Some research we recently commissioned into the social impact of our work has made me realise that social housing is a bit like Jenga – you know, the game where you have to pull wooden blocks out of a tower without being the one to make the whole thing fall down.
I’m not talking about the obvious parallel with construction, bricks and maybe even demolition – but rather the way in which each element of the work we do supports the next bit and how a single problem for our customers can easily destabilise their lives
Like many other ‘social landlords’, Futures doesn’t just provide a home and a set of keys. We offer much more of a wraparound set of services with our customers’ wellbeing at the centre. Alongside the obvious stuff such as repairs and maintenance, we also aim to help our customers to live stable, sustainable lives.
In some cases this means recognising when a household is having financial problems. Someone falling behind on their rent is of course a concern for everyone, but it also can act as a helpful trigger for our money advice team. Speaking to the customer can bring to light a range of issues that we can support them with – whether that’s helping them claim all the financial help they are entitled to or putting in place a truly affordable repayment plan. Early interventions of this kind can often nip the problem in the bud and help provide much needed security before anyone’s home becomes at risk.
If the financial issues have been triggered by work-related problems such as someone being made recently unemployed, our employment advice specialists can also help people back into the workplace.
These are just a couple of examples but they do illustrate both the complexity of people’s lives and the need to take a ‘big picture’ view when offering help and support. It may be easy to find a quick fix, but tackling the underlying issue is likely to be more sustainable for the customer in the longer term. For this reason we’re now starting to bring together many of our support teams to create a single ‘tenancy sustainment team’. The name may not be catchy but the idea of an holistic approach to helping people keep their homes is compelling (and necessary) whatever we call it.
Having a secure home where you can plan for the future and build a life for your family as part of a community can not only give people peace of mind, it can also help people to thrive. Children do better at school when they have a stable home life. Reduced stress is better for people’s physical and mental health. Stable communities give people confidence and provide support. And knowing you can stay put with predictable housing costs helps people budget and cope through financially challenging times like those we face now.
The benefits of supporting people in the round aren’t just for the families concerned though. We benefit as a landlord through being able to better predict rental income and local housing demand. Homes left empty when people are forced to move on aren’t really helping anyone.
And going back to the research I mentioned at the start – we can clearly demonstrate that our end-to-end approach to customer support delivers hard economic benefits for the region and for the many agencies we interact with.
We commissioned this study with another housing association, Greatwell Homes. Between us we provide more than 15,500 homes in the East Midlands. The research found that we jointly generate £314 million of social value every year – equivalent to over £20,000 per tenancy.
Much of this value is delivered through offsetting the potential costs to other agencies as our work can stop small issues from escalating. So, for example, our work on tackling antisocial behaviour and providing secure homes helps to save the police and justice system more than £34m a year. The NHS is more than £50m a year better-off thanks to the improved health across our communities as a result of the stable, safe and comfortable homes we provide. And helping customers into work reduces the nation’s benefit bill by over over £10m.
So what’s the moral of this tale? Well this year housing associations have been in the firing line from the media and government for some very high profile failings. Some of this is entirely justified and the attention has forced us to look within as a sector and recognise that some of the homes we offer simply aren’t good enough. But behind the horror stories, we should also be proud that our teams are out there day after day helping countless personal ‘Jenga towers’ to stay standing and playing a vital part in both our communities and the economy.