One hundred days of lockdown. What do they mean for landlords beyond 2020?

At the start of the year we shared our top ten predictions for 2020. Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown wasn’t one of them! As we pass one hundred days of lockdown and the halfway point of 2020, we’re reflecting on some of the changes we have seen as we adapt to the so called ‘new normal’ and what they could mean for housing.

1. Working from home as the norm?

We did predict that ways of working would change with ‘Working from Anywhere’ becoming the new ‘Working from Home’ as agile working and technology becomes more accessible, but we could not have predicted the scale of the changes seen overnight following the stay at home announcement on 23 March. As well as the challenges relating to managing remote workers, a huge effort was made to get the right IT equipment in place. Increased cyber security risks associated with the pandemic have been a key area of discussion at our Information Security Forum, and in his latest blog Arturo Dell shared some advice for the sector on what they can do to protect their organisations. With new ways of working established quickly and teams mobilising to maintain performance, could we see office working becoming a case of exception rather than the rule?

2. Access to high-quality broadband is more important than ever

Internet access has not only enabled millions to work from home and become the primary form of socialising for the majority of people, but has been used by school children learning from home. Those without internet access have faced considerable challenges and the crisis has shone a spotlight on the ‘digital divide’ in the UK - only 51% of households earning between £6000-10,000 had home internet access compared with 99% of households with an income of over £40,001. As we emerge from the pandemic and look to economic recovery, what role will the housing sector play in strategies to close this divide and ensure digital inclusion for their residents?

3. Relationships with tenants are changing

We thought that by this stage of the year, the much-anticipated Social Housing White Paper would be published (the domestic progress we predicted on the domestic agenda has unsurprisingly slowed!). When it does arrive, the sector can still expect enhanced consumer regulation and redress, as well as the need to report on their performance in relation to the customer voice, customer experiences and satisfaction. The Housing Ombudsman is already forging ahead, and we can expect to see the newly revised Housing Ombudsman Scheme later this year. 

We have heard from our members that the relationship between landlords and tenants has changed significantly during the pandemic, and that tenants and leaseholders have been happier as a result. It was also clear that the crisis has allowed landlords to better understand the levels of vulnerable customers in their homes – triggering strategic discussions about what suitable and sustainable service provision looks like for the future – with some of you revisiting your social purpose, your performance and how and where this may look different when the restrictions from COVID-19 are lifted.

Don’t miss your chance to discuss the implications of the pandemic for customer experience at our membership-inclusive ‘Ask the experts’ virtual panel session on Thursday, 9 July. Find out more and secure your place here.

4. Virtual governance looks set to stay

Before the pandemic hit, for many asked ‘could all your governance take place online?’ the answer would have been a resounding no. The situation has forced change, with history made on 22 April when MPs attended the first ever ‘virtual PMQs’ via Zoom. From both our own experience and speaking with our members, one area with unexpected benefits has been in governance. We have seen a more streamlined approach and efficient decision making, and attendance has increased with obstacles to physical attendance removed. It is difficult to imagine a return to only ‘in person’ board meetings, with a blended of virtual and physical meetings as required more likely.

5. Home has been where everything is

The social housing sector exists to provide safe, decent and affordable homes to those who need them. The pandemic has brought us an appreciation for comfortable homes, communities and caring, underlining the importance of this purpose. The housing crisis has been discussed at length, but now that homes have become the epicentre of everyone’s lives, what progress will we see on this agenda? The launch of #HomesAtTheHeart, a national campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing and the people who live in it, aims to make the sector a key pillar of economic recovery. As landlords revisit their business plans not only from a financial perspective but with their social purpose in mind, this sense of home should be at the heart of service redesign.

6. Data-driven decision making is part of everyday language

Providing the housing sector with the data-driven solutions needed to make better decisions is HouseMark’s purpose, so for us, we’ve saved the best for last. From the start of the outbreak, we have seen data play a vital role across so many elements of tackling the coronavirus crisis, both in how it has helped our understanding of the pandemic and how it has shaped the response of policymakers. The role of data in decision making has become part of everyday language. This week, a tightened lockdown in Leicester started and the data behind this decision has been front and centre.

It is no surprise that we are seeing landlords look more closely at data to assess impact and plan for the future. Our monthly impact monitoring, the first of our COVID-19 response solutions, has seen a phenomenal response from across the sector. More than 160 landlords have participated, and we have seen the insights used by our members to inform action as they start to reimagine services and begin the recovery process.

We predicted more investment in data analytics, and with heightened awareness of the value of data alongside the cataclysmic effect of the lockdown in terms of digital transformation, this is likely to be more significant than we realised. Our new Power BI data analytics training sold out in days, and with additional dates proving popular, we know that this aligns with organisational priorities.

With considerable uncertainty still ahead of us in 2020, what we do know is that we will continue to support our members with the data-driven solutions they need to inform effective decision making.

If you would like to discuss anything in this article, please contact emily.cullingham@housemark.co.uk.

By Emily Dixon

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