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Listening, hearing and acting


By Alistair McIntosh, HQN CEO

That’s what a tenant in Wales told me she needs to see a lot more of. And she makes a fine point. Tenants do tell us what is going on. But do we listen and then fix it? Grenfell suggests that we don’t try hard enough. Do we give tenants the tin ear? Is this what lands us in trouble time and again? Yes, it is.

I’ve been in this game for more than 35 years so I’ve seen a lot of screw-ups. They’ve one thing in common: someone was always trying to tell us what was going wrong. Whether it was Connaught or Circle, the tenants were warning us of dire problems. What did we do? Well, it was too much, too little and too late every time.

Of course we need to get better at this. And we seem to be trying. You can’t move in most landlords now for polls, focus groups, scrutiny and staff beavering away on complaints. All of this was ditched the last time the money ran short. So we wait to see if this is heartfelt or just a sop.

There’s one very easy way to find out what is going wrong: why don’t you talk to the people in the call centre? They hear it all. But the top brass hardly ever go near them. Yes, you can tell how quickly they pick up calls and reply to emails. And you can pull out the rates of satisfaction. But that’s just filler for your board reports.

What you want to know is about the blocks with lots of repairs. Is that a sign of a bigger problem down the line? Are disabled tenants marooned by lousy lifts? The young people in the call centre will know. They can also pinpoint the ASB hotspots. So you’ve got to use them. Many of you have the software to pull off reports on trends on these things. Goodness know where they go. If and when inspection comes back, their first port of call will be the call centre.

That’s where you get the real stuff. Everything that comes afterwards is filtered to the point of uselessness. It passes through too many hands. In truth the landlord is defined by the young underpaid staff in the call centre, not the executives. That’s who the tenants deal with day to day. So try listening, hearing and acting on what they say.

It could save lives. Why do I say that? Do you remember when Toyota had to recall six million cars after a fatal crash? They’d seen two thousand reports about that defect. Crucially, the top brass ignored the suggestions made by more junior staff. By the end of it, 31% of Americans believed that Toyota cars were unsafe. Don’t let this happen to you.

It’s easy to avoid. Talk to the tenants and the call centre. Walk into that room now and see how hard they’re working. You might learn yourself something. Find out what vexes them and fix it. That’s how you keep out of the headlines.

(Source of data on Toyota: The Intelligence Trap – David Robson)

25% of PRS landlords looking to sell

To Let Sign

A quarter of private rented sector (PRS) landlords are looking to sell at least one property in the next year, a survey has revealed.

According to The Residential Landlords Association’s (RLA) quizzing of 2,500 landlords, over 25% are keen to offload property – the highest amount since way, way back in…2016.

The RLA’s research also found that 23% of the landlords have seen an increase in rental property demand over the last three months, while 57% noted no change.

David Smith, RLA policy director, said: ‘All the talk of longer tenancies will mean nothing if the homes to rent on not there in the first place.

‘The government’s tax increases on the sector are already making it difficult for tenants to find a place to live, with many landlords not renewing tenancies. If rushed and not thought through, planned changes to the way landlords can repossess properties risk making the situation even worse.

‘Action is needed to stimulate supply with pro-growth taxation and a process for repossessing homes that is fair to all.’


Large Energy Performance Certificate rise in England and Wales


I’ve got the last quarter’s domestic Energy Performance Certificate (EPCs) figures – but I’m not going to tell you what they are.

Only joking! Between January and March this year, an impressive 396,000 EPCs were lodged in Wales and England  – 85% (337,000) of which were for the sale and letting of existing dwellings, an increase of 36% on the same quarter last year.

Valid for 10 years, EPCs were introduced ‘using a phased approach,’ or so this government release says, with ‘the requirement fully implemented for domestic properties by autumn 2008’.

The government speculates that the large increase in numbers ‘may reflect EPCs issued before 2009 being renewed when a dwelling was let or sold in 2019’.

Anyhow, 15% (60,000) of the quarter’s certificates were for new builds and conversions – up 13% on 2018’s first quarter.

In summary, in the year ending March 2019:

253,000 EPCs were lodged for new build dwellings and conversions, up 13% on the previous year and the largest annual total for new properties since 2008 when records began.

Most EPCs (245,000, up 13% on the previous year) were for new builds and conversions in England (probably because it’s bigger and has more houses and people in it), with the remaining 8,500 (up 7%) were lodged in Wales (probably because it’s smaller and has less people and houses in it).

Universal credit slammed as ‘Orwellian’ by judge


Much-troubled Universal Credit (UC) has now been described as ‘Orwellian’, as hopes that anyone will ever say anything nice about it continue to fade.

According to high court judge Sir Stephen Sedley, the government’s flagship reform of the benefits system tends to make life miserable for claimants while simultaneously implying that it will rescue them from poverty.

The judge’s harsh comments have been delivered along with a report that reveals hundreds of people risked tumbling into greater debt because floundering old UC miscalculated their payments.

The report, by charity Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), cites the plight of a working mother who lost £400 a month because the bungling UC system somehow failed to include the child element for her daughter or a work allowance.

Judge Sedley said: ‘People in need are left to guess at and grope for things which should be clear and tangible. The consequences are not limited to over- or underpayment. They feed into the stress and worry that so many people managing on low incomes experience, which in turn can affect family life for children growing up in these environments.

‘There is something Orwellian about a system which is intended to alleviate hardship yet is administered in ways which generate and aggravate human misery. Whether this is happening by accident or by design is an argument for another time and place.’

And the government still want this thing rolled out across the entire country by 2024.

Anyhow CPAG’s chief executive, Alison Garnham, said: ‘The DWP must improve the information it provides so that universal credit claimants are not floundering in the dark about their award. Clear and accessible information on how decisions are made and your right to appeal is the bare minimum we should expect from a modern benefit.’

Are you on standby for the next IDA?


HQN Chief Executive Alistair McIntosh provides his top tips on how to be prepared for your next In-Depth Assessment

“When I first became a Member of Parliament, I was astonished and dismayed to find I was effectively the post-box for local housing associations’ complaints service. Were I the chief executive of such an organisation, I would be mortified if local Members of Parliament were receiving the level of correspondence that some of us do, and I would be taking action” – Kit Malthouse, Minister of State for Housing (Hansard, 14 March).

That’s the message from the top. What’s next? Well, the RSH says it’s going to check you out more often. How should you prepare for these IDAs? You’ve got to be on standby all the time. So what should you be doing? Here are our top tips:
Work out what you need to spend on homes and make sure you have the cash to do it

That’s your basic job in a nutshell, isn’t it? So no wonder the RSH is all over this.

Obviously you’ll need to convince them your homes are safe. And they are painfully aware of the lamentable standards in a lot of new homes. Do you have this problem? If so, what are you doing about it? Ensure you have an up-to-date stock condition survey.

This needs to be independently validated too. Then the numbers should be put into your business plan. The RSH will check to see that you have the money to pay for the works. And they know all the tricks in the trade about smoothing the numbers to get you through any tight spots. Don’t forget that Hackitt was scathing about socalled value engineering. And with good reason. We’ve put this right at number one on our list.

If you don’t know what you need to spend here the RSH can pull the rug from under your feet on the business plan. It won’t be on rock-solid ground and this can harm your Governance and Viability ratings.

Prove that your homes are safe

Are you sorting out legionella, electrics, gas, asbestos, fire and lifts too? How can you be sure? Are these being checked out by technical experts that know what they are doing? Do you act on their findings quickly?

The RSH will also want to see the internal audit reports for these. If they are based on tiny sample sizes or the level of assurance seems too high they will sniff this out and ask questions.

Embrace possimism!

“A way of thinking in which one is basically pessimistic, but manages to use it to his/her advantage.” Yes, you’ve got to sign up to the national obsession with Brexit. You need to stress test your business plans for any fall out here.

The usual things we see in stress testing are sales stalling and repair costs soaring while income tumbles. You need to come up with the right crises for you. And you need to pile them on top of each other. What does this do to your plans and how do you get back on track? The RSH has been asking you to run these tests for years now.

So they expect it to be done to a high standard. Really you should be testing and updating your business plan pretty much continuously. Saying that you run an annual stress test is a prime example of an oxymoron.

Sort out value for money – it never goes away for long

The honeymoon period for the new VfM metrics is over. Now you need to calculate each one accurately, know why you differ from peers, act to close any gaps, and collect extra metrics that show you are meeting your strategic objectives.

If your costs look high then get beneath them. Don’t offer up glib one liner justifications. That won’t wash. You need a proper analysis of the knock-on impact on costs of things like running care and investing in new IT.

By the same token you can spend too little. The RSH will not be at all happy if they think you are being penny wise and pound foolish on repairs.

Don’t kick the can down the road

No one likes to take tough decisions. Many try to put these off for as long as possible. But what will become of you if the RSH pops in at the wrong time? There is no time to lose on sorting out a badly-behaved board member, shabby service, tricky development or some other thorny problem.

And you need to think about the future. When the Green Paper finally grinds out it will raise the bar on service standards. Are you ready for that?


HQN can help – we’ve carried out more than 50 mock IDAs and almost 100 stress tests – contact Anna Pattison for more information:

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