The current landscape for landlords and social housing providers.
The current landscape for landlords and social housing providers is characterised by increasing legislation which for the most part is welcomed by responsible management organisations. The sector is already working hard to ensure that it is delivering its best to tenants, and many are transparent about the need to make improvements in housing stock, and are committed to doing this as quickly as possible. As well as the imperative to provide safe and healthy homes for tenants, there is also a legal requirement to provide evidence that all appropriate steps have been taken in order to do this. Some examples of current and proposed legislation include:
- The Building Safety Act 2022 puts onerous responsibilities on building owners who have a legal responsibility to have a representative who can to state whether the building is safe or not, at any time, and have knowledge of all works and activities that could affect that.
- The Charter for Social Housing Residents aims to address problems in the relationship between residents, who feel that they are not listened to or cared about, and housing providers. Although not legally binding, the charter sets out seven expectations for residents that include being safe in their home, to be treated with respect, to have their voice heard and know how their landlord is performing.
- The current consultation and call for evidence on electrical safety in the social rented sector is considering mandatory five-yearly or less checks on electrical installations for social housing, or mandatory PAT on all electrical appliances provided by landlords as part of a tenancy, plus a call for evidence on mandatory checks for electrical installation for leasehold owner-occupier properties within social housing blocks.
- The Regulator of Social Housing has written to all registered providers of social housing. Depending on the number of homes they provide, they may have to provide evidence of their damp and mould assessment approach, most recent assessment of damp and mould hazards, remedial action being taken, and the process they have to identify and deal promptly with damp and mould cases when they are raised by tenants.
Learning from tough lessons
The recent news of tenants suffering mould and damp related-illnesses, in some cases, very sadly leading to death, has shocked many in the housing sector. Just like the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, incidents like these remind us all of the need for rigorous systems that protect lives from harm. It increases pressure on managers in the sector who are already working hard on preventative strategies.
Digital field service management solutions are an effective way of introducing more fail-safe processes, reducing the risk of human error and oversight that can have serious consequences for tenants and housing providers. Solutions such as Advanced’s Job Manager can be configured with a mandatory risk assessment based on the user organisation’s compliance needs, taking into account the aims and objectives of inspection visits and maintenance requirements.
Interacting with tenants in the field can be a rewarding experience, but it’s so easy for an operative to be distracted, or fail to fully input information because a conversation goes off at a tangent. With a well-designed digital solution, the user cannot progress through the workflow until each and every field is completed, whether as a tick box, numerical ranges or key word content. The steps are controlled, giving the operator themselves, as well as the field management company, assurance that nothing has been missed. If things go wrong, there is easily accessible evidence that the correct steps were followed. Having that immediate traceability and transparency of data means that all parties – tenants, landlords and their employees, can have full confidence in the process and its role in keeping people safe.
Operatives can use the same mobile device that is running the solution to take photographs that can be integrated into the records, demonstrating that concerns in the field about things like damp, mould, fire risk, location of gas appliances etc can be recorded properly. Automated elements can then ensure that appropriate communications are sent to other departments, such as repairs or maintenance teams, and to the tenants themselves.
They can even be used to record end of job checks and other scenarios that might give rise to safeguarding concerns, such as a particularly cold home, no sign of food, or a bed that has been moved into the living room to be close to a gas or solid fuel fire. Having the scope for proper recording, communicating and triggering next steps automatically gives the operative and the business a higher degree of confidence that issues will be resolved in a timely way and most importantly, helps keep people safe in their homes.
Managing risk in difficult times
The current cost of living crisis is likely to increase the risk of problems in rented accommodation, making managing them even harder for landlords. When heating costs are so high it becomes more difficult to expect tenants to open windows for ventilation, when their inclination is to keep them closed and the heat inside. Social housing is sometimes small and the combination of steam from cooking and condensation from clothes drying over radiators can exacerbate damp problems too. With more and more energy suppliers switching households over to pre-payment smart meters, to counter bad debt risk, more households may find themselves suddenly without power, turning to flammable alternatives like candles.
Part of the solution lies in education, helping tenants to understand the ways they can help themselves stay safer and healthier. Digital field service management tools can help landlords to achieve this, as they can be configured to trigger safety messages following certain responses, such as emailed information to tenants, advising them how best to manage airflow and reduce condensation in their homes, or reduce the risk of fire or CO2 exposure.
Data for prevention, rather than cure
The data that can be collected using a solution like Advanced’s InfoSuite can help FSM managers to model certain situations and predict outcomes. Of course, as with all mechanisms for data-driven insights, it is most powerful when good quality, appropriate data is collected and input. This data can help managers get to grips with patterns relating to building type, age of property, geographical location and with specific appliances within the property, such as a particular brand of gas boiler. The data can also assist with planning more preventative visits, with scheduled maintenance and inspections that can pick up on problems before they become a risk to life.
Demonstrating best practice
It is crucial that landlords can demonstrate that they have effective processes in place to manage health and safety issues in their properties. This means not only can they keep tenants safe, but they have appropriate records and evidence that they have followed best practise in all health and safety issues relating to their properties. Those that have implemented a digital FSM solution will be able to do this, showing a robust process with automated workflows that drastically reduce the risk of human error or oversight. No two housing management organisations are the same, and the best digital solutions allow mandatory fields to be customised, with additional tick-boxes and completion requirement that ensures compliance, according to the specific circumstance and needs of the organisation.
Everyone working in local authority and housing association management is hyper-aware of the responsibilities they bear for the lives of others. This need not be an overwhelming or arduous duty. Technology can do the heavy lifting, allowing managers to spend more time on important strategic planning and, in the current climate, juggling the disparity between budgets and necessary spend. Using technology to its full potential allows them to use intelligent data for strategic responses that will ultimately help them manage properties more safely, use their operatives more effectively and ensuring the very best return on investment, even as legislation continues to change.