Managing Social Housing Maintenance in the Covid-19 Era
As with many other aspects of life, Covid-19 has caused significant disruption to social housing repairs and maintenance. Lockdown rules introduced to help manage the pandemic meant that many non-urgent repairs were put on hold. There’s also a backlog of repairs that weren’t reported by people who needed to isolate and minimise contact with others.
Easing of the lockdown hasn’t entirely brought about a return to normal. Building materials have been in short supply and repair and maintenance organisations are still having to manage PPE supplies and monitor testing and isolation of any operatives who experience Covid-19 symptoms.
Inside Housing summed up the issue neatly with this question: ‘How do you fix leaky taps or replace boilers in 4.5 million social homes when a deadly virus means entering someone’s home carries the risk of infection?’
Realistically we don’t have all the answers to that question. Neither do we know what the future holds. Will there be further waves of infections? Will there be more stringent local lockdowns? And can we rely on the test, track and trace system to give us the health information we need to manage risks?
Can Systems Cope?
It’s a reasonable assumption that any deficiencies in the systems and processes used to manage social housing repairs will have been exposed by the pandemic. Before Covid-19 appeared, resident surveys were already revealing a picture where many people were unhappy with services. It’s not hard to imagine how systems that are overly-reliant on manual administrative processes are struggling to cope at the moment.
There is a massive backlog of repairs to be cleared and the list of outstanding works is being added to by the day. Perhaps this will accelerate a much needed transformation of repair and maintenance services.
Elsewhere in the economy the migration to digital tools that allow people to work flexibly and remotely has gathered pace. Many businesses are seeing proof of the benefits technology can bring in terms of improved productivity and efficiency. The same transformational process should be happening in social housing.
Applying digital tools that help with reporting, scheduling and monitoring of repairs is something that Osborne has been doing for several years. We’ve seen how this improves efficiency and accountability even in normal times. The scale of the challenge social housing providers now face should throw greater focus on the systems used by repair and maintenance teams.