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Industry news


New technology solutions outlined by HA chiefs


Delivering a growing number of housing management and maintenance services on-line was a common message emerging from several housing bosses at the HOMES2017 conference. David Done, Chief Executive of Richmond


Housing Partnership in west London said this was an inevitable consequence of rising costs. He said dealing personally with a customer (face to face or over the telephone) cost his association over £4 per transaction, but this was slashed to 99p when conducted on-line. He said with over 90 per cent of his tenants


owning and regularly using digital devices like smartphones, he expected over 80 per cent of their housing management work to be done digitally. As a result of investing in new technology RHP


has cut its overall annual operating costs to just £3,500 per property – some £2,000 below the London average. “Housing is a perfect service for digital provision. If your association or council hasn’t already made the transfer, it will be an imperative within three years” he added.


DATA QUALITY A similar message was given by Nick Atkin, Chief Executive of the Halton Housing Trust, in an entertaining presentation during which he described himself as a self confessed tech geek. He said the move to a largely self service


operation meant that lots of his staff had been freed up from answering telephones all day long to working on more intensive customer support work, such as recovering rent arrears and sustaining high risk tenancies. “We can even tell with a high degree of confidence when people will be leaving their properties,” he added. Despite fears that the trust would be labelled a


faceless organisation Atkin said they had managed to deliver real time customer satisfaction in the range of 92 to 95 per cent and that in the previous month over 83 per cent of all customer transactions had been completed via the trust’s self service operation. He advised delegates that the quality of data on


their tenants and properties was absolutely fundamental to getting the transition correct. He cited an example of a neighbouring social landlord who had some 150 year old tenants if their data was to be believed. He praised the ‘internet of things’ as a source of


solutions for most problems, particularly when combined with innovative thinking. He gave the example of using smart boilers that can be remotely controlled (if access for essential work is not allowed then they reduce the heating temperature to nudge the tenant into allowing service engineers in), but said his association was now exploring the use of infra red heating systems to replace gas.


£28m for Grenfell relief work but no new money for fire safety measures


Grenfell Tower tragedy, but provided no new funding for fire safety measures in the social housing sector. Philip Hammond resisted calls from across


T


Local Government and the Labour Party to announce new funds to retrofit sprinklers in high- rise tower blocks despite repeating a promise to help social landlords who could not pay for “essential” work. In his Budget speech, Philip Hammond said the


Grenfell Tower fire was a “tragedy that should never have happened”. The new funds for Kensington and Chelsea Council will pay for mental health and counselling services, the regeneration of the surrounding area and a new community facility. He said: “This tragedy should never


have happened and we must ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. Local authorities and housing associations must carry out any identified fire safety work as soon as possible. If any local authorities can’t access funding to pay for essential fire safety work they should contact us immediately. We will not allow financial constraints to get in the way of any essential fire safety works.”


INQUIRY The early stages of the public inquiry into the fire have focussed on procedural matters, with discussions about the participation of survivors and the giving of evidence. Hopes of an initial findings report being published in the Spring have


he Chancellor announced £28m of extra funding for Kensington and Chelsea Council to help deal with fallout from the


faded as it has become clear that Police investigations and any prosecutions will take priority. The social housing sector is becoming


increasingly frustrated at delays in the clarification of building standards and in particular guidance on fire safety measures. In the immediate aftermath of the fire it had been expected that clear messages would be issued by the Autumn but that timetable has long passed with no firm dates emerging for the publication of new guidelines or requirements. Social landlords are also being frustrated at the


lack of commitment from Whitehall to help with the funding of safety works. Manchester City Council has decided to install water sprinklers in all of its high rise tower blocks, although the existence of leaseholders, who have bought flats under the Right to Buy, remains uncertain with individual leases needing to be checked. Alok Sharma, the former housing minister,


repeatedly rejected calls for the Government to provide funding for sprinklers, saying: “they are additional, not essential works”. This is despite fire brigade leaders and safety experts saying that water sprinklers are the most effective way of tackling fires and they are now mandatory in new buildings above 30 metres in height. A group of about 50 protestors lobbied delegates


attending the HOMES17 conference at Olympia, west London on the same day as the budget. They also held a rally in Parliament Square before going on to a meeting with MPs and others at the House of Commons. But based on the lack of funding from the Government, it would appear their efforts on the day were to no avail.


Councils will have to bid for a share of New Build pot


Housing chiefs in local authorities were left disappointed by the Chancellor’s announcement that they will have to bid for extra borrowing if they want to take part in new housebuilding programmes. Ahead of the budget there were hopes that


councils would be encouraged to build significant amounts of new housing for social rent. But when the details were revealed it left many feeling underwhelmed as councils were told they will have to competitively bid against each other, for a part of a relatively modest £1bn pot. It is estimated this might be sufficient to fund


12 | HMM January 2018 | www.housingmmonline.co.uk


just 15,000 homes for rent. Given the timescales outlined it is possible the first homes will not be built until 2020/21 at the earliest and therefore will do nothing to alleviate the existing chronic shortfall in affordable housing. The Government will allow councils access to


£1bn by lifting the limits on their borrowing caps, but decisions will be based on submissions made by individual councils. Officials said priority would be given to councils operating in “high demand areas”, although no other details were provided so it is unclear whether this will restrict access to councils in certain parts of the country.


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