We see the biggest opportunities for change - and biggest challenges to cost for any Housing Operations team - fall into their repairs and maintenance strategy.
Housing Providers are working hard to deliver great service to their tenants, whilst maintaining their value for money metrics. But delivering a better service than ever, at a lower cost than before, sounds like an impossible challenge. It almost is. And often impacts tenants satisfaction the hardest.
Our customer conversations have uncovered the challenges many operational teams are anticipating in a post-Covid world.
These issues center around completing essential works, clearing the backlog and organising their systems, processes and people to complete unprecedented volumes of work. Here are the most salient issues we've identified.
We'll unpack these in a minute. First, some context.
Some numbers to consider.
On average, the total repairs and maintenance spend of the housing sector dropped by 1.7% during 2015/16 - in response to the mandated 1% rent reduction. It doesn’t sound like much, does it?
But step back, and it has cost the sector much more than you might think.
This 1.7% led to more and more drastic shifts towards cutting costs and morphing traditional repairs services. So much so that in 2018 this figure had shot up to 11.3%.
Gloucester city homes’ original plans to preserve the external fabric of many homes was changed “following the rent reduction”, it states.
Thirteen Group’s annual report states that reductions in its major repairs budget were initiated in response to the “requirement to make efficiency savings”.
L&Q felt the pressure and began experimenting with a “routine repairs responsibility policy”, expecting residents to take care of certain repairs themselves.
It is no surprise that social tenant satisfaction has been hit hard as a result of this frantic operational re-jigging. The balancing act of costs vs service has meant that four immediate repair-centric concerns have been brought to the forefront - for both organisational health and tenant satisfaction. These are:
The length of time taken to complete works,
The need for repeat visits and appointments,
The mess left behind after works and;
Incomplete works (or Work-In-Progress jobs) - exacerbated by the Covid-enforced lockdown and our centre of focus for today.
Why is a building maintenance backlog so bad?
Work in Progress (WIP) jobs might possibly be the worst thing to happen to tenant satisfaction metrics - and rising resource costs for your organisation - because they don’t have an easy solution.
So, what is it exactly about WIP jobs that makes them such a pain for operational teams?
-That they impact VFM and SLA metrics.?
-That they are disproportionately bad for tenant happiness?
-That they are simply impossible to shift without huge amounts of work, so often mothballed?
-Or worse, ignored?
Well, it’s all of the above. And more pertinent now as we see the market reacclimatise post a COVID-19 lockdown.
A quick case study.
Early in 2018, The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), conducted an audit of its responsive repairs service - Repairs Direct - discovering that there were an alarming 5,400 WIP jobs - orders not closed down on the system - to contend with.
For a total of 33,800 repairs conducted a year, WIP jobs alone were costing £2m, instead of the £400k budgeted for the year.
25% of these WIP jobs were follow-ons as a % of all repair jobs.
Tenant satisfaction was rapidly dwindling, with feedback reporting only a 65% satisfaction rate.
KCTMO sought to tackle the issue by demanding more transparency, accountability and data from these repairs. To inform better decision-making.
From our recent discussions with housing providers in the nation, we’ve learnt of some short term approaches that can help operational teams adapt to the challenges created by WIP jobs.
Making it better.
One recurring theme from these discussions is better tenant communication - tailoring team-to-tenant communication and keeping tenants informed can facilitate access and the cooperation required for key safety work.
Another approach we have found effective is providing clear contractor guidelines (in the 'new normal' - it will become crucial for service and safety). Communicating this will put your tenants at ease as well.
On this point, it will be effective to find flexibility by defining new ways-of-working with contractors. This will be key to anticipating capacity constraints, fluctuations in demand and anticipating any further lockdown measures.
In the short term, a lot can be mitigated by simply breaking down silos between internal teams and contractors. This allows issues and bottlenecks to be identified earlier and is crucial to addressing the backlog.
A checklist for the future.
Here are the most salient issues we've identified when building solutions for the housing providers who work with us. Operational teams that observe one or more of these issues cropping up frequently should re-evaluate their operational health.
1) Getting access.
Tenant reluctance to grant works access is impacting compliance activity and could result in a slower return to historical repair volumes.
2) Hidden repairs.
Many operations teams are not only concerned about their aged WIP, but repairs not currently recorded or raised - a problem of indeterminate size.
3) Capacity constraints.
Operational capacity to cope with addressing the upcoming backlog is a major concern, especially in light of staff furlough plans.
4) Flexibility & fluctuation.
The progressive easing of lockdown measures may be reneged. Many workforces - in house and outsourced - lack the flexibility to adapt to this.
Are you 'Can Do'?
Are you striving for better tenant services in your organisation?
Trying to find ways to balance cost and operations?
If so, we want to hear from you.
At Plentific, we’re showing housing providers that it really is possible to reduce costs, improve services and create happier tenants.
It’s why some of the most progressive housing providers in the UK - Notting Hill Genesis, Peabody and settle Group - work closely with us to make their housing operations more efficient each day.
If you’d like to know more and see how we can make your WIP woes a thing of the past, ensure happier tenants and safer communities, get in touch with us today.