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Keeping People’s Needs at the Heart of Housing Services

Jo Oliveira, May 14, 2021

In pockets of the housing sector, there’s an emerging shift towards service design and putting user-needs at the forefront of service delivery - for customers as well as staff - but there’s a long way to go. Of course the term “user” can sound quite stark, and when we’re talking about real people with so many facets to their lives, it can feel like an enormous task to keep everyone happy.

We also hear from housing professionals that traditional Housing Management and other legacy systems can be inflexible, unnecessarily complex to use and hard to adapt to frequently changing needs. Innovating from within the sector could be the answer to cracking these problems, and interestingly some organisations are considering a hybrid approach pairing traditional with innovative solutions to truly leverage the best of both worlds.

At Unboxed we’re passionate about keeping people’s needs at the heart of everything we do, and having a positive impact on peoples’ lives along the way. We also have a strong desire to share how we do this, by being open and transparent in the way we work, whilst upskilling internal teams in the organisations we partner with.

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I’ve talked a bit about our Housing Service Improvement Working Group previously, and how we’re evolving and learning as much from our team as they are from us! The key is keeping focused on identifying problems and opportunities, leaving no stone unturned.

It’s really exciting to see the parallels between the ‘design thinking’ process, and how housing professionals strive to embed a similar approach every day with their customers in mind. One of our core team members Emma Preston-Dunlop, Senior Resident Involvement Officer at Newlon Housing Trust recently spoke to me about their resident-focused principles - delivered under their “Newlon Gold” mindset which ensures that every action by staff is resident-centred.

Emma says: “Newlon Gold is instilled from your first day in role. Having an ethos across the organisation that puts the onus on the individual to take responsibility, to be clear, timely and consistent in response to residents, means we work as one across teams. It’s an extremely effective way to centre residents’ needs and issues. Residents are aware of our service standards, and they check and report our response rates anonymously three times a year.”

As well as improving conditions and customer satisfaction, much of the current drive for service improvement stems from the government’s recent Social Housing White Paper, which aims to deliver transparency and accountability promised following the Grenfell disaster. At it's heart is the Charter for Social Housing Residents which sets out seven commitments residents should expect from their landlord:

  1. To be safe in your home.
  2. To know how your landlord is performing, including on repairs, complaints and safety, and how it spends its money.
  3. To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly, with access to a strong Ombudsman.
  4. To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator and improved consumer standards for tenants.
  5. To have your voice heard by your landlord.
  6. To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in, with your landlord keeping your home in good repair.
  7. The government will ensure social housing can support people to take their first step to ownership.

Unless a strategic approach to designing and measuring success based on these commitments happens, systems and processes will not be aligned around the outcomes that organisations want to achieve.

We’re also strong advocates for HACT’s UK Housing Data Standards, and finding ways to instill the ‘golden thread of information’ highlighted in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future report. The work we’re doing with Southwark Council and partners developing a cross-authority Back-office Planning System, is one project setting the groundwork for this. We also recently started building a Building Safety Platform to help Southwark - and hopefully other councils - to report and monitor building safety information digitally.

It’s exciting to see the data standards continually evolve, with the next version to include environmental standards, which will really help underpin the sector’s carbon neutral targets if we can standardise work across the sector, particularly in asset management.

There are endless opportunities to design systems and processes that have a positive impact on the environment and people’s lives. If you’re working in the housing sector and interested to get involved in the working group - please do get in touch!