Risk Management For Social Housing Property Services – How to Get it Right

Risk is one of the most difficult things to manage in any organisation. By definition you are dealing with events and circumstances that are not completely predictable. And yet robust risk management for social housing property services is essential.

Grenfell has rightly focused attention on physical safety risks. But this is just one aspect. There are commercial, reputational, data security and operational risks that could interrupt the delivery of crucial repair services that need to be controlled.

Beyond Regulations

The response when things go wrong is often more regulation. Is that always the answer? Do incidents and failures happen because there aren’t enough regulations – or because there wasn’t a structured process to identify, analyse and control risks?

If you take data security as an example, we have GDPR and a host of other regulations. There’s also a regulator with powers to levy substantial fines. But data breaches still happen. Legislation can only deal with what happens after the event.

Agreed Priorities

In a property services partnership the first stage of risk management is to agree an overarching approach with our customer. This would set out the purpose and priorities for risk management. It could, for example, specify that 100% safety compliance and continuation of services to vulnerable residents are the top priorities.

This provides context for risk analysis and any planned mitigations. It also helps to determine the scope of risks that need to be included in the risk register.

Scoping of risks is a bigger task than many people realise. It involves being open minded about what could affect our ability to deliver property services and canvassing for input as widely as possible. A variety of methods come into play including flow charts, SWOT analysis, brainstorming, stakeholder interviews and more.

This type of exercise soon underlines the fact that effective risk management has to be cascaded throughout supply chains. It also leads to smarter KPIs and data collection that can provide early warnings if things start to go wrong.

Dynamic Risk Management

At the start of 2019 most organisations would have had a flu epidemic in their risk register. Nobody envisaged anything on the scale of Covid. Similarly, risks ebb and flow in terms of their likelihood and potential severity. Systematic and regular reviews keep mitigations in step with events and probabilities.

Brexit continues to be an example of why dynamic risk management is so important. From 2016 onwards we had to analyse different possible Brexit models and their potential implications. Even today we are still scrutinising how labour and material costs and shortages could affect our ability to deliver services.

Technology and Risk Management

Technology is both a benefit and a potential source of further risks. Secure and encrypted cloud technologies mean that business continuity isn’t dependent on the physical security of a building or server.

We proved during the pandemic we can continue working and even mobilise a new contract without people having to meet in person. But without controls and mitigation it also opens new potential access points and vulnerabilities.

Learning Lessons

Finally, because we can’t know and predict everything, we have to be in a constant state of learning. How many major problems could have been avoided if people were paying attention and feeding experiences back into the risk management cycle?

For more information about Osborne’s approach to risk management for social housing property services contracts contact Jo Fletcher (jo.fletcher@osborne.co.uk).