSMs, combined with the increased media spotlight on the effect of social housing conditions on those living within its walls, will of course mean that resident satisfaction will be one of the main priorities for our clients this year.
4. Resident and stakeholder engagement
To be able to deliver on the areas we’ve discussed so far, our clients know that engaging with their residents and wider stakeholders is vital, and increasingly so as organisations continue to do more with less. Having the support of customers, local business, communities, and partner organisations builds a stronger foundation resulting in more fruitful results.
To deliver on challenging net zero goals, partnership working and resident buy-in is crucial. No housing provider is an island as they say (well they don’t, but you get the gist).
Equally, keeping customers happy and improving the quality of homes requires thoughtful and ongoing communications and stakeholder engagement.
Resident and stakeholder engagement can be enhanced in many ways including:
- Digital or traditional newsletters and annual reports
- Resident committees and focus groups
- Well-placed thought leadership articles and regular blogs
- Podcasts and engaging content on TikTok
The support of a PR agency with dedicated expertise in the social housing sector could make a real difference to your engagement levels from customers, potential partners and peers.
If you’d like to find out more about our PR and communications consultancy provision and how we can support you, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.