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My top 3 challenges to the housing sector for 2016

January 4, 2016 09:55

I’ve been a fan of social housing for years.

Last month, a team of us at ICE had the pleasure of giving a presentation to the rest of our company about our social housing clients, what they do and the sort of work we are helping them with.

Preparing for it took me back to the days of working as a reporter on the magazine published by the National Housing Federation. Even at the tender age of 25, I loved the sector (once I had learned the jargon). This is social affairs and community investment at its finest. These are organisations that are independent, not-for-profit social businesses, set up to provide affordable homes for people in housing need.

That’s no mean feat, given that the people most in need of housing have a wider variety of challenges to deal with than just not having a roof over their heads. Five million people are supported by social housing landlords. Yes, there’s the roof and walls, the rent and repairs, but how many private landlords also offer community initiatives, employment training, coaching, IT lessons, health and wellbeing groups, crime and safety work, projects with young people and children, not to mention the whole regeneration of chunks of our towns and cities?

Private sector organisations with a public sector heart. We’ve worked with Home Group for over four years now, and I love their raison d’être: “To help our customers and clients to open doors to new opportunities and healthy lives”. [link https://www.homegroup.org.uk/About-Us]

These are values we share.

But the sector itself faces a number of challenges. Like everyone else, it suffers from budget cuts and policy changes, such as the extension of the right to buy and a 1% reduction in rental income. Many are under threat. [link http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2015/jul/22/government-five-year-vision-social-housing]

But they are, in the main, clever organisations run by clever people. They fund millions of pounds of affordable rental development and community investment programmes by building shared ownership and outright sale properties. Our design team, copywriters and marketers do an incredible job of helping sales staff up and down the country.

Our research teams have spoken with hundreds of tenants and customers from Margate to Cumbria to understand how they understand the impact of Universal Credit and the effect it will have on their lives – including their ability to pay rent. No surprise that 90% of those already on Universal Credit are in rent arrears, with many organisations struggling to cope with the changes in the benefits system in a timely way. [link http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/policy/health-and-care/nine-in-10-universal-credit-tenants-in-arrears/7013234.article?utm_source=Housing60&utm_medium=email&utm_content=article_link&utm_campaign=H60].

Here are my top three priorities for housing providers for 2016:

-       Understand your customers: get deep, qualitative insight into what they want, how you as a landlord can improve, their aspirations for the future, their challenges with employment, literacy, IT, money management, benefits. It will pay dividends as you plan your approach based on evidence, and not assumptions

-       Communicate well: keep innovating. Try new things, even if the old ones are working. Don’t give up if something doesn’t work – learn from it and try something else. Use digital and social to surprise and delight. Use quality design and innovative campaigns to make your developments stand out from the crowd

-       Keep your own house in order: if you want tenants to see you as more than just the landlord, do the landlording exceptionally well. Get that repairs service running efficiently and effectively. Scrutinise how your approach to tackling rent arrears matches your brand. Create a values-led organisation.

2016 will present more challenges for the sector. The heart will always be in the right place. Follow your heart – but take your brain with you.

For more information on how ICE are supporting housing providers in digital, design, marketing, insight research, organisational change and the provision of healthy lifestyle service interventions, please call Richard Forshaw on 07540 412304 or email richard.forshaw@icecreates.com

Transforming Tewkesbury – a winning partnership!

October 13, 2015 16:36

Last week I had the pleasure of spending time at the IRRV national conference with theRevenues & Benefits Team from Tewkesbury Borough Council – and what an event it turned out to be!

12 months ago ICE began working on a transformation programme with the service and the conference was the culmination and celebration of all that we have achieved together. It’s been a long journey, but with outstanding results and the commitment and enthusiasm of the team throughout the process has been a pleasure to witness.

The team wanted to improve efficiency and processes, drive culture change and most importantly determine how to deliver better services to their customers. At the outset they had backlogs of work and long processing times. The service was very reactive with little or no capacity to look into the future and be proactive in their approach.

Using the ICE 7Es model, we worked with the team to transfer skills and knowledge which empowered them to make significant and sustainable changes in their system. The outcome: recognition at the IRRV Performance Awards 2015 as a top performing service and a transformation to be truly proud of.

One of the key features of ICE’s 7Es model is that we work with you and don’t do to you. Working together, the teams have achieved so much, including:

  • The Benefits team being ranked 15 out of 201 district councils and top performer in Gloucestershire
  • Elimination of the backlog of work
  • New claims: processing time reduced from 37 days to 9 days
  • Change of circumstances: processing time reduced from 25 days to 8 days
  • Significant increase in Benefits subsidy
  • 80% reduction in failure demand into the Benefits service
  • 75% increase in Revenues customers having their accounts administered at the point of contact
  • 60% reduction in incorrect ad-hoc bills
  • Creation of a motivated and empowered work force, open to change and with capacity to build wider partnerships.

The core team we worked with included all levels of staff from front line through to the Head of Service, with leadership and sponsorship from the Deputy Chief Executive. Having achieved so much in such a short space of time we decided that it would be a great idea to enter the IRRV Performance Awards. The service had never considered this in the past and it was testimony to the new way in which they now looked at their world. So, together, we began to think about the applications and put pen to paper.

To our delight both the Revenues Team and Benefits Team were shortlisted into the last five nationally for their respective team of the year awards. The awards panel sent judges along to the Council to talk to the team about the work that they had done, and are continuing to do. This was a great success, with both teams subsequently being invited along to the IRRV Performance Awards Gala dinner in Telford on 7th October.

The team sent a mini bus of staff up to the conference and donned their gladrags for a much deserved evening of celebration. It was a joy to see their pride and sense of achievement on the night and the realisation that they were indeed recognised for their hard work and positive attitude towards continuous service improvement.

I watched with all of the pride of a mother around her brood as they awaited the results and, despite not getting the award overall, they truly believed in themselves and their own achievements as their name came up on the big screen as national finalists.

The buzz that they continued with throughout the night and again the next morning was evidence of just how far they have come – they had ‘got it’! We talked and planned what next, how they continue their journey of continuous improvement, the bigger picture going forward and about always putting their customers first and trying new ways to help people.

Giving those that do the work the power, culture and enthusiasm to keep making better happen is truly a rewarding job and makes me realise it’s why I go to work every day. You don’t need a trophy or an award to be a winner – you just need the right way of thinking and the behaviour to keep on going, to achieve the outcomes you seek and to keep on growing.

Here’s to next year and the journey that keeps on going!

To find out more about ICE’s 7Es model and how we can help you on your transformation journey, contact: Rachel.Stamp@icecreates.com