Out of Condition

By Wayne Hughes · 27 October 2022

 

It seems that we have got to a point where hardly a week goes by without another damning report, investigation or announcement by the government, housing regulator, housing ombudsman, the media or tenant advocates into the stock condition related failures levelled at social landlords.

Yet, pick up the annual report of any social housing organisation and you couldn’t help concluding that the sector has a firm grip on the condition of its stock, and whilst this is definitely the case for some, it is not the case for many.

It would also be easy to conclude on the back of recent increases in investment on existing stock (mainly directed at undertaking building safety work that mostly should already have been part of the day job) that the quality of social housing has increased by 510% and that 75% of statistics are made up.

The sector now finds the claims it makes about the condition of its stock being caught out on an alarmingly regular basis. The latest example being a sudden realisation that social housing organisations wouldn’t be able to meet the 1 October 2022 deadline for ensuring homes were fitted with basic smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and would need to self-refer to the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH).

I’m not suggesting the potential for reputational damage to the sector and to itself as regulator was a factor in the RSH suddenly deciding to move from absolute compliance to, at the eleventh hour “comply or have a plan“ decision, but it would make sense if it was.

As we all know, the financial markets need to know that regulators have a grip, and given the current spotlight on the sector, exposing the NHF’s ill-informed observation that 95% of its members were already compliant would not have been a good optic, and herein lies the problem. Stock condition surveys have over time, become far more in tune with meeting the needs of the business plan rather than the living conditions of tenants. They have, to varying degrees, become stock investment surveys rather than stock condition surveys. Whilst this approach is perfectly valid and a key component of any asset grading framework it is not enough and should be an as well as, and not instead of a well-engineered and systematic approach to capturing data about  property and neighbourhood characteristics, deficiencies, risks and, yes, tenants views about the condition of their home.

A simple comparison of the information captured by the English Housing Survey and that typically captured by social landlords is all that is needed to prove the large gaps in detail typically found in the average RP survey.

The Boards of most social landlords will know the 30-year investment requirements (tantamount to a 30-year weather forecast) of their stock but how many are aware of how many properties they own have deficiencies solely attributable to their design, construction and/or maintenance? Similarly, how many Boards are comfortable with the low bar Decent Homes Standard being their organisation’s aspirational standard rather than as the trigger point for action that the Government intended?

Back in the 1980s and 90’s I had the privilege of being involved in refining the survey methodology used in the English Housing Condition Survey (now called the English Housing Survey) and in representing the housing association movement on the body that gave birth to the Disrepair Pre Action-Protocol that is in use today. The big take away for me was that private sector landlords knew infinitely more about the condition of their stock than social landlords and arguably that remains the position today. Over 45% of England’s social housing (stock of 3.9million homes) is at least 58 years old and yet tens of thousands are thought to be waiting to physically benefit from a thorough condition survey. How many more years does the sector need to see that the condition of every tenant’s home is reviewed and acted upon where necessary?

Addressing the condition challenges won’t be easy particularly when there is a rent cap looming and the appetite for development remains as strong as it does. Registered Providers rarely review whether the stock survey methodology they employ and now may just well be a good time to put it under the microscope?  

At ARK Consultancy, we work with many housing providers to help them get the most from their stock condition surveys and really understand what data they need to obtain and how to interpret it. If you wish to learn more on this matter or would like to speak to an expert on how we could support your organisation call us today on 0121 515 3831.

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