Safety & Quality Standard- The new RSH Consumer Standards

By Paul O’Callaghan · 14 May 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 particular conversation, Paul and Nick focus on the Safety and Quality Standard, discussing its impact, the importance of good quality asset data, and the role of resident involvement in meeting and exceeding these new requirements.

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

Our video on the Transparency, Influence and Accountability Standard can be viewed here.

Transcript:

Paul O’Callaghan: So today we’ll be talking about the Safety and Quality Standard. So real big year of change for the housing sector. Obviously, the launch of the new consumer standards, new sort of regulatory framework and regime. What do you think are the key things that have come out of this for providers within the sector?

 

Nick Sedgwick: Well, clearly, talking about the Safety and Quality Standard as we are is probably one of the real drivers for the change that’s been happening. You know, we’ve seen a range of incidents within the sector that has led the government to really want to drive up standards. And we’ve seen it coming and there’s been an awful lot of improvement in the sector already. But there will be continued focus by the government and continued changes in legislation and regulation, etc, to continue to drive up those standards. So it will be a year when there will be a real focus for the sector to carry on and to improve.

 

Paul: This is the one that tends to have the most words attached. I think it’s the one that has the most prominence attached to it for the reasons that you’ve just mentioned, you know, particularly when we think about things like Grenfell, like Awaab Ishak, the damp & mould issues that we’ve seen that are prevalent across the sector.

The thing that really stood out for me when I read this revised standard was around the importance of good quality asset data, and it kind of brought the data element to the fore, particularly around assets. How well prepared do you think the sector is? And particularly in that area?

 

Nick: There’s been a real debate recently about, how well, the sector does, how well landlords understand their stock.

Lots of landlords have had stock condition surveys that have given them a fairly good understanding in a generic way of their stock. But clearly, the regulator is now indicating that they expect landlords to understand the individual property, the condition and the quality of individual properties. And I think there’s many landlords that are still some way to go to be able to do that.

There’s a lot working very hard on it. But that’s important as well because the standards would give a real focus on the needs of individual residents. So if you’re going to respond to the needs of individual residents, you need to understand the condition of individual properties as well so you can cater what you provide for each resident.

 

Paul O’Callaghan: So what we’re talking about there is the move away from things like clone stock condition surveys and moving into individual stock condition surveys, which of course is a huge change for the sector, but it’s also quite an expensive change for the sector as well, and I think the thing that struck me was the length of time that this might take for that to kind of filter through and start to inform planned investment works. and there was something that we’d spoken about in relation to one of the other standards, which was around the importance of marrying up your individual asset data with your individual customer data, making sure those two things are really talking to each other. So you have a holistic view of kind of the asset, but also who’s behind the door of the asset.

 

Nick: I think we’ve got to remember that there’s a lot within this standard. So there is a lot around understanding the quality of individual homes. Some of that has been related to damp & mould. There’ll be a continued focus on damp and mould, being able to show that you’re taking a holistic view to tackling damp and mould, that it’s not just a property related approach that it does think about individual residents again and how you can work with the residents.

But also there’s a wider range of issues that it covers as well. So it’s just how you do, deliver your planned maintenance and your repairs, again, is that a tenant focused process? Are you listening to tenants? Are you involving tenants when you’re going through major works, maximise their choice, etc. but also things like aids and adaptations is included within the standard.

I think from our work so far, often that’s an area that that is a bit overlooked by some landlords, and again, for them to understand what they want to achieve through that and what the experience is for their tenants who need an adaptation. Often that is working in partnership with the local authority to deliver that, and with occupational therapists, but are you really working through that process to make it as smooth and giving the best outcome for individual residents.

 

 

Paul: And obviously, we’re talking about compliance here in the sense of compliance with the regulatory standards. But of course, what’s within this individual standard is all of the elements of health and safety compliance, as well as references obviously, to asbestos, legionella. We’ve got damp and mould as well, which is where you’ve touched on, you know, lifts, fire risk, gas, electrical, all of these things that organisations have to contend with. Now, I know we don’t kind of almost want to rank the standards, so to speak, but do we think that this will probably be the hardest one for organisations to become compliant with because of the breadth of the work that they have to do?

 

Nick: Well, we’ve certainly seen it’s the area where the regulator has been taking the greatest action so far. A number of landlords have received regulatory notices where they have failed, largely around health and safety, and where they’ve often that’s been a backlog of completing checks. But in many cases, actually the reason why people have been failing on against the old standard was that, that they weren’t up to date with the remediation action that followed those checks. So unfortunately, we’ve seen in landlords with thousands of outstanding actions that arise from those checks. And that’s a really the standards expect that boards or councillors understand how they are performing on the all these key areas. And that is one where there has been a failing of reporting to boards or councillors. So they haven’t understood the seriousness of some of the issues that are in their service delivery. So this is an area where it is really important to get your reporting and your performance management correct. And then make decisions on the back of it. And this is an area where there are some challenges. Obviously everybody is looking to improve at the moment or, or maintain their good performance. So there’s, getting the right staff in with the with the right skills to be able to deliver in this area, but also having the right contractors. There’s real competition at the moment for contractors to deliver works, especially around building safety.

 

Paul: That was the hot potato that I was about to throw at you, which was the standards obviously, they set a minimum standard that organisations will have to comply with. This isn’t an aspirational target. This is a minimum standard that people are expected to comply with. Given the external operating environment. Where you’ve just mentioned things around skills, capacity, resource constraints, but also the economic environment. How difficult do you think this will be for organisations without pulling in external help and assistance, that they might need to be able to do it?

 

Nick: There is that clear need, to be able to, test yourself, and that should be part of that assurance process for organisations. They will have their own internal processes, but they should be looking from some external challenge, some external assurance as well. And obviously that’s something ARK can do to help people. And that’s where we do a lot of work already. But also as part of that, we will help people to, to examine their governance structures, to properly understand how the organisation is performing. But also, yeah, we can support with, developing those, the way that you, bring in staff and retain staff and develop staff within these key areas, that’s another strength of ARK, that we have already worked with other landlords on.

 

Paul: Absolutely. And I think that leads nicely to the next segment of this conversation, which is what are the ways in which ARK can help? I mean, one of the things that I noticed when I joined ARK, I didn’t know we were in the business of helping people out with stock condition surveys. What a phenomenal addition to the service offer that is. But looking more broadly around the Safety and Quality Standard, what are some of the ways that ARK can help in terms of maintaining compliance and going beyond compliance in this area?

 

Nick: You collect a vast amount of data, especially with, as part of this standard. And ARK has our ASAP model. It’s a really powerful model where you can draw in all that data alongside other performance data, but also the views of your staff and residents, if you wish to. That can all be brought into the model, so you can understand how each of your schemes, or even down to individual properties, how they are performing. So you can then actually, depending on what issue, what factor you want to look at, you can really drill down and understand which parts of your stock may be performing less well. And make investment decisions and service-related issues to be able to tackle those properties especially, rather than a more generic response. So a real targeted response.

 

Paul: I have to say, I was really, really impressed when I saw the ASAP model in practice. It gives organisations an insight that they might not necessarily have in the absence of things like individual stock condition information. You know, it’s bringing in a whole myriad of factors. And actually, I think that has a really important role to play in this as well.

 

Nick: And the latest release of it is so easy to use. You know, that being able to drill through the data so easily is very powerful.

 

Paul: So any other tips for landlords, organisations that are looking at the Safety and Quality Standard and thinking ‘how do we become compliant with this?’ ‘How do we look to go beyond compliance?’

 

Nick: It’s an area where I think people need to think about timescales as well, because realistically, you’re not going to solve some of these issues overnight. You need to identify your key priorities. And clearly, you know, if tenants are at risk then that needs to be sorted. But actually, to developing and delivering a full asset management strategy is going to take time. But you need to, you need to show that you really understand the issues, you understand your priorities, and you’ve got a clear reason for the timescales that you’re setting to deliver that implementation. And again, that’s an area that ARK often works with landlords to both develop the strategy, but also support the implementation.

 

Paul: I think obviously ARK is really, really well known in terms of the asset management space and the development space. But you just touched on something there, which I think is really, really important. And I think for me, organisations really need to understand where they are now and then they understand where do we need to go, where do we need to be? And actually the asset management strategy becomes fundamental in not only evidencing compliance with the standards, but actually evidencing then to the regulator and to your stakeholders, your residents, actually how we would go beyond this, how are we going to do it? How long will it take? It sets out really, really clearly, but puts the organisation itself on a direction of travel, on a journey, to use a well-coined phrase at the moment in the sector, but actually the importance of that asset management strategy, showing that you have a handle and you understand where you are and where you want to be and how are you going to get there. I think that delivers some assurance. Would you agree?

 

Nick: Oh, yeah. And for everybody to understand where the organisation is going, because you’re spending an awful lot of money as part of your asset management strategy, and for people to really to understand that, but also how that ties with your service delivery, because, you know, your asset management strategy isn’t just for the asset management colleagues, it’s for the whole organisation. And so everybody should have input. And obviously you need a large input from residents for them to work with you to set the standards that you’re going to deliver, etc., but also for all your staff to understand the priorities that the organisation is heading towards.

 

Paul: So you managed to dodge my hot potato earlier because you got there before I threw it. So here’s another one. How important is the resident voice in this standard? So we’re talking here about asset data. We’re talking about bricks and mortar. We’re talking about buildings. We’re talking about components. How much of an error would it be for an organisation to look at becoming compliant with the standard and ignore the resident voice, or to not involve them in the development of an asset management strategy, for example?

 

Nick: Well, the standard itself is very clear that you need to be listening and working with your residents to set those standards and set those priorities. And I’ve been around in the sector long enough to know actually working with residents really helps you to make some of those decisions. They will help to give you those clear messages that allow you, if you are unclear in some areas, what you should prioritise. Often, talking to your residents will really give you that clear view.

 

Paul: Absolutely. And of course, it helps with things like no access, for example, if you’re close to residents, it also helps with things like understanding the difficulties about reporting a repair. Or, you know, you need to get in touch with your landlord. What’s the best way of them doing that? So I think this is a really important resident focus that runs through.

Nick: And it all links up. Yeah, actually, if you provide a decent repairs service, that’s a great way to build trust with your residents. And therefore residents will talk, come and talk to you and work with you on issues. If they feel it’s a constant battle to get things done, then it’s always going to be harder in service delivery generally.

 

Paul: Absolutely. Nick, thank you so much for your time discussing the Safety and Quality Standard and also the help that ARK can offer to the sector in terms of becoming compliant and going beyond compliance.

 

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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