The 5 Biggest Challenges Facing Housing Associations Right Now
The social housing sector faces an unprecedented set of challenges. Long term problems that have plagued the industry for years have recently been laid bare in dramatic fashion. Analogue systems and lacklustre investment have left housing associations ill equipped to deal with a series of unpredictable crises.
So, what can the social housing sector do about it?
In the article, we cover the biggest challenges facing housing associations right now. We’ll also look at ways that the social housing sector can improve on its current internal infrastructure to future-proof the industry for the difficult decades to come.
Regulatory changes: Big news for housing associations
Poor standards in the social housing sector are sadly nothing new. The Grenfell tragedy of 2017 made international headlines and shocked the nation, with the UK government responding by increasing regulatory scrutiny. It was clear that something urgently needed to change.
A government whitepaper published in November 2020 recommended removing the £5000 cap on fines that the RSH (Regulator of Social Housing) can issue. Instead, social landlords could receive unlimited fines if they fail to comply with standards.
However, the challenges facing the social housing sector in the UK are complex.
Challenge 1: The pandemic and its consequences
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the UK in spring 2020. Overnight, tenants around the country were ordered to stay indoors except for a very limited set of circumstances. Lockdowns increased the amount of time tenants spent in homes, leading to a rise in repairs and logistical difficulties in arranging fixes to take place.
Repair work, which was already behind due to inefficient management, suddenly became potentially unsafe for vulnerable tenants. Furthermore, unclear and confusing guidance meant that urgent repairs got worse in some cases. The bad news for housing associations is that there’s still no end in sight for clearing the backlog.
Solution: Find better ways to manage the complaints and repair processes. Digital remote assistance tools, like Fixzy Assist, can empower tenants and carers to fix small issues in properties themselves with expert guidance. You can also send in repair personnel when the problem requires a professional fix.
Challenge 2: Climate change and environmental pressure
An increasingly severe weather cycle brings its own challenges for housing associations. The social housing sector now has to prepare for the inevitable fact that more of its tenants will be affected by extreme surge events, such as flooding or gale-force winds that can damage local infrastructure.
Homes also need to be made more efficient so that they don’t use so much energy. Unfortunately for the social housing sector, retrofitting costs will fall on housing associations.
Solution: Preparing ahead of time is crucial to effectively managing surge events. Unfortunately, we can’t always predict where they’ll occur. What the social housing sector can do right now is to implement tools to help tenants deal quickly with claims and repairs when the worst happens.
Challenge 3: Fire and safety regulations
In 2021, the Fire Safety Act received Royal Assent. The bill aims to identify who is responsible for fire safety within a development. The Fire Safety Act also sets out to begin the process of removing hazardous building materials that were a significant factor in the Grenfell tragedy.
The exact costs of the removal of unsafe materials in buildings are uncertain. The UK government has earmarked £5 bn of funding to cover the removal of dangerous cladding in buildings over 6 storeys. However, that figure is unlikely to cover the total cost.
At this stage, leaseholders are likely to incur at least some of the costs for removing cladding. The total amount of support leaseholders can expect remains a hotly debated political issue.
Solution: In the 2021 autumn budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed a £2bn cladding tax would be introduced on developers to help offset some of the burden on leaseholders to fix the issue. The social housing sector needs to be vigilant about the updates coming from the UK government on this issue.
Challenge 4: Increasing supply chain costs and disruption
A worldwide reevaluation of the just-in-time supply chain model is currently underway due to the Covid-19 crisis. In the UK, supply chain issues have been a problem for a little longer, due in part to confusion over post-Brexit guidelines. Unfortunately, until greater resilience is built into supply chains, the construction of affordable homes for the social housing sector will struggle to keep up with demand.
Solution: Building resilience into supply chains takes time, but the effect of shortages can be minimised by diligent planning and preparation. In the interim, the social housing sector can take comfort from the increased £1.8 bn the Chancellor has earmarked for brownfield development.
Challenge 5: Increasing public consciousness and reporting
In 2021, an ITV documentary and a series of news items highlighted the worst failures of housing associations. One tenant went viral by sharing their experience of living in squalid conditions, prompting the housing association to undertake the repairs. The story was reported on by BBC News.
Awful conditions featured in documentaries make the social housing sector as a whole look uncaring. More reporting means a greater chance of public outcry which will only lead to more stringent regulation across the board, whether or not housing associations are the worst offenders.
Solution: Proactively prove that your housing association cares. By putting mechanisms in place to deal with issues early, housing associations can increase tenant satisfaction and distinguish themselves from less reputable operators.
Overcoming the challenges facing housing associations
The challenges that housing associations face are multifaceted and complex, but they aren’t insurmountable. Senior leaders in the social housing sector need to engage with their operations. Finding quick wins with technology to improve the lives of their tenants and their own reputations is crucial.
Technology that is readily available can help to clear a backlog of issues that have left housing associations paralysed with inaction. Housing associations would be wise to avoid incoming uncapped penalties from regulators by leveraging digital tools that exist right now.
Action urgent repairs rapidly for the social housing sector
Fixzy Assist is a remote video guidance solution powered by computer vision AI, AR and deep learning. Our senior leadership team has over 30 years of experience working with the social housing sector in the UK.
Fixzy’s easy-to-use, web-based app helps your housing association proactively handle complaints and home repairs. Provide comfort and safety to your tenants, even the most vulnerable, with just a couple of clicks.
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