Not a day goes by at the moment where I’m not asked a question about the new Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs), latest trends in satisfaction or how to get ready for the new regulatory requirements, which comes into force on April 1st for all landlords with over 1000 homes in England.
Our relationship with the Regulator of Social Housing has been built up over recent years due to the expertise we have gained through Housemark’s STAR framework which enabled providers to collect satisfaction data on a voluntary basis This work helped inform the development of the TSMs, so I thought it would be useful to share my insight and tips on the new regulatory reporting system and some of what we have learned already when it comes to customers’ perceptions of their housing providers.
As most of you will know, the final Tenant Satisfaction Measures were published back in November. Since then, local authorities and housing associations have been busy getting to grips with what this will mean for them and how to get their data and reporting structures ready for the change.
The TSMs will cover not only satisfaction, but also performance around repairs, communal areas, safety, anti-social behaviour, complaints, and engagement.
Whilst most of the coverage of the TSMs has centred on the twelve new perception, or satisfaction, measures, it’s important not to forget that there will also be ten management information measures that housing providers will need to be ready to report on.
Where we are now
Unfortunately, we already know that resident satisfaction is down on where we were just a couple of years ago. For landlords that have not carried out a perception survey since before the pandemic, fresh results for overall satisfaction are typically 7 to 8 percentage points lower than their previous results.
Formal complaints nearly doubled between December 2021 and December 2022. Some of this is down to the work the Housing Ombudsman Service has been doing, resulting in better reporting of complaints, but much of it is simply down to more vocal unhappy customers.
Analysis of wider Housemark data reveals a number of key drivers for this decline in perception of landlord services:
- A repairs backlog brought about by the pandemic which the sector has still not recovered from. Average repairs volumes today remain lower than they were pre-pandemic – in part due to availability of labour and cost of materials. As a result, residents are waiting much longer of repairs to be completed, with average repairs completion times have increased by one third, directly impacting on resident perception. Our data shows a relatively strong correlation between the length of time it takes to complete repairs and overall perception.
- Landlords are also grappling with higher staff turnover – or as the media likes to call it ‘the great resignation’ – with voluntary turnover up 20% on pre-pandemic levels. This has been particularly acute in customer-facing roles such as repairs operatives, call agents and care staff.
- Residents are also facing their own difficulties with the cost of living. Current tenant arrears continue to creep upwards month-on-month.
All of this adds to the strain on call centres. We have seen average national call-waiting times more than double from around 50 seconds in 2019/20 to over 100 seconds. For large urban landlords the strain on contact centres has been even more pronounced, with the average caller in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds waiting over 300 seconds for their call to be answered.
Whilst waiting a long time for a call to be answered does not necessarily mean a poor service, in practice it is a powerful bell-weather indicator of issues with service delivery. Of all the non-satisfaction measures Housemark collects, call wait times correlate most strongly with overall perception.
Housing providers have increasingly been turning to digital channels to provide customers with another option for contacting them, and the use of online portals has increased from 13% of inbound contact pre-pandemic to over 25%. But interestingly this isn’t necessarily reducing calls for landlords, as weaknesses in infrastructure and customer service are often failing to acknowledge repairs or other issues logged, to keep the resident informed or even to let them know when an issue is resolved, leaving them chasing an update through the call centre and further increasing the workload for these staff.
Added to this is the squeezing of what little budgets housing providers already have We’ve seen huge investment in assets, including safety measures and decarbonisation/retrofit, coupled with elevated levels of inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, rent capping and increased costs of labour and materials. Housing providers are also seeing increased spend on regulation, including damp and mould inspections and related actions, plus investment in tech services to transform their offering to customers.
So, with all of this going on, it comes as no surprise that overall perception of social landlords has declined by almost 8 perception points in two years.
From April, every social housing provider with over 1000 homes will be required to conduct regulated research, asking the same core questions of their customers.
Those that have been relying on transactional surveys to gauge satisfaction, they will find that their results from the TSMs will be significantly less impressive. The nature of a transactional survey means that a customer is being asked if they are happy with a service, or transaction, often a repair, when it has just been completed. Usually they are, as they’re glad to get it done! But these surveys exclude respondents who have requested a repair (often quite some time ago) and have still not received it. Typically, when a landlord asked an open-ended question in a perception survey (such as ‘what could we do better’) around one third of respondents will specifically say the repairs service is slow, and around 15% will report that they have raised a repair, and nothing has been done.
If historically you have reported satisfaction to executives and boards based on transactional survey results, it is important to prepare them now for significantly lower perception survey scores (typically around 15 percentage points lower than transactional scores). The perception scores are the ones that will be made public by the regulator, and it is vital that leaders are not unpleasantly surprised. Housemark has been helping large numbers of landlords understand their scores in context and prepare executives and boards for regulation.
A further consideration is whether you’re ready and have the capacity for tracker surveys, meaning to survey regularly and ‘track’ the results across the year. Some organisations don’t yet feel ready or have the capacity to do this just yet, and so are conducting a one-off survey for 2023/24, compliant with the new regulations, and looking to set up a more rigorous tracker system going forward. At Housemark we can help with this if needed.
The impact of variables
There are three types of variables worth considering when looking at your data collection. Some you can’t influence, but others you can, and it’s important to understand them as they could impact on the data you receive and ultimately your published satisfaction figures.
Contextual variables: these are the things that you can’t do anything about – except importantly to understand them! Your ‘context’ includes things like the location your organisation is in. For example, housing providers in cities naturally have lower satisfaction levels.
It also includes the age and household make-up of your residents; older residents and those without children tend to be more satisfied, with shared ownership customers being around 15 percentage points less satisfied than those in social rented homes, and leaseholders up to 30 points less satisfied.
(Worth noting here is that unless you have more than 1000 shared ownership homes, you don’t have to submit data for them, the Regulator is only gathering data for social rented homes).
Methodological variables: how you collect your survey responses. Do you conduct your surveys by telephone, face-to-face, by post or online? Your answer could be more important than you think.
If you collect your responses online, which increasingly providers have been doing, you will be cutting down on the time needed by employees to conduct surveys and sort responses. But your results could be anywhere up to 15 percent lower than using face-to-face methods.
Many put this down to younger people generally using online services more, which is a factor. But in fact, this heavy negative survey bias is largely due to self-selection, meaning that those who are less happy with their landlord are more likely to take to the keyboard and write about it. With telephone, postal or face-to-face surveys, you are much more likely to elicit responses from residents who are broadly satisfied with your services but are unlikely to complete a survey received by email.
And finally, performance variables: these are the areas that need to improve for satisfaction to improve. Sounds simple doesn’t it. The three areas that have the most impact here are quick and easy contact centre resolution, respectful and helpful engagement and of course, prompt responsive repairs.
So, from April streamlined reporting to the Regulator begins and any new perception surveys carried out should be considered regulatory. The clock is ticking to make sure you are ready.
Some of the best practice we’ve seen in preparation for the TSMs coming into force includes joint procurement, sharing the cost of using an external company to carry out your initial research, something to consider particularly for smaller, more rural organisations.
When it comes to reporting and governance, some housing providers are investing in ‘voice of the customer’ dashboards; including perception, transactional data and complaints, as well as developing more robust data strategies.
And in terms of analysis and action, best practice would be a centralised team with overall responsibility for customer feedback. These teams can ensure surveys across the business are co-ordinated for maximum impact and have the skills to see the patterns in the data. Smaller landlords without this resource can bring in external support if needed, as well as considering any additional training required for your team.
The role of the housing officer is also being re-assessed in its importance and reviewed by many housing associations, with some aiming to bring patch sizes down to 300 homes or less to improve satisfaction levels.
And finally, if you’re looking at redesigning any services in light of the new regulations, make sure it involves your residents from the start. Co-design can make a dramatic difference to success.
As experts in housing sector data and systems, we can help with all this and more. If you’re reading this as one of the 96% of landlords who think that their performance reporting is not optimised, you may feel you need some help.
If you’d like to chat to me about where your organisation is at in terms of being ready for the introduction of the new Tenant Satisfaction Measures, or need Housemark’s help with your data strategy and future reporting, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org