Resident choice key to repairs improvement, say housing leaders

Homes 2012 Industry Debate

Pressure for value and efficiency and consumer choice will be among the factors to drive change in social housing repairs.

This was the message from sector leaders debating at the new Homes 2012 event, held last week.

Repairs and maintenance are the single biggest cost for social landlords. Since the recent abolition of the housing repair rules, they have experienced the double edged sword of  more freedom to diversify services but with tighter budgets and increased resident demands.

Keynote speaker David Wells, General Manager at Wrekin Housing Trust explained: “In today’s technological climate, customers want things when it suits them and they expect them now.”

“We undertake 12,000 plus repairs on 11,000 stock, 91% of those calls are completed the same day the client calls us.”

David described recent changes in his repairs service to drive improvement. In one new efficiency measure, his team moved away from using a pre-repair appointments system booked through their call centre and now complete repairs direct as they come in. “Just by doing that we are offering savings to housing associations.”

Increased use of social media by customers to air their views has added to pressure on repairs teams, David suggests: “Tenants have always been paying customers, but what we have now are new dynamics with more demands from tenants and more scrutiny.”

Ian Gregg, Director of Communities and Investment at Parkway Green Housing Trust, joined the debate, saying the plans by the Government to pay housing benefit direct to residents will add to this trend. Landlords will be judged on high quality service, but must also think about how to market services to residents, most of whom are under increasing financial pressure.

Said Ian: “People have competing pressures on them to pay their bills, if they can’t afford top level repairs and maintenance we need to provide options and engage with residents differently to communicate the value of our work.”