What makes a home acceptable?

October 21st, 2016 by Rosemary Du Rose in Customer Service blog

A row of houses on a sunny day

What makes a home acceptable? It’s an interesting question and one that has been posed by homelessness charity Shelter, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Shelter teamed up with pollsters Ipsos MORI to question just under 2,000 adults throughout the UK on what they think is an acceptable standard for a home in 21st Century Britain.

Shelter has dubbed the results ‘Living Home Standards’ – something they want to see become the housing equivalent of the Living Wage.

The results make interesting reading and while obvious criteria, such as affordability, space standards and thermal efficiency, were included in the responses; other less obvious criteria were also listed such as the ability to own a pet, live close to family, or be within an hour’s travel to work.

With a not-for-profit ethos, housing associations have worked long and hard to ensure tenants do not experience unacceptable housing.

I think as a sector we can be proud that we fulfilled the Decent Homes Standard (DHS), set by Government, which requires minimum standards in safety, state of repair, modern facilities, efficient heating and effective insulation.

Certainly when you look at the Shelter report we compare favourably to the Private Rental Sector which has never had to comply with DHS requirements.

Case studies in the report cite families in the private sector complaining of: huge rent increases, tenancies terminated with little notice, homes with no hot water, mould; and gas and electrical safety checks not taking place.

I suspect many of these complaints refer to small investor private landlords and it would be interesting to see how results differ for not-for-profit providers who also operate in the private sector.

As a regulated housing provider Home Group customers have certain guarantees on many of areas – specifically rent increases. Many of our customers will see a rent cut this year and the following three years.

We start most of our new customers off on 12 month starter tenancies and as long as they comply with tenancy conditions they automatically convert to a five year fixed term or assured tenancies. We believe that having a degree of certainty over where you live helps provide good outcomes in life!

And while we’ll never be able to please all of the people all of the time our latest independent satisfaction ratings show 90% of our customers are satisfied with our repairs service.

We’ve also invested massively in the past few years to retrofit our existing homes to be as warm and energy efficient as possible and our new build homes make use of renewable technologies such as photo voltaic panels.

There are some things though that landlords, no matter how well intentioned, can have little or no influence on.

The Shelter research said that being close to family and friends is important but we can only offer homes to people when and where they become available. I think the public would be perturbed if we started offering homes to customers based on whether they had a family member nearby.

Access to amenities such as grocery shops, schools and doctors’ surgeries were considered important. While we always consider these when building our homes we are unable to control market forces, catchment areas or waiting lists.

Some element of personal accountability also needs to be taken into account. Many people travel more than an hour each day to reach their place of work. Perhaps the easiest way of addressing this is for householders to look at times of day they commute, flexible homeworking or relocating?

The Living Homes Standards is an interesting point of discussion in the wider housing debate and Shelter should be congratulated for the research.

As housing providers with a social purpose we’re already meeting many of the criteria and these standards will serve as a useful guidelines as we try to continually improve our service to customers.