Industry news

Growth in mergers as HAs reveal plans for a 57,000-home ‘partnership’

Two of the largest social landlords in south east England are in talks to create a 57,000 home partnership with the aim of improving existing services and increasing the number of new houses they can build. In the pre-Christmas period this was one of

several high profile mergers announced – all of them citing the need to increase their size, so they had the capacity to take on larger loans to fund bigger house-building plans. This trend in medium to large sized associations merging has noticeably picked up as the sector continues to come under pressure to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs.

A2Dominion and the Radian Group took the

unusual step of revealing their plans via a stock market announcement. It leaves the door open for different options to emerge from joint working arrangements to a full-blown merger. A consultation exercise with residents is expected to take place during the Spring and Summer later this year.

The two landlords currently manage 57,000

homes across London and surrounding counties as well as Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire. They jointly employ about 1,800 staff and have an annual turnover of approx £500m. Their development programmes exceed 1,100 new homes a year, with plans to increase this as a result of joint working. In a joint statement, the two associations say the

partnership is intending to explore options that will deliver long-term benefits for the residents and local communities, build more homes by working in partnership; and transform customer experience by developing well regarded digital services for customers.

ELSEWHERE Meanwhile in the Midlands, Waterloo Housing Group and Fortis Living are in merger talks to produce a new group with a combined stock of 42,000 homes, turnover of £230m and around 1,200 staff. The new landlord has ambitions to build around

2,000 new affordable homes a year within five years – 500 more than the two had planned to develop separately. It also plans to establish a new maintenance business to oversee £50m of investment a year in the group’s existing housing stock. A merger was approved by the boards in October

last year and subject to positive feedback from tenants it is expected to officially take place on 1 October 2018. In the north east of England, York Housing

Association has joined Karbon Homes as an independent group member. YHA has 943 homes under management and will retain its own board and staff, while benefitting from Karbon’s back office and corporate services. Karbon was only formed in April 2017 from the amalgamation of three existing associations and it owns and manages some 24,000 homes. Paul Fiddaman, Group Chief Executive of

Karbon Homes, said: “I am pleased to welcome York Housing Association to the group, just eight months since we were formed. We believe this move is a very good strategic fit for the business and presents an exciting opportunity for our continued growth and expansion. Both organisations have a strong track record of achieving high levels of customer satisfaction and we share the same ethos and commitment to delivering excellent customer service.”

Julia Histon, Managing Director of York Housing

Association, said: “At a time when housing associations and their residents are under increased pressure from welfare reforms and Government cuts, we believe being part of a larger organisation will deliver significant benefits to our residents while protecting the services we already deliver.” “Our new partnership with Karbon Homes

creates a financially strong, more flexible, efficient and resilient organisation and enables both organisations to meet their respective strategic goals while delivering value for money services and enabling more investment in building new homes.”

INVESTMENT Midlands-based Bromford and South West-based Merlin are in formal talks to create a partnership working with nearly 100,000 customers to deliver the largest new build programme throughout Gloucestershire and the Midlands. The partnership will see the organisations – with

nearly 40,000 homes between them and a combined turnover of £250m, join together to invest £1.5b in 14,000 new homes over the next decade. In a joint statement, CEOs Philippa Jones

from Bromford and Robert Nettleton from Merlin, said: “This is a partnership where each organisation brings expertise that complements the other and service aspirations that fit really well. It brings together two forward thinking housing associations with a shared vision of enabling customers to use great affordable homes as a springboard to achieve more of what they hope for themselves, their families and their communities. “Both our organisations have ambitious

development programmes. Working together these can be combined and expanded to deliver 14,000 new homes in the next decade. This capability and a common passion to offer an exceptional customer experience, will help our combined business grow and deliver more of a difference.”

Large development programmes lead to financial viability downgrades for HAs

The risks of expanding new build programmes have been exposed as three of the country’s largest housing associations have been downgraded by the housing regulator over financial viability concerns. Hyde Housing Association, Orbit and the

Peabody Trust have all had their financial viability grades moved from the top rating of V1 down to V2, which still leaves them compliant with the regulator’s requirements, but with a warning over future activities and work. Peabody owns 55,000 homes predominantly in

the capital, while Orbit has 39,000 homes in the south east and Midlands and Hyde has 42,000

homes spread across London and the south east. All three associations have expanded their development work to increase the output of new homes, but this has left them more exposed to financial risks and reliant on sales income. Their downgrades reflect a tougher approach

from the regulator over risk, despite Government ministers repeatedly urging social landlords to sweat their assets more and contribute greater levels of new housing. It is unclear if associations considered to be under-delivering on new houses will also receive downgrades. The concern is that the recent batch of

16 | HMM January 2018 |

downgrades could backfire by making housing associations more risk averse. They could also make private lenders nervous and more likely to impose their own tougher and more frequent monitoring of borrowers’ performance. Other associations to have their financial viability

ratings lowered to V2 by the Homes & Communities Agency include the Acis Group, Broadland Housing Association, Christian Action (Enfield) Housing Association, East End Homes, Green Square Group, Thrive Homes, Wrekin Housing Group, Eden Housing Association and Manningham Housing Association. Meanwhile the Together Housing Group,

which owns 37,000 homes, the County Durham Housing Group and Bolton At Home who each own 18,000 homes, all had their governance ratings upgraded to G1. Trident Housing Association with 3,350 homes in the Midlands regained its V1 viability rating after resolving concerns over its income sources.

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