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We’re getting closer to customers, listening, and making things right

Mark Henderson

Written by Mark Henderson, Chief Executive

Our Chief Executive, Mark Henderson, shares his views on the Government’s new social housing campaign.

It’s so disappointing to see that the Government has needed to create the ‘Make Things Right’ campaign. But I fully understand why they have, and we at Home Group certainly support the thinking behind the campaign.

Mr Gove is absolutely right, nobody at all should have to live in the kind of conditions we have seen in the media over the past year or so. It is, simply unacceptable.

As a sector, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and ask have we been doing enough for our customers? The answer may be obvious looking at the media coverage.

But we, like other housing associations, have been doing that for some time now – long before the issues around damp and mould brought this, and other issues, to the fore.

At Home Group, we started more than four or five years ago to tackle some of the issues that the Government campaign highlights, like delays to repairs, complicated complaints processes, a lack of urgency around ASB, and limited customer engagement, among others. As a result, we have been making things right – and we continue to do so.

On the right track

However, I do stress that we are by no means perfect and we still have some way to go to get to where we need to be.  

In 2018 we ramped up our engagement with customers. Prior to this, it wasn’t where it should have been. Since then though we have been in constant contact. As a result, we have been able to resolve many of the issues they highlighted. Some aren’t quite there yet but are on the right track.

This increased engagement stemmed primarily from Home Group being one of the early adopters of the National Housing Federation’s Together with Tenants charter.

From that we revised and enhanced our own Customer Promise, which focuses on providing a safe place to live, to deliver reliable repairs, to care about our customers, to help communities to grow, and to tell customers where their hard-earned money goes.

Underpinning the new Customer Promise was the need to improve our customers’ ability to question and challenge us; shape our activity and hold us to account.

More engagement and support

I’m proud of the fact we’ve done that. On average we engage with around 4,000 customers a year. They are involved in recruitment panels, a range of scrutiny panels, in helping to renew things like maintenance and repairs contracts. We have customers on our board. And our annual customer report is written by our customers

Mark Henderson

Our engagement, and transparency, is at a good level. But it can be better and that is what we are working towards. 

Mark Henderson | Chief Executive

Through this engagement we’ve tried to address some of the issues that are important to our customers. For example, customers wanted to see more engagement and support on the ground in their communities. We now have community patch based working for our housing managers, which is a much more interactive and collaborative approach to housing management, which has proven popular.

One of the issues customers raised with us on more than one occasion during the Customer Promise consultation process related to our complaints process. In short, it was a protracted and cumbersome process they said. They were right.

We worked long and hard to find a better process and we introduced a streamlined, more effective one some time ago. We now have a transparent and accountable complaints process with challenging targets and named complaint owners – which was extremely important to our customers.

Worked more closely with police

We are dealing with more complaints but that was exactly the point of changing the process. It's good but we are working towards making it even better.

We tend to receive relatively high numbers of complaints relating to anti-social behaviour - an issue we know has a detrimental impact on our customers’ quality of life.

Because of this we put in place a new system to speed up actions against those committing anti-social behaviour. We’ve worked more closely with police on this, and as well as evicting people, we have seen some jailed due to their behaviour.

Again, the new system is good, and our engagement with external partners is good, but it can be better.

The issue of repairs is always high up on our customers’ list of issues. And understandably so.  

Our repairs record overall is good, but in all honesty it’s tainted by us dropping the ball at times. More times than I’d like. What I can say is it’s a major priority for us. We are continually looking at ways that ensure we don’t drop the ball as much.

As I said at the start, I’m not happy at all that the Government have had to step in and tear a strip of the sector. I don’t look, or feel good but I fully understand why they have.  

Housing associations care about their customers, despite some of the media coverage over the past year plainly suggesting otherwise. We do, and there is plenty of evidence to show it.

But we need still need to listen more, and respond accordingly. Not because the Government say so – but because that’s our job.  

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