The release of the RSH’s latest monthly Coronavirus Operational Survey Reports (COSR) on 9th June was followed up this week by a talk from Fiona MacGregor as part of Digital Housing Week on 22nd June. The RSH has been reviewing how well registered providers (RPs) are coping with challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking forwards to what the future may look like for our sector. 

The overall message from the RSH is one of praise for how well the sector has coped over the past few weeks.  In particular, the RSH has highlighted how well RPs have focussed on their residents through communication, delivery of critical/emergency repairs, supporting vulnerable tenants etc.

The RSH, in turn, appears to have reacted quickly and well – delivering practical regulation and oversight during the crisis.  This has included alleviating part of the regulatory burden to enable RPs to focus on their tenants and to allow the RSH to support the organisations that most need it. 

Where are the current pressures?

As some pressures are starting to improve, including the availability of PPE, supply chain issues and staffing levels, all eyes are now looking to the next few months and what the future might look like. 

RPs having been doing a great job of maintaining essential health & safety checks, as well as vital repairs and maintenance but there is a growing backlog – particularly of health and safety inspections, such as gas safety checks, and routine maintenance.  This isn’t yet causing undue alarm for most RPs, but must be kept under control.  Organisations must ensure that they are carrying out, and recording, risk assessments and can demonstrate how checks/repairs can be carried out safely.  If residents are reluctant to allow access, then communication/negotiation is necessary as a first step.  If this fails, consider whether an access injunction is appropriate in the circumstances. 

What does regulation look like now?

The practical guidance issued by the RSH continues to apply.  For example if an RP is, broadly speaking, getting their health & safety checks and urgent repairs done and the backlog isn’t looking too bad then they don’t need to self-refer to the RSH.  This assumes, however, that a clear audit trail is kept of any outstanding issues and steps are taken to gain entry where appropriate (and/or reasons not to obtain court orders are documented).  Any RP that is struggling with this, however, or is falling short of the Regulatory Standards in any other way, should speak directly to the RSH sooner rather than later.

Moving forwards

It is clear that we will be facing a challenging economic environment over the coming few weeks and months.  Unemployment is likely to rise, which may affect rent recovery, and the supply chain could be hit as businesses continue to struggle.  In addition to this, most RPs will be dealing with a backlog of repairs that will likely take some time to clear.

Keeping business cases under review, and having realistic and achievable development aims, will be essential for the next phase of the recovery.

Looking beyond the pandemic

The long-awaited Social Housing White Paper is now expected towards the end of this year.  We have known for some time that resident engagement will be central to that White Paper and, in our experience, most RPs are already focusing heavily on this, and significant changes have already been made.  The current Black Lives Matter movement also needs to be taken into account as we all seek to improve our practices. 

Health and safety works, plans to achieve Decent Homes 2, and zero-carbon targets will likely also be key components of the White Paper and so should now be part of ongoing business planning. 

As mentioned in our previous alerts, cash flow is vital at the moment, and so liquidity should be high on the agenda for all RPs.

The RSH will be resuming IDAs shortly, starting with digital IDAs for a handful of RPs who have volunteered to be part of a pilot scheme. 

Learning from our experiences

As well as preparing for any future outbreaks, there are general lessons to be learned from the pandemic and the sector’s response to it.  Much has been said in the press about the future of office-based working, but as well as this Fiona MacGregor has stressed the need to review your response to Covid-19 and to learn lessons.  For example, should supply chains be diversified in the future?  What items should be stockpiled, e.g. PPE?  How can communication with residents be improved?  Is there anything that could prevent the organisation focusing on its core purpose?

In summary, the sector has responded well to the current crisis and most RPs are maintaining adequate service delivery.  Whilst some adjustments to the regulatory regime have been made to take account of the circumstances, good governance from all organisations remains essential.

As we look to the future, there is much that we have learned over the last few weeks which we can apply as we re-shape businesses moving forwards.  It is clear that RPs will have a key role to play in supporting vulnerable people who have suffered through the pandemic, and in delivering new homes as part of the economic recovery.  We have no doubts that the sector will rise to that challenge in the same way that is has done in the past.

And finally … the world’s first fully digital housing association

The final day of Digital Housing Week included a talk on the novel Dutch housing association, Qlinker, in What can we learn from Holland’s first fully digital Housing Association. A start-up housing association, Qlinker proudly presents itself as the Netherland’s first digital housing association, where all tenant services (including onboarding) are via an app and a chat bot. This may be a step too far for the UK market at the moment, as some residents don’t have access to the necessary technology, or don’t feel comfortable using it to this extent. But valuable lessons can still be learned on how to improve access to UK services, and tenant engagement, in the future.

How can Capsticks help?

Capsticks’ housing team provides a truly full-service, with particular expertise in development, corporate and securitisation, housing leasehold and asset management. We advise housing associations and local authorities on a range of matters including estate regeneration schemes, housing management and tenant engagement, commercial and financial issues, including disputes and governance advice.

If you have any queries around what's discussed in this article, and the impact on your organisation, please speak to Susie Rogers, or any of your contacts at Capsticks, to find out more about how we can help.