The Neighbourhood & Community Standard

By Paul O’Callaghan · 14 June 2024

We’re excited to share a series of insightful conversations on the new Regulator of Social Housing Consumer Standards, which came into effect on 1 April 2024. In these discussions, ARK Assistant Director Paul O’Callaghan sat down with Nick Sedgwick and Helen Scurr to delve into the key changes and implications for housing providers within the sector. In this conversation, Paul and Helen focus on the Neighbourhood and Community Standard, discussing the importance of understanding communities, the needs of your tenants, and having good quality data and knowing what to do with it.

You can watch the video of their conversation below or scroll down to read the full transcript.

Our video on the Safety & Quality Standard can be viewed here.
Our video on the Transparency, Influence and Accountability Standard can be viewed here.
Our video on the Tenancy Standard can be viewed here.

Transcript:

Paul O’Callaghan: Hello everyone and welcome to our bite-sized conversations where we talk about the hot topics in the housing sector. My name is Paul O’Callaghan, and I’m one of the Assistant Directors here at ARK and today we’ll be talking about the new consumer standards which were released on the 1st of April this year.

I’m delighted to be joined by Helen Scurr, who’s one of our company directors here at ARK. Welcome, Helen.

Helen Scurr: Hi, Paul.

 

Paul: And today we will be talking about the Neighbourhood and Community Standard.

So in terms of what we’ll be talking about, really big year for the housing sector. Lots and lots of change, obviously the introduction of new consumer standards. From your perspective, how big an impact will this have for providers within the housing sector?

 

Helen: So I think, Paul, it’s a really interesting time for the sector. I was recently speaking to a board and, I put a photograph up of this very stormy sea and a boat in the middle of the sea, and for me, it just illustrated the, the sort of the challenges and the changes that are impacting on the sector and I think, you know, the introduction of the new standards, while some organisations will find them particularly helpful in terms of improving their performance, I think others are finding it quite daunting, just at the sheer volume of regulatory change, really.

That coupled with the Ombudsman’s new code, it will give a framework for organisations to work within. I think it will help us to be able to understand and benchmark performance probably more easily than we have been able to do in recent times, but lots of challenges for organisations.

 

Paul: Absolutely. And a really, really difficult operating environment outside of the standards as well. I mean, you touched on the Housing Ombudsman there and I was talking to Nick (Sedgwick) about one of the other standards earlier.

We were talking about, you know, the economic pressures around sort of repairs and maintenance, asset management, rising customer expectation, staff shortages, capacities. The perfect storm analogy is perfect, I would say, I think for the sector.

So today we’re here to talk about the Neighbourhood and Community Standard. So from your perspective, what are the key things that this standard highlights to organisations? What do people need to be thinking about? What are the key things that they need to have in their minds eye?

 

Helen: I think back some years ago where we used to use the reference safer estates, safer neighbourhoods. So I think for me, the introduction of this new standard is refocusing organisations on not just community but the environment. So looking at social, economic and environmental issues.

So it’s much broader than, homes that are owned by organisations. It’s looking at safer spaces. It’s looking at areas that the organisations now, you know, become, I suppose they might not be legally responsible for maintaining, but they have a moral obligation.

So, for example, just looking at, you know, children’s playgrounds and communal areas.

So it’s about improving those neighbourhoods and communities. So addressing things like antisocial behaviour, you know, you drive around some estates and it’s prevalent and you see what looks like very sad estates now that need love, care and attention. So I think it’s about working in partnership with a whole range of organisations to make sure that those neighbourhoods are safe, safe environments for people to live, but also enable tenants, residents to live in safer homes as well and feel confident to live in those communities and neighbourhoods.

So I think lots of challenges for organisations that perhaps have been focusing on other priorities. This standard brings us back to the local community.

 

Paul: And how important, obviously, from your experience and, you know, we’ve had this conversation many times before, you started out as a kind of frontline housing practitioner.

You worked your way all the way up to sort of executive level, as well so you’ve seen the breadth of experience, how important do you think partnerships are in terms of that, that front line sort of estate, community focused, element of housing service?

 

Helen: I think partnerships are absolutely critical. It’s about having the ability to work collectively and collaboratively with, for example, local police. So when you’re tackling, whether that’s, hate crime, antisocial behaviour, domestic violence, for another example, it brings together professionals who have different skills and experiences to support those families and individuals.

You talked in earlier conversations about sort of the allocations policies. We all know if you are going to view a property that is going to be your home, you want to live somewhere that, is safe, looks nice. Your children can go out and play and feel safe. And I do believe we lost sight of that. And for lots of reasons, you know, organisations have had to invest a lot of money, in their stock, we know conditions fell. So where do you target time and capacity and resource?

So this now gives a framework for organisations to rethink the community and how they can work with partners to address some of these key issues.

 

Paul: It’s really interesting because I think what you brought in there is the question around demand, and we are leaning a little bit back there into the Tenancy Standard. But I do think that the Tendency Standard and the Neighbourhood and Community Standard are intrinsically linked in terms of what their purpose is. When you think about when you go to buy a home, you would go and view the property in the morning, go and view the property in the afternoon. You’d view it at night you’d view at the weekend and you’d make sure the area was right for you.

But of course, because the there is such a short supply of social housing within the country, actually that demand-led means that that kind of choice element almost has gone and the ability for people to find the right neighbourhood for them, the right community, the right home. and organisations also have to battle with that as well in terms of, you know, reducing the numbers of people that are on waiting lists and working with those partner agencies.

There was something else that you mentioned there, which I think is and I was really, really pleased that it was so prevalent in this standard, which was around domestic abuse. And I think we’ve seen the sector start to stand up and take notice of this, probably more so over the last decade. What are your thoughts on that? Is there quite a way for us to go in terms of how we identify and intervene and manage and tackle domestic abuse, or do we think there’s some elements of best practice out there that we can kind of lean on?

 

Helen: I think there are some really good practice examples out in the sector where organisations go beyond, above and beyond, the requirements to support victims of domestic abuse, domestic violence. But I also think, generally it’s about listening. and I do think there are still examples out there where people report domestic abuse and are not heard. So for me, it’s about having some very clear policies and procedures and working practices. But I also think it’s about staff training. It’s about raising awareness, with frontline staff to be able to spot issues.

And when I talk about frontline staff, I’m not just talking about housing officers or neighbourhood officers. You know, your repairs, operatives going into people’s homes. Perhaps that might be about sort of repeat calls, because you’ve got damage that has been done to properties that could be linked to domestic violence or domestic abuse

So I think, it’s about standardising approach. It’s about listening to customers. It’s about recognising signs in people’s homes. But having very clear policies and procedures around domestic abuse, is going to be really important for organisations.

 

Paul: Particularly around sort of anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse. You know, some of these states and open spaces that you mentioned there.

Do you think there’s a differential between organisations that have some high stock density within built up urban areas? Lots of tower blocks, sort of major cities, major urban centers, versus some of the more dispersed stock. Do you think there’s a differential there and the pressure might be greater on those going forward?

 

Helen: I think that’s a really interesting question. We work both in a city and we also work with rural communities. And I think probably recent examples we’ve seen in a city with multiple high-rise blocks, it’s about issues around rubbish, rubbish collection, uncared for communal areas, issues around grounds maintenance contracts not being monitored and that all impacts on that environment. I think more rural, they’re probably less prevalent, it is around inner-city. I think with rural areas, what you’ve got is possibly a lack of services.

So you’re then looking at partners to support and deliver some of those services using local labor, local suppliers, local businesses. So I think there is a difference, but probably similar issues.

Paul: And of course we’ll link nicely to the TSM is because there are perception questions around your kind of neighbourhood and the area that you live in as well. So it would be really good to see by raising standards there we have an impact on how customers in the sector start to see this as well. But at least we’ve got that measure which will help.

 

Helen: Yeah. With the tenant satisfaction measures, you know, organisations will have a really good baseline I think to work from. So understanding what customers’ views are around that environment, that community, how they can work in partnership to deliver and improve some of those services. But also it’s about designing support mechanisms and services that tenants and residents want. So they will get a lot of rich information from the TSMs, how that is then taken forward around improvements. So again, listening to tenants’ voice, making sure they act upon tenants’ voice and actually delivering those service improvements will be key.00:09:45:12 –

 

Paul: Absolutely.

So in terms of the expertise that we have here at ARK, huge expertise in the space around sort of asset management, development. What a lot of people won’t know is the depth of expertise that we have in relation to housing management services and the functions that exist there. Can you tell us a bit more about how ARK might be able to support organisations, particularly in becoming compliant with this standard, but also going beyond compliance in the future?

 

Helen: ARK has a range of different skill sets within the organisation. We have 60, 70 professionals, the majority of whom will have operated at practitioner level. I myself started as a housing officer in the sector. A lot of my colleagues have worked their way through organisations, so they have a really good understanding, so we can provide support with service reviews. We do a number of service reviews. We can help with mock inspections so organisations can start to judge where they’re at against the standards. We can help organisations to design and deliver improvement plans, and we can write policies and procedures, but we can also provide interim support.

You know, a number of our colleagues will go into organisations for a period of time. They will be helping organisations understand where they’re at, but also around reorganisation and restructuring. You know, we’re now seeing organisations revisit patch sizes, for example. We moved traditionally from smaller patch sizes to sort of, you know, 1500 as an example. Organisations are restructuring and recognising now that’s just too many. You can’t support that many tenants with one officer. So helping reorganisation to restructure, but with a focus on the customer.

And also from a governance perspective, we do a lot of work with boards we referenced that earlier. So working with boards to help them understand what questions they should be asking, what level of assurance they should be ensuring that they receive as a board. And also how tenants can support that through different tenant involvement and engagement structures.

Paul: I think there’s something that you touched on there, which I think is really important. It’s something that I noticed pretty much as soon as I walked through the door at ARK, and you mention the word practitioner, it was the number of our associates and our internal staff that were chartered members of the CIH and obviously I caught up with Nick earlier, chartered member of the CIH. I’m a chartered member of the CIH. You’re a fellow of the CIH. You know, we have that depth of knowledge and that practitioner status behind us.

But more importantly, it’s the depth of people that we have and the amount of support that we can offer. And I think when you mentioned the interim market, there’s a real demand for that now, isn’t there?

I think, you know, particularly around the practitioner element, but also around the kind of extra pair of hands to get across the multiple plates that are spinning in organisations. So I think there’s a whole range of ways that we can get involved.

One of the other things that I’d spoken to you about before was a lot of the work that you did around culture, and it’s just how important culture is, particularly in this standard around neighbourhoods and communities. But customer first and remembering that we all exist in a sector where we need to place the customer first. How important do you think the culture of an organisation is?

 

Helen: I think culture is a theme that runs throughout all of the consumer standards because fundamentally it’s about behaviours. And we are now seeing organisations wanting to understand more about their baseline culture, how the culture is impacting on how organisations and the people that work with them support tenants and residents. So the culture is absolutely paramount. Culture and behaviours.

We are seeing much more of a focus now towards, again, tenant inclusion and tenant voice, listening, helping tenants to design services going forward. So that’s about people in organisations feeling empowered to work alongside residents that can help them shape services. And it comes down to behaviours. Behaviours are fundamentally critical. If you’ve got offices that are behaving badly who are not supporting tenants and residents, then you’re not going to achieve a standard. And actually, you’ve got to then question whether they’re the right role models with the right skills to be in that organisation.

So yes, we do have a lot of practitioners, and a lot of us have done our CIH qualifications because that’s how old we all are. But yes, lots of opportunities there to help organisations.

 

Paul: Brilliant. That’s wonderful. Helen, thank you so much for your time discussing the Neighbourhood and Community Standard today. It’s very much appreciated. Thank you all for tuning into this bite sized conversation on the Neighbourhood and Community Standard. If you would like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch with us; we’d be more than happy to have a conversation with you. We hope you enjoyed the video, and we hope that you will tune in to our next one. Thank you very much.

 

Here at ARK, we can help you to meet or exceed the new RSH Consumer Standards. If you would like more information, simply get in touch.

Paul O’Callaghan, Assistant Director – pocallaghan@arkconsultancy.co.uk

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