social housing organisations

How are social housing organisations adapting to change in 2021?

Innovation in the social housing sector is very much a cross-departmental affair. New methods of construction and new digital technologies may make the headlines, but attitudes towards operations and governance are good indicators of progress too.

In our annual Health of the Sector survey, we asked 104 social housing leaders about their plans to change and improve in 2021. 

Here’s what they told us about digital technology, value for money, mergers, and more.

Where is your organisation on the scale of adoption of modular builds?

Where is your organisation on the scale of adoption of modular builds?

Where is your organisation on the scale of adoption of modular builds?
Where is your organisation on the scale of adoption of modular builds?

There’s been little movement on modular builds since our 2020 survey. This wasn’t a surprise as we know from conversations with clients that take-up remains low. But this lack of adoption is disappointing  , given that the Government sees modular builds as the way forward.

This isn’t a case of organisations considering, and then deciding against, modular builds; two thirds aren’t even considering them. Clearly, the Government has a job on its hands to convince the sector that modular builds are the housebuilding ‘gamechanger’ it says they are.

When we look at just our Scottish respondents, we see a slightly different story. More organisations have built their own modular homes (10 per cent vs. the 6 per cent average). But 83 per cent aren’t considering them (vs. 64 per cent overall), and none have approved projects waiting to start.

None of this will please the Government or Legal & General, whose £55m modular build factory is ready to supply the sector as soon as it shows some demand.

Has your digitalisation investment delivered what it should?

Has your digitalisation investment delivered what it should?

The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for organisations to have robust digital strategies in place.    

Many social housing organisations experienced this, and this year’s results clearly show that the technology held up well. In 2021, significantly more respondents said their digital projects delivered the return on investment they were looking for.

This is likely down to two factors.

First, digitalisation rarely produces immediate results. This year’s findings could show that past investments are finally paying off. Second, greater satisfaction with technology is exactly what you’d expect in early 2021, thanks to the crucial role it’s played since the first national lockdown.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many housing associations have also used technology to:

  • ensure effective home working for staff
  • hold video surgeries with residents
  • allow residents to submit images and video footage of faults
  • conduct virtual tours of homes with prospective residents
  • allocate repair jobs and keep residents informed of progress.

For years, the slow pace of digital change has been a source of frustration within the sector. And while nobody would have wanted it to come about this way, progress on the technology front is genuinely encouraging.

Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?

Organisations

Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?
Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?
Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?

Staff

Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?
Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?
Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?

Tenants

Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?
Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?
Do you believe mergers improve the conditions for organisations, staff and tenants?

Our findings on mergers have always been slightly confusing, but nevertheless consistent. Over the last few years, only a third of respondents said mergers were good for staff and tenants. But roughly two thirds felt that mergers were good for organisations.

This begged the question: how can mergers be good for the organisation if they’re not good for the people who work there or the people they serve? Indeed, what is the ‘organisation’ when you separate it from its people and customers?

In 2021, we’ve seen a big shift in this sentiment – an 11-percentage point fall in those saying mergers are good for organisations. This waning enthusiasm may indicate that social housing mergers simply aren’t solving the problems they set out to.

The sector’s value for money reports found that bigger wasn’t necessarily better when it came to efficiency and cost savings. It will be interesting to see if this changes the trend for consolidation we’ve seen in recent years.

How much do you expect to embrace environmental, social and governance factors?

How much do you expect to embrace environmental, social and governance factors?

We expect environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to top the corporate agenda this year. So it’s incredibly positive that three quarters (73 per cent) of social housing leaders are planning to significantly embrace ESG factors in 2021.

The sector has been building momentum on ESG issues for a while now. The launch of the ESG Social Housing Working Group’s Sustainability Reporting Standard (SRS) in November 2020 underlined the commitment to improved performance and transparency, and our findings reaffirm this.

The SRS may be voluntary, but it’s a huge positive that around 100 organisations have signed up as early adopters or endorsers. So too is the involvement of banks and other lenders, who’ve made it clear that ESG performance is becoming crucial to their decision making.

Where in your organisation does day-to-day responsibility for value for money sit?

Where in your organisation does day-to-day responsibility for value for money sit?

Where in your organisation does day-to-day responsibility for value for money sit?
Where in your organisation does day-to-day responsibility for value for money sit?

The revised Value for Money (VfM) Standard was launched in England in April 2018, to help social housing organisations further improve  their strategies in a way that optimises the three Es:

  1. Economy
  2. Efficiency
  3. Effectiveness

We’ve emphasised the need to treat VfM as a cross-departmental issue ever since the Standard was introduced. The Regulator has too. But in our 2020 survey, more than half of all respondents said responsibility for VfM sat solely with the finance department.

In 2021, significant numbers are moving VfM away from finance and making it a cross-departmental responsibility. This is an exciting change.

When the VfM buck stops with finance, economy often receives the lion’s share of attention – and VfM becomes little more than a cost-cutting exercise. Giving departments responsibility for their own VfM efforts should lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness.

The 2025 ban on installing new gas boilers in new homes is a good example. Organisations may incur significant short-term costs to adapt, but they’ll be far outweighed by the long-term efficiency, sustainability and environmental gains. These decisions can’t be taken from a short-term, cost-saving point of view. 

Contact us for support and advice

Keith Ward 

Our social housing specialists can help you and your board decide how to tackle the big governance challenges facing your organisation.

Contact Keith Ward, our Head of Social Housing, to discuss your challenges. 


Get more insight from our 2021 survey

Want to know more about how the social housing sector has fared over the last 12 months? Interested in what social housing organisations have got planned for the months ahead?

Read the next articles in this series for a snapshot of the health of the sector in 2021:

social housing plans

What social housing plans are coming up in 2021 and how will they be funded?
We reveal plans for social housing development programmes in 2021, and how organisations expect to fund them.

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Coronavirus in the social housing sector

How has coronavirus affected the social housing sector?
Find out how services for social housing residents and value for money initiatives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

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