Housing Repairs: Lets look at the bigger picture

Housing providers and their approach towards repairs and maintenance has once again risen to the top of the agenda.
The negative experience of some tenants as recently reported in Inside Housing, comes as other social landlords continue efforts to find greater efficiencies in their repairs and maintenance provision.

So does a housing provider seeking to reimagine and consolidate its repairs service mean in principle that such an approach is wrong? Of course not, but there are important points to bear in mind (and no, it’s not just about whether or not you can buy a boiler more cheaply!)

Repairs and maintenance is the largest area of expenditure for housing providers. Alongside rent levels, it is also the top issue influencing customer satisfaction. Landlords want to get it right but they also want to make it efficient. This can be a fine balancing act and as a result, on occasion, some stumble.

My view is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Housing providers can and do have better quality services for less.

It’s about understanding the value of a service, not just the cost. As Kate Davies of Notting Hill Housing wrote recently in Inside Housing, it’s about recognising what true partnership is about and what each partner brings to the table.

This is especially valuable in the wake of the recent Housing White Paper and upcoming housing association deregulation measures to be implemented this year.

The first stage in achieving this is stepping back to look at the bigger picture. This helps ensure the service delivers the outcomes the client requires. In other words we know what success looks like. Crucially, this should take into account a client’s wider aims for a community: jobs, investment, skills, training, public realm, infrastructure, etc.

A Direct Labour Organisation can help deliver some of these outcomes – local employment and investment; skills and training opportunities. However, a DLO also represents a significant investment, which can be a risk – particularly in a era when housing providers are seeking to become ever more efficient.

Building large, standalone fixed costs (usually people) is a high risk for any organisation. What do you do with those costs when the stock has all been improved? What happens to the cost of the service?

Without a doubt there is a role for DLOs, but we all know on its own this isn’t the answer.

The solution must surely be to explore the efficiencies offered by building partnerships with trusted providers who have a track record of delivering. Companies such as Osborne have broad experience and a wide range of skills, and we are prepared to invest in a long-term relationship.

That partnership must have the skills to look across a housing provider at its asset base and identify opportunities to alter the approach and improve the outcomes.

In addition to delivering better services, a further benefit of a more rounded appreciation of a housing provider’s needs is the ability and commitment to invest locally for the long-term. In some instances this may be a contact centre; in others a relationship with local suppliers and enterprises. This maximises the ‘social return’ on investment and generates apprenticeships, jobs and helps foster greater community cohesion.

At Osborne many of our clients enjoy large savings over tender prices and budgets set and they are able to reinvest in their portfolio. In one current example our ‘Total Asset Management’ approach has seen us generate savings and extra income for our client of over £1.8 million in under two years. We have done this through smarter use of stock data and planned investment, including undertaking the building of new homes.

If we have learned anything in the past few years it is that there is no one permanent solution to deliver excellent outcomes for tenants and residents.

To adapt an old cliché, it’s great to know the cost of a service but dangerous not to know the value it brings.
Nick Sterling is Managing Director of Osborne Communities