The productivity dilemma facing UK housing associations today

UK housing associations are generally charitable, non-profit making organisations. They provide low-cost social, or affordable housing (including houses in multiple-occupation). According to the NHF, they create 29% of new housing in England. Although independent they are state regulated and often publicly funded. They may act as developers and/or clients and even contractors and procure in various ways, predominantly via traditional or design and build contracts and are now the UK’s major providers of new housing for rent. They all face the productivity dilemma.

Many housing associations run shared ownership schemes, providing a wide range of housing and managing large estates of family housing, while the smallest may manage a single retirement housing scheme. Whatever the type, the productivity dilemma they face is broadly the same. Following our investigation of the “the productivity conundrum facing UK housebuilders today” Script&Go examines the productivity dilemma facing housing associations today.

The UK political context surrounding housing associations

Productivity dilemma UK social housing
UK social housing
(left) Photo © Jonathan Billinger (cc-by-sa/2.0) | (right) Photo © Paul McIlroy (cc-by-sa/2.0)

In the run up to the last UK government election, housing associations came together on a major scale through the ‘Homes for Britain’ campaign. Having successfully argued that there is a ‘housing crisis’, the next step is to ensure decision makers understand housing associations are a crucial part of the solution.

Some say providing new homes is not the only issue, others say it is but like the National Housing Federation (NHF) all agree that what is really needed is greater collaboration, innovation and vision . This can be taken as a general requirement for housing in the UK, including the housing association sector. The 2017 25th Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH)’s “UK Housing Review” collates comprehensive and recent housing statistics available for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, providing useful data that supports this view.

Recent analysis by the CIH shows 150,000 social rented homes have been lost in the last 5 years, with projections of 230,000 homes for social rent being lost from 2012-2020. This provides evidence of a crisis keeping low-income tenants into poverty.

Script&Go believes tackling collaboration, innovation and vision issues will not only solve the productivity dilemma but also alleviate poverty.

3 Productivity challenges facing UK housing associations

Housing associations manage their assets and maintain their housing stock and ensuring this is done in an efficient way is critical to maintaining and improving their overall productivity. The National Housing Federation (NHF) outlines the asset management challenges they face . These challenges relate to several key areas relating to repair and maintenance, compliance and sustainability.

1. Social housing repair and maintenance : the need for real-time collaborative technology

the productivity dilemma - The plant room at the top of the Trellick tower
The plant room at the top of the Trellick Tower 
© Danielrichardbond (own work)
(cc-by-sa/4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

UK housing associations have a need to collaboratively repair and maintain housing stock, and not just historic Listed Buildings. By way of example, the UK Government’s Department of Communities (Northern Ireland) sets out requirements for housing associations to have a ‘building maintenance policy’ and ‘strategic approach.’ It says that as part of a ‘strategic approach,’ housing associations should have a ‘maintenance strategy’ for the property portfolio under their control and that such strategies should complement and enhance any other strategies an association might have in place. It also refers to the need for IT investment that enables stock condition data to be updated on a continual basis, accessed easily and record property maintenance and adaptation history. The equivalent government departments in Scotland, England and Wales have similar requirements and housing associations can respond to this through the provision of a ‘building maintenance policy.’The Chartered Institute of Housing’s voluntary “Repairs charter for housing,” encourages sector led improvement and specifically refers to the use of effective technology.

A follow up guide to this charter,“How to…use technology to improve responsive repairs,” explains how the right solution can meet the challenges of delivering an effective repair service. This is as long as landlords understand their business requirements and customer expectations to maximise their usefulness and functionality. This guide highlights the fact that the use of smartphones and tablets to improve mobile working should be considered. It invites housing associations to ‘be bold’ and not to ‘step back into yesterday’s world.’ It urges them to avoid the temptation to implement duplicate paper systems alongside new software solutions and more. It explains that the benefits of real-time mobile working solutions enable faster operative mobilisation, increase productivity and efficiency, save on travel time and costs and improve customer service.

Script&Go recognises the need for a real-time collaborative technology solution that enables housing associations to meet this repair and maintenance control need on a long-term basis. This can be addressed through a digitised ‘cyclical repair and maintenance’ procedure or as a one-off or intermittent digitised ‘planned repair and maintenance’ procedure relating to particular construction works.

2. Health and Safety Compliance : the need for innovative digital processes

Housing associations have some statutory duties relating to health and safety. They need to ensure reasonable standards of health and safety. Some of these duties can be addressed as a ‘cyclical compliance procedure.’ Others may be addressed as one-off or intermittent ‘planned compliance procedure’ relating to particular construction works.

Construction Design Management (CDM) Regulations :

the productivity dilemma "Grenfell Tower fire, approximately 6 a.m."
Grenfell Tower fire, approximately 6 a.m.”
© Natalie_Oxford on Twitter (cc-by-sa/4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The National Housing Maintenance Forum (NHMF) outlines how they can address CDM regulation compliance requirements when undertaking repair or construction work. These regulations can include an obligation on a landlord to notify those responsible for undertaking repair or construction work. Accurate communication of findings found during commissioning is key.

Asbestos : The NHMF also outlines how housing associations should also ensure asbestos regulations are complied with in the case of dwellings including the common areas associated with them. Their operatives should comply with these Regulations.

Fire Safety : Also in our minds, in the wake of the recent Grenfell Tower disaster, is the challenge of housing association landlords have to provide adequate fire safety. The Residential Landlord’s Association outlines important fire safety legislation. Some affects dwellings irrespective of layout or occupancy. Some legislation only applies to domestic premises occupied by unrelated tenants only applies to certain parts of the building.

Script&Go believes health and safety compliance requirements need rigorous information control to avoid duplication and innovative digital processes and solutions to optimise the accuracy of reporting procedures and productivity.

Construction Design Management (CDM) Regulations :

the productivity dilemma Structural defects disaster
Ronan Point collapse
Photo © Derek Voller (cc-by-sa/2.0)

A 2014 briefing by the National Housing Federation, “quality governance for housing associations” outlined the need for control by UK housing associations as part of their quality assurance (QA) process. This is strongly connected to the need for clinical governance in housing, care and support services, an important subject in itself.

ISO 9000 : QA is a way of preventing errors or defects when delivering solutions or services. ISO 9000 by the International Standards Organisation, defines it as part of a quality management process. QA defect prevention focuses on quality early in a development process, which is to say to the efficiency of administrative systems. This differs subtly from a defect detection and resolution process of quality control. The focus should be on optimising the former to prevent the need for the latter. There should be a focus on ‘prevention’ rather than ‘cure’ to reduce the need for major structural, exterior or interior finish, including health and safety related defects to occur at all.

However, until that is achieved, warranties can protect housing associations for social housing developments of all sizes and there is a need for enhanced quality control capability for housing associations to reduce the amount of claims made by tenants.

Structural defect warranties : As a housing association and social landlord, ensuring tenants are safe and living in accommodation free of structural defects is an important aspect and structural defects warranties are available to them.

Stock regeneration warranties : Stock regeneration warranties can insure housing associations for new work that is part of a regeneration project. These can include window and door replacement, new roof coverings, acoustic or thermal performance improvements and the provision of renewable energy services and changes to building services, including ventilation.

In terms of meeting the general need for higher quality housing standards, BRE has developed a new voluntary housing standard, the Home Quality Mark, which can be used to promote the quality of social housing to tenants.

Script&Go believes health and safety compliance and quality assurance and control requirements require strict information management to avoid the duplication of work. It also recognises today’s need for innovative digital processes and solutions to optimise quality assurance and control (or defect management) reporting processes and productivity.”

3. Sustainability compliance : the need for visionary solutions

the productivity dilemma Sustainable Housing
Sustainable social housing Photo © Nigel Cox (cc-by-sa/2.0)

As part of UK building regulation or other requirements, all new UK housing association property may require to comply with the Code for Sustainable Homes and acquire :

  • An EcoHomes Assessment
  • Energy rating or Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP)
  • Predicted Energy Assessment (PEA)
  • Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
  • Air leakage testing
  • Acoustic testing
  • A Site Waste Management Plan

ISO 14001: ISO 14001 certification by relates to Environmental Management systems and assists organisations, including housing associations, to:

  • Minimise how their processes or activities negatively impact the environment
  • Comply with applicable laws and regulations
  • Continually improve their environmental goals and targets

UK Housing associations may also voluntarily comply with environmental certification procedures, of international reputation, including :

  • Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) – a BRE developed standard.
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – a US Green Building Council developed standard also used in the UK.

Script&Go believes all these sustainability compliance and certification requirements require strict information management to avoid duplication and digital processes and visionary solutions that optimise reporting processes and solve the productivity dilemma.

2 Productivity Opportunities for UK housing associations

There are two principal opportunity themes for UK housing associations : embracing modern methods of construction and digitisation and mobilisation.

1. Embracing modern methods of construction

As reported by the Offsite Hub, the NHBC Foundation 2016 report “Modern methods of construction” (MMC) shows how modern methods of construction have been embraced by housebuilders and housing associations alike. This can include the use of timber frame construction. Out of house builders and housing associations surveyed for the report, just two said they had not used or considered at least one form of MMC in the last 3 years.The most used methods are sub-assemblies and components, installed by about three-quarters of the house builders and just under 50% of the housing associations in 2015. Panellised systems, such as timber and steel frame are the second most used MMC type.

2. Digitisation and mobilisation

Productivity dilemma - Digitisation and Mobilisation
Digitisation and Mobilisation

Coupled with the drive for MMC, to counter the productivity dilemma, is the drive for increased digitisation and mobilisation of the housing associations’ workforce. The aim is for them to capitalise on the benefits of cultural and process change, to lead to a more collaborative, transparent way of working with tools that harness the powers of automation. Thorough this they can achieve not only waste reduction, accountability and time savings but the improved quality tenants are looking for.

Productivity dilemma - 'Push-Pull' of productivity rock
Infographic © Script&Go : ‘Push-Pull’ of productivity rock

Script&Go agrees with these opportunities. The need for collaboration through digitisation and mobilisation across construction, including the housebuilding sector, was outlined in it’s own whitepaper “Improving the productivity of the construction and infrastructure sector through mobile digital solutions.” This paper explains that the onus to solve the productivity dilemma is on all through a simultaneous “push-pull” approach by the UK government and across the construction supply chain.

By understanding the core challenges facing housing associations in the UK and the opportunities of modern methods of construction and digitisation and mobilisation, UK housing associations should be able to make an informed decision as to how to solve their productivity dilemma.

Improving housing association productivity through collaborative software.

Productivity dilemma - 'Push-Pull' of productivity rock
Infographic © Script&Go : Productivity transformation

The BatiScript mobile digital solution provides housing associations with a useful tool to respond to the digitisation and mobilisation opportunity by providing them with the core benefits of quality control and time savings to solve the productivity dilemma. Using this form of collaborative defect management software leads to time saving efficiencies, waste reduction, improved management processes, higher quality and reduced risk. Usable in full mobility, through use across operating systems on tablets and smartphones, it is also a user-friendly, collaborative, real-time solution.

The next step to solving the productivity dilemma

To discuss the productivity dilemma and housing associations’ collaborative construction management software needs further reach out to Script&Go’s UK team or trial BatiScript for yourself.