Our latest round of Executive Insight sessions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) took place across six sessions in May and June, against an entirely different backdrop (and setting) than expected at the start of the year. It was anticipated the agenda would be dominated by the Social Housing White Paper, building safety reforms, new supply and decarbonisation.
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way the sector had to operate overnight, and landlords moved quickly to ensure that core services were delivered. Over the five-week period, we saw the focus of discussions shift as we moved through the ‘crisis’ phase into recovery – with conversations shifting to how we restart and reimagine service delivery.
We know that our members value our Executive Insight sessions and the opportunity to ask questions, listen to peers and use this valuable insight to stay ahead and support decision-making. Here, we share the top five insights from these sessions:
1. There is a ‘moment’ in terms of tackling homelessness, but what will happen next?
The will and funding to tackle homelessness is in place, but there are other challenges and opportunities to maintain the momentum and keep people housed and safely off the streets. As well as the additional resources required to ensure tenancy sustainability, there will be a knock-on effect in terms of allocations from this group as well as other vulnerable groups impacted by the crisis.
2. The moratorium on evictions is proving challenging for landlords
Just ahead of this series of Executive Insights the government announced a moratorium on evictions. Over the course of the meetings, the government extended this until 23 August. While recognising the need for flexibility and understanding in this unprecedented time, you shared the challenges and frustrations that the extension will cause. Alongside the significant increase in arrears and ASB, landlords are struggling to enforce tenancy agreements without the possibility of eviction to trigger a conversation – resulting in more resources, time and effort to manage customer concerns and associated key issues.
3. There are concerns about a second spike in arrears
The collection and analysis of HouseMark’s COVID-19 impact measures across a wide spectrum of housing providers estimated that by the end of April, £100m of additional arrears had been accrued during lockdown. We heard further concerns that we will see a second spike in arrears later in the year when the furlough period ends and we may see a number of redundancies – and with the ban on evictions extended, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how you’ll recover the rent owed. There are particular worries from organisations based in economically fragile areas. The MHCLG has made it clear that they are interested in understanding the issues relating to arrears levels and will be working closely with the regulator on this issue. A call for funding or support was heard loud and clear by the MHCLG – we’ll watch with interest to see how this evolves over the coming weeks and months.
4. Clearing the repairs backlog will be a significant challenge
When the crisis hit, the sector quickly moved to emergency only repairs, with new processes and procedures in place to manage the new ways of working. A letter from the Minster of Housing outlining how services can continue to be delivered during lockdown arrived in inboxes during one of the sessions. There were concerns that this would lead to an influx of calls and increased demand, but anecdotally (and in our “Ask the experts” repairs and asset management session) this is yet to materialise. We reported an 800,000 backlog of repairs at the end of April and as lockdown restrictions ease and people become used to working safely at a distance, we forecast that this backlog will reduce.
5. We don’t know when the Social Housing White Paper will arrive, but what should you be doing now?
We thought that by this stage of the year, the much-anticipated Social Housing White Paper would be published. The crisis changed the role and priorities of the MHCLG overnight and understandably the ‘normal’ wheels of progress have been significantly slowed. While we do not know when the White Paper will be published, what we do know is that as a manifesto commitment it will come and that we are unlikely to see the associated legislative changes for some time. 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. Listening to your tenants and acting on what they are telling you should be at the heart of business planning. We know data and insight will continue to play a part in consumer regulation and we’re already speaking with many of you about refreshing performance frameworks and reviewing key service areas.
Our next round of Executive Insight sessions will be with the Regulator of Social Housing, providing our members with the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and understand the likely impact of COVID-19 on the regulatory landscape for the remainder of 2020/21. To secure your place for one of these sessions or discuss anything from this round-up, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.
HouseMark has shared the month three findings from our sector-wide COVID-19 impact analysis.
Friday 26 June 2020