Photo of Mark Washer, CEO of Sovereign

Our year in review

The view from the Chair

The communities where we work are under pressure.

There’s a housing crisis. There’s a recognised need for far more new, and especially affordable, homes. New homes that help communities and economies grow stronger.

There’s an affordability crisis too. Although unemployment remains low, ongoing welfare reform and often insecure low-paid work is putting stress on many households’ finances, even those in affordable homes. Meanwhile, the ability to rent and buy on the open market continues to move out of reach of those who aspire to have a place of their own.

As one of the UK’s biggest housing associations, delivering one of the largest affordable housing development programmes and providing a range of added value services, Sovereign has a crucial role to play in meeting these challenges.

Strong foundations

We’re in great financial and operational shape to achieve our social purpose. Being better able to meet the challenges facing our communities was the driving force behind Sovereign and Spectrum Housing Group’s decision to merge in November 2016. Having created a new, stronger, 57,000-home housing association, we’ve been working hard to realise the benefits for our residents, our communities and our business.

And with our growth focused in our core geographic area, we’ve been able to invest in providing better, more efficient services, while achieving an outstanding surplus of £104m. This enabled us to invest over £180m in new homes, along with improving services to create great places to live and helping our residents achieve their aspirations where we can.

Making the difference

Last year, we built 1,208 new homes, with the vast majority affordable, but we know we can go further and have recently approved a more ambitious development programme which will see us growing to build around 1,900 homes a year by 2022. We expect over 80% of that programme to be affordable.

Meanwhile, in addition to investing £45m on maintenance, we have invested £13.4m in improving our existing homes, whether that’s installing new kitchens or bathrooms, or upgrading boilers, windows and doors.

We supported 212 people into work, provided money advice to thousands more and, as part of our commitment to our communities, are working with other local partners such as local authorities and schools to help create even better places to live.

Resident involvement

Following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, our residents’ safety – and ensuring we listen and act on their feedback – has been even more of a priority. While we do not manage many tall buildings, and none have the ACM cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower, we’ve ensured all of our properties have up-to-date Fire Risk Assessments and our residents are familiar with the safety arrangements for their properties. Any ongoing works are clearly explained and undertaken as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, our award-winning approach to resident involvement means our residents are at the heart of what we do. Members of our Resident and Board Partnership, Scrutiny Coordination Group and Sovereign Communities reviewed policies, helped to formulate our values and strategic review, and shared their opinions on social housing with high-profile government ministers. This was on top of organising the scrutiny of our repairs service, our lettings service in the south, setting up new community groups and holding our first Residents’ Conference.

Outstanding performance

Managing homes for over 130,000 people takes a lot of work and Sovereign has nearly 1,900 talented and motivated people who are committed to doing the best job they can.

We’ve brought even more of our property maintenance services in-house, taking more responsibility for the services we provide, as well as driving down costs. Our Sovereign Response and Spectrum Property Care teams have ended the year with a 100% gas safety compliance and an outstanding 95% satisfaction rating for repairs.

Meanwhile, our housing teams have again delivered a sector-leading performance. Arrears stand at just 1.78%, down from 1.93%, and relets are turned around in under 17 days. This all means that people waiting for a Sovereign home can move in as soon as possible, and that our customers are supported - where they need it - to sustain their tenancies.

A recent In-Depth Assessment (IDA) from the Regulator of Social Housing saw us achieve a G1/V1 rating - the highest award possible - demonstrating the strength of governance and business viability of our new organisation.

While it’s been a great full first year for Sovereign, we know we need to continue to do more to tackle anti-social behaviour (ASB) and dealing with complaints, when things don’t go as well as we’d like. Satisfaction with how we deal with ASB remains around 80%, but given the impact it can have on the quality of life of those nearby, it remains a priority.

Our new specialist resolution team is working hard to improve how we manage complaints, taking ownership of problems and making sure we communicate clearly throughout the process.

A modern, connected business

In order to provide an even better customer experience in the future, we’re on our way to becoming a more modern, connected business. It’s not only more efficient to provide a digital service, it’s also what our customers are telling us they want.

Our sector-leading social media team helps residents get in touch and get things done in a way that works best for them. Meanwhile, our new MySovereign customer portal means customers can pay rent, check their account or log a repair 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’ll continue to invest in the systems we need to provide a great service.

However, as it’s about providing residents with a choice, we also recognise the value in personal relationships and face-to-face conversations. Making it easy to do business with us frees up our time to focus on those that may need a little bit of extra help and support.

Looking ahead

Not only has Sovereign had a tremendous year, it’s a business that has grown sustainably through some difficult economic and political times. I’d like to thank our Board and committee members, as well as all of Sovereign’s employees, who are delivering our merger promises.

Our new-look, award-winning approach to resident involvement is also placing the voice of our residents at the heart of our decision-making and scrutiny processes. I’d like to thank all those involved for their time, insight and hard work to make Sovereign even better.

While it’s, of course, a team effort, I want to recognise the contribution of Ann Santry, our Chief Executive, who retired earlier this year. Ann joined the business in 1999, growing Sovereign from around 11,000 to 57,000 homes, building thousands of new and affordable properties and successfully leading the organisation through a number of mergers. Under her inspirational leadership, Sovereign has developed the capacity, financial strength and influence to really make the difference and created a place where people wanted to come to work.

Ann ensured that Sovereign never lost sight of the reason it exists – our residents and our communities – and thanks to her thousands of people now have safe, affordable homes in places they want to live. Her impressive contribution to housing was, quite rightly, recognised through the award of a CBE in 2012. 

I want to thank her on behalf of the Board, the employees, our shareholders and most importantly our residents for growing Sovereign into the successful organisation it is now. She will be missed and we all wish her well.

As we look to the future, I’d like to welcome Mark Washer as our new Chief Executive. Mark, who joined us from Clarion, brings extensive experience of managing large transformation programmes, fresh thinking and high energy to Sovereign, as well as strong leadership. I know he’ll help us continue to transform the business and make a real difference to people’s lives.

Gordon Holdcroft, Chair


Our year in review

Sovereign’s future

I’m delighted to lead Sovereign as it embarks on the next stage of its evolution.

And while Sovereign will continue to grow, our long-term commitment to the places where we work remains. The acute housing and economic challenges in the south and south west of England mean that what we do is more important than ever.

However, with strong financial and operational foundations, and a refreshed strategy for the next five years, Sovereign is in a great position to meet those challenges.

I’d like to thank Ben Denton, our Executive Director, Development and Commercial, for his work in reshaping our development strategy, putting in place the foundations for us to build around 1,900 homes a year, including exploring the benefits of modern methods of construction. Ben moves on to new challenges in July 2018, but his efforts have been crucial to Sovereign’s evolution.

We’ll continue to take an innovative approach, modernising our services and building stronger, more influential partnerships so we’re able to do more and have an even greater impact locally. That is, after all, what we’re here for.

And, with a new Strategic partnership agreed with Homes England, as well as an innovative Joint Venture with west Berkshire Council, we’re already taking major steps to build more of the homes our communities need, even more quickly.

To deliver our ambition, we'll continue to invest in our current employees, as well as attracting the brightest and the best. It's clear that Sovereign has a fantastic reputation, enviable track record and immense potential – and I’m looking forward to leading the next chapter in Sovereign’s story.

There are exciting times ahead.

Mark Washer, Chief Executive