Sovereign Housing
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Joyce Ward

Resident and Board Partnership reports

Read the latest meeting reports from Joyce Ward, a resident and Chair of Sovereign’s Resident and Board Partnership – a key part of how the organisation operates.

Here she talks about some items on the group’s latest agenda and how residents are helping to influence what Sovereign does. 

You can also read more from Joyce as she also contributes to the  Sovereign blog


Here’s a bit more about what we covered in our late August meeting.

Board update

Sovereign Board member Jenny Dykes fed back on key items including stress testing the business plan before it’s submitted to the Regulator for Social Housing and the application for more Homes England funding to build additional homes.

Chairman Gordon Holdcroft gave an overview of the annual performance and said it had been a great year with a surplus to plough back into services and 1,543 new homes built.

Both then answered our questions about land banking (buying land to give us more control over the homes built), the impact of political uncertainty (current funding is secure) and a restructure to ‘tidy up’ Sovereign’s subsidiaries and make sure commercial activity is separated from the core social housing focus.

Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG)

Paula Grebot explained that the SCG’s been focusing on empty homes, mapping customer journeys and reviewing complaints. She reported progress on some actions from the previous scrutinies into repairs but that other aspects needed more attention.

Paula also presented the draft scope of the next scrutiny review into empty homes. This will review the current quality standard, customer experience for movers, legal requirements around safety, the cost of get empty homes ready to relet, value for money and timescales.

It was great to hear that resident scrutineers have volunteered to help with the review.

Together with Tenants

The National Housing Federation (NHF) has revised its draft Together with Tenants plan and Charter after consulting residents and housing associations, including at our Resident Conference.

The language and commitments have been simplified, focusing on six key elements to strengthen and rebalance the relationship between residents and their landlords, rebuilding trust following the Grenfell tragedy.

As an early adopter of the Charter, we’re analysing any gaps in how Sovereign’s services are delivered against the six commitments; working with Tpas (a national tenant engagement organisation) on co-creating standards; working with the research team involved in the project and preparing to attend the NHF Summit on this.

Policy reviews

Following our previous feedback, the revised service charges policy came back for our review. Four Partnership members have helped to prepare this and we felt it was a good example of how residents have influence.

We then talked about how service chargeable contracts are procured and managed. Four key customer-facing contracts will be pilots for involving residents more throughout each stage. Members of the sub-group will discuss this when they next meet.

We also heard how the proposed withdrawal of fixed term tenancies is progressing – something we were consulted on a few months ago.

Overview of the Corporate Services directorate

Keith Astill, Executive Director – Corporate Services, gave us an overview of his directorate, the People Strategy (helping employees to fulfil their potential) and progress on the Workplace Programme (about the business working differently, including office changes announced last year). We heard how employees had received the news and are helping to develop the plans. Staff will also work with residents who may need more support once the Newbury and Basingstoke town centre offices move.

We liked the organisation’s desire to bring on more talented people and also asked how employee promotions and moves are communicated and any role for residents in recognising great employees.

Approach to homelessness

Steph Wood, Head of Supported Housing, took us through this and how it goes beyond providing accommodation for rough sleepers and includes support for those in bed and breakfast and hostels, ‘sofa surfers’ or those living with their parents.

We support this important service area and the three principles that underpin this work: prevention, getting people housed and working in partnership.

Communities update

Matt Buckham, the new Communities Director, told us that his focus over the next few months will be engaging with a range of partners and others in communities – listening to what they think is important.

He also wants to reduce the bureaucracy for those who deliver the service and will update us regularly on his team’s work, including new grant funding available to communities via the Good Exchange portal.

Building a safer future

The government’s been consulting on 53 building regulation and fire safety recommendations from Dame Judith Hackett’s review following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. These will cover buildings of six storeys or higher.

We heard that Sovereign’s responded fully to the consultation and is awaiting the outcome. In the meantime, it’s taking various steps to enhance safety:

  • our Primary Fire Authority (Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service) is auditing all our taller buildings
  • carrying out a deeper investigation into the structure of these buildings
  • trialling a role to focus solely on safety of taller buildings
  • understanding the infrastructure of taller blocks
  • a programme of works to put right any issues.

Performance reporting

Head of Customer Feedback, Howard Jones, joined our discussion on the customer dashboard. This focuses on the quality of key services, complaints and contact channels.

He suggested further measurements to make the dashboard more relevant to what residents are saying, and asked for our thoughts on other improvements. We also heard how ‘customer journey mapping’ (looking a service end to end from the customer or resident’s point of view) is helping to see which parts of journeys are good and which need improving.

We also reviewed July’s performance results. These show the need for a continued focus on anti-social behaviour and complaints; that phone call and email answering has improved for the third month and how a court case is the final stage if a resident refuses access for vital gas safety inspections. We also talked about income and arrears results and work that’s underway to analyse any trends in evictions, although these are very low and have reduced from last year.

We reviewed the group’s budget and reflected on what members had found out at the recent Tpas national conference, which everyone had found very useful.

This tied in well with discussions about the appraisals we have, which include looking at our development and training needs. There’s certainly always plenty to learn in housing!

Finally, I’d like to add a big thank you to Jackie Puddifoot who’s secured a job full-time and felt she could no longer dedicate enough time to this role. We wish you all the very best.

Joyce

Here’s a bit more about what we covered in our July meeting.

Board update

Highlights of the Sovereign Board’s last meeting included reviewing a revised strategy document which sets out the direction of travel for the organisation over the next few years, putting residents at the heart. It also says that we’d only have a merger if there was a clear purpose for this.

The 30-year Business Plan includes a larger building programme and Tom Titherington, Executive Director of Development and Commercial, will come to a future meeting to explain how this new approach gives Sovereign more control and options over the homes it builds.


Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG)

Paula Grebot introduced the group’s key findings from its complaints scrutiny, including:

  • the need to capture, record and report on more complaints
  • the need to understand the cause of complaints in more detail to prevent future ones
  • how the speed of sorting a complaint has a big impact on how satisfied residents feel
  • more information on how to make a complaint and what changes are made in response to them.

 

The SCG will share more soon about their recommendations and resulting action plan. The Partnership will also review progress regularly.

The SCG will scope its empty homes scrutiny next and decided that scrutinising the planned maintenance programme (such as replacement kitchens and bathrooms) isn’t needed at the moment. But they will look more into why residents sometimes say no to this work.


Reflections from our conference

There was great feedback on our May residents’ conference and its friendly atmosphere. People felt it was well-run, informative and a great chance for residents from our community groups to hear about some of the topics we discuss. We were pleased so many Board members had also attended.

Two sessions were on the National Housing Federation’s ‘Together with tenants’ initiative, about rebuilding trust between landlords and residents following the Grenfell tragedy. Our feedback’s now being included in work to identify how else residents can have an even clearer voice.


Policy reviews

The lettings policy’s reviewed every two years and only needed minor revisions this time. We felt it was nice and clear at setting out Sovereign’s approach.

We then discussed who else can take on a tenancy if the tenant dies, how a home’s assessed as suitable, making rents more affordable and advice if we can’t offer people a home. A new ‘tenancy ready’ project may help those on waiting lists who’d probably struggle to afford their rent, by offering support from our employment and training officers to help them increase their income.

And we were delighted that some homes in the south are now being re-let in half the time, thanks to various changes since a scrutiny project on this.

As a follow on from our last meeting, we also had an overview of the definition and purpose of service charges and talked through everything from their complexity to affordability and health and safety services, as well as how residents could be involved in procuring and monitoring contracts. We’ll get an updated policy to review in late August.


Overview of the older people’s service

This session took us through a restructure and other service changes earlier in the year. These were done to develop a more modern, stable service less affected by constant changes and insecure funding.

Most residents are largely positive about the changes, which also give more focus to building safety. But there were some issues around the standard of repairs and grounds as well as the loss of weekly phone calls for residents on the Isle of Wight – when local authority funding for these was stopped.

The next stage will involve looking at how best to improve the service, including what schemes should look and feel like and what residents want and need in the future from this accommodation. We’ll get another update on progress next spring.


Update on the work of the Communities team

The Board’s significantly increasing the money available through the communities budget – from £1.2 million to £3.6 million over the next couple of years. Expanding and transforming this programme will cover five themes:

  • priority communities
  • education and skills
  • employment and training
  • community action
  • new communities.

 

Lots is already happening of course, including targeting residents for job and training opportunities. An exciting grants portal’s also on the way for local groups to apply to.


Other topics

A day of ‘deep dive’ discussions in June included Universal Credit and how the team support residents as they transfer to this benefit, such as by offering money management advice. We also talked about ‘right first time’ in terms of repairs and the scrutiny work on this.

After previously giving our feedback on fixed term tenancies, we heard about the Board’s latest discussions on this. We hope that the records and statistics will give them convincing evidence to bring these to an end.

At each meeting, we review the latest performance statistics and suggested changes to how these are presented – to help focus on measuring what matters across key resident services. One positive point this time was month on month improvements in customer satisfaction about antisocial behaviour matters.

Under ‘any other business’, it was great to hear that work’s begun in Newbury on a major redevelopment with David Wilson Homes to build 80 new homes.

Ian Capon also reported that Nelson Road Playpark in Newport, Isle of Wight has its new equipment – a lovely result for one of our community engagement groups

And Pat Heslop expressed her thanks for a grant which is helping to finance a community radio station in her area.

Finally, we presented a bouquet to Christine Turner, our Board link representative. This was her last meeting and she thanked us all for the Partnership’s essential contribution.

I hope this shows some of the effort residents, board members and employees are putting in to create and improve our communities.

Have a lovely summer.

Joyce

Judith Colby

Hello – in fact this report is by me, Judith Colby, as Vice-Chair of the Partnership.

I chaired our last meeting when Joyce was busy attending the National Housing Federation’s National Advisory Panel for the ‘Together with Tenants’ plan. (As she’s one of only nine people selected nationally, this is a great achievement.)

Board update

Christine Turner, the Partnership’s ‘Board link’ representative, explained that the Board has been considering the rent formula we should set when the national ‘minus one per cent’ rent period ends. There’s also been a strong health and safety focus on Grenfell. And they’ve spent time looking at the very interesting work of the Scrutiny Coordination Group.

The Board’s away day focussed on the Corporate Plan, development and work with residents. There was an emphasis on the standards we want to set for our homes and the impact of this on older homes and on our future direction – such as more regeneration. In terms of development, we’re also looking at more ‘land-led’ schemes and joint ventures. All these put Sovereign more in control of what we’re building and how we can shape communities.

The Partnership asked many questions, including how affordability is assessed, how residents could influence design and we stressed the importance of regenerating older homes.

Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG)

The SCG’s Paula Grebot said that they were pleased with the positive response to their work on why residents had to make multiple contacts about repairs. The group’s also been scoping its scrutiny into complaints, which should get underway in July. The following scrutiny will then be into empty homes.

We also had a big discussion about what we mean by getting repairs ‘right first time’ and how to design and measure this. Three members will be involved in developing an answer on this. And we talked about how to develop the relationship between the Partnership and Scrutiny Coordination group even more and follow up on the scrutiny projects.

Service charges

Several members had been involved in a first meeting about what services the organisation was trying to provide and how we should update the service charges policy. There’s more work to be done on this but we were reassured that the policy would cover safety and security of tenure as well as what could be charged for and the capping of charges. We’ll also look again at the charging for health and safety services.

Together with Tenants

The National Housing Federation (NHF) has consulted us already on its proposals around this, which is about rebuilding trust between landlords and residents following the Grenfell tragedy. We’d sent our feedback to the NHF on their draft ‘Together with tenants’ plan and Sovereign’s signed up to be an early adopter of the new approach when it’s been finalised.

We heard more at the meeting about the feedback they’d received from other residents and associations and how this work will be taken forward – including via the involvement of our own Joyce Ward as part of the national advisory body.

We stressed our desire again to use this national charter as a guide to challenge ourselves on, rather than a strict directive. This will let us develop priorities and targets we think are right for Sovereign residents and decide how we want to build on the model of oversight and scrutiny by residents that we already have.

Fixed term tenancies

One major item on our agenda was discussing our attitude to fixed term tenancies (FTTs). Sovereign introduced this sort of five year tenancy in 2016 (with an additional year if it’s a probationary tenancy), and someone’s circumstances are reviewed again at the end of this period. We talked about the role of FTTs in making best use of Sovereign’s supply of homes and how important mobility is to people: the flexibility to move to a different size of home, to move elsewhere for work, or to rent privately or become a home owner if your situation changes.

We were unanimous in feeling that FTTs should end but recognise that moving people is complex so we also talked about incentives to help them do this. We hope our views will help the Board when it considers this.

Involving residents in procurement

Residents have been involved in the past in helping to shape procurement proposals, such as tendering for the grounds maintenance contract. Now Sovereign’s looking at a new model to see how a wider group of residents could help more in awarding and then also managing contracts that affect residents. We welcomed this idea and several members volunteered to get involved in developing the plans.

Income management policy

One regular element of our meetings is to give a resident perspective on key policies and strategies. This time we looked at proposed changes to the income management policy. These include extending the policy to Sovereign’s key worker accommodation (such as hospital employees) and adding a statement around collecting income in a sustainable and ethical way.

As part of the debate, we heard more about how Sovereign collaborates with local authorities to help people stay in their home rather than become homeless. We were also told how the role of the tenancy support advisors has been refocused on people’s finances and ability to pay their rent, as well as on helping them if they’re moving to Universal Credit.

Performance and targets

As usual, we discussed performance results from across the business on key services that are relevant to residents and we asked officers to pass on our recognition and congratulations on the achievements in the dashboards. Some of these included very good performance on letting homes and better satisfaction around anti-social behaviour (ASB) cases. We also heard how more residents are using the MySovereign site when they want to pay their rent, book a repair and so on. Overall performance is also starting to improve, including around ‘trust’ in the organisation.

Finally, it seems appropriate to add how interesting and enjoyable many of us found the annual Residents’ Conference in May, which is hosted by the Partnership.

There was huge involvement before and during the event from the Partnership, SCG and community group members and it was a great chance to look back at a successful year for resident involvement, and forward to the future. I hope this will see us continue working with the Board, officers and other residents to benefit all our communities.

 

Judith 

Here are some highlights from our last meeting.

Board update

The Sovereign Board had been busy on the 2019/20 budget, reviewing the People Strategy (about new ways of working and the importance of employees living the organisation’s values) and assessing possible impacts of Brexit. They’d also discussed government grant funding which is allowing the business to build more new homes for rent (including using modern methods and modular construction), the latest performance figures, the impact of fixed term tenancies, fire door replacement funding and welcoming Tom Titherington as Executive Director of Development and Commercial.

Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG)

The SCG’s been looking at feedback from the last scrutiny (repeat contact about repairs) and its forward programme, which will include a deep dive into everything related to emails as a contact channel. The next scrutiny will focus on complaints and happen alongside an internal audit into the same area.

Agenda plan

As well as our regular meetings, awaydays let us look at specific topics and Universal Credit is one we’ve asked to cover. Policies we’ll be reviewing include income, service charges, tenancies, complaints and safeguarding as well as some leasehold ones.

Residents’ conference

Hosted by the Partnership, residents are leading on planning this event for mid May. Community Engagement Groups, the Partnership, SCG and the Sovereign Board will all get together. Our guest speaker is Catherine Ryder from the National Housing Federation (NHF). She’ll be giving an update on how we, and residents from other associations, are influencing at a national level.

Together with Tenants

Last year the NHF consulted us on its initial proposals around this, which is about rebuilding trust between landlords and residents following the Grenfell tragedy.

Sovereign’s signed up to be an early adopter of the ‘Together with tenants’ plan, which will include working with residents to develop its own ‘charter’, agreeing how residents will monitor this and how performance should be publicised.

We gave our feedback for a formal response to the national plan and felt that, while there’s still work to be done, Sovereign’s already meeting many of the requirements for giving residents a clear voice so our charter should aim for a higher standard in some areas.

Revised asset strategy

This presentation explained the new draft strategy which looks at how Sovereign will make future decisions about its properties and elements in them (from boilers to roofs).

Proposals include investing £46m in modern heating systems over the next five years but we also discussed what the vision should be for things like green space in our communities.

Key aspects we felt the strategy should consider were safe homes with secure locks on doors and windows, good network connections for mobile phones and contact in times of danger, how residents know about the emergency procedures and other property information and homes maintained to a good standard so residents are safe.

As this is a ‘work in progress’, we’ll find out how this progresses in future meetings.

Introduction to service charges

Historically the business has set service charges in two ways so this session explained how the process will be aligned so that all new residents are on ‘fixed’ service charges.

It’s a complex area so we had some good discussions about the differences between fixed and variable charges, how charges are estimated for new developments, how some elements have been capped to make sure homes remain affordable, and all about the legislation that governs service charges for leaseholders.

This area will be a focus for review over the coming year so volunteers were also requested from the Partnership to be involved in this.

Performance and targets

As usual we also assessed the latest performance results from across the business on all the key services which are most relevant to residents – from arrears to repairs completed on target, from how quickly homes are relet to how well ASB cases and complaints are responded to.

We also reviewed proposed key performance measures and targets for the new financial year. We were pleased to find out that targets for a number of services will be set higher than before – sometimes because performance is already improving so a higher target is appropriate, others because the service remains a top priority for customers and needs a continued drive for improvement. I’m particularly pleased that we’ll be further stretching the targets for several measures of customer satisfaction.


As I often say in these reports, another very packed agenda but it’s also encouraging to see the progress being made and the breadth of topics we’re able to be influencing as residents.

Joyce

Our meeting started with great sadness as I shared news of the passing of one of our members, Jenny Mennella, who’d contributed so much to the Partnership and will be missed by us all, and by me personally.

We then got underway with an update about Sovereign’s workplace strategy and the announcement that central services and the customer contact team would be moving to Basingstoke in autumn 2019. Operational teams currently based in Basingstoke and Newbury will be moving to new offices being built in Greenham (near Newbury) in 18 months.

The new Board Newsflash document summarises key Board and other activity, including showing that the building of new homes is on target for the year and that four new Board members had been recruited.

We also discussed the bringing together of Sovereign’s two property organisations into one service. The focus will now be more on in-house work with efficiencies on this producing more annual savings than the profit from external contracts. Withdrawal from Spectrum Property Care’s remaining contracts is also being carefully planned.

In terms of our agenda for 2019, we’ll be looking at service charges over several meetings to help develop the new policy on this and we considered some other themes that might shape work over the year, plus some possible specific topics. We’ll agree our final plan in March.

Results of scrutiny into multiple contacts for repairs

We had an extremely interesting presentation from the Scrutiny Consultative Group (SCG) following their review on this. The scrutiny found that most people still use the phone for a quick response or to chase up an online request. There was also a difference in how residents view ‘right first time’ repairs and how this is logged by the business.

The group’s work culminated in a number of recommendations and they’ll be sharing more detail of the exercise and results with wider residents soon, including on their webpage.

Recommendations include updating key contact channels by 2020; new key performance indicators; residents being involved in a review of the text messaging service; access to more repairs information on MySovereign; addressing divisional differences in repairs; an agreed definition and measurement of ‘right first time’; and aligning compensation budgets – plus reporting on repairs payments made through this.

Other significant progress should be made when a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is implemented, enabling better capture and wider use of customers’ communication preferences.

We commended the group for coordinating an excellent set of outcomes and recommendations and look forward to their reports on progress against this action plan.

Steve Barford, Executive Director for Property Services, added his thanks and said that the information from the scrutiny was exceptional. He then updated on some changes and activity already underway and we were pleased to see the business and residents working together.

Key worker accommodation

I learnt lots that I didn’t know during an introduction to Sovereign’s key worker service by Stuart Davies, Divisional Director.

This provides mainly shared accommodation (private bedrooms with shared facilities) for key worker groups such as hospital staff and, compared to Sovereign’s other stock, has a significant number of high and medium rise blocks.

Each site has local on-site management, maintenance and housekeeping services and residents can stay from one night to several years. Rents are fully inclusive of bills, wifi and so on and priced at 80% of market rates. The service handles around 6,500 bookings a year.

We also heard about some of the opportunities to improve and modernise the service and to look at investment in the buildings, with compliance and health and safety being at the heart of the service.

Decant policy

We reviewed Sovereign’s decant policy which covers what happens if someone needs to move out of their existing home. This can be necessary for various reasons. Short term decant may be due to a fire or flood or a permanent move may be needed from homes which have reached the end of their useful life (such as bedsits or with shared bathrooms). While the policy doesn’t affect many residents, it has a huge impact on those it does.

We found out what happens for short-term decants and how residents may be eligible to compensation if they’re affected by a permanent decant – including payment to compensate for moving expenses. They’ll also be granted the same type of tenancy in their new home.

The Partnership agreed that overall the decant policy was fair and that the focus on supporting people through changes was important, as well as the financial recompense.

Operational performance

Finally, we queried various aspects of the latest operational performance figures, with officers being able to answer some questions and agreeing to find out more details as necessary.

We also heard that the results of a recent Institute of Customer Service perception survey were broadly the same as previously, despite it being a period of quite a lot of change. The results will also help to pinpoint areas that can be worked on in the future.

All in all another productive meeting and lots of opportunities for us to influence Sovereign’s services and future direction for the benefit of all residents.

Joyce

This started with evidence that our views continue to be taken on board. In this case around the standard of empty homes for relet and some of the questions in the customer care calls which gather satisfaction feedback.

Board member Christine Turner also shared a new-style Board Newsflash document for everyone formally involved with Sovereign. Then it was on to a quick discussion around terms of office for members of the Partnership, a review of our budget spend and the ‘decision log’ which helps us assess our contribution to the wider organisation.

Progress on scrutiny into repairs

Paula Grebot updated us on the repeat repairs contacts scrutiny – led by the Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG) – and gave us some high level feedback on the findings.

We’ll consider the final report next time, including its recommendations, but these exercises are also a continual learning piece, giving the SCG food for thought on its future activity.

Deep dive into complaints

We looked in depth at complaints, from regional comparisons to the number of complaints about each major service area this year versus the last, as well as MP and ombudsman involvement.

This is obviously a complex area but we had plenty of questions to ask, such as how the process is communicated and what action’s taken if a complaint’s about an employee’s attitude.

We considered progress in the 12 months since the new policy was introduced and, despite plenty more to do, it’s good to see that the length of time complaints are open is reducing significantly.

Fire safety

Matt Greaves, Safety and Compliance Director, gave us a thoughtful presentation – saying how all those involved in fire safety had their perceptions challenged and changed by the Hackitt Report – regulators, landlords and residents. The Building a Safer Future document published earlier in 2018 was also difficult read but was being used as a checklist to challenge ourselves against.

The initial focus is on taller buildings (10 storeys and above), of which Sovereign only leases four for key workers and doesn’t own any, although one more site is in development. Other (six-storey and over) blocks are also being reviewed.

We heard about the ongoing national investigation into fire doors, a review of stay put versus full evacuation policies and how the sprinkler strategy is being reviewed for consideration by the Executive Board.

Matt also explained that Sovereign was being audited on fire safety at the time of the Grenfell Tower fire and the service was thoroughly inspected and challenged. In addition, the Hampshire Fire Service did an inspection to add a further level of checking.

46 of 48 actions had been delivered and the others are underway – about personal evacuation plans for vulnerable residents at supported schemes and the fire safety training and competency of assessors.

It was encouraging to hear this good progress following the Hackitt report and we also discussed Sovereign’s responsibility to make sure communal areas were kept clear and fire doors worked properly, including managing resident behaviour.

We agreed it’s crucial for residents to understand what to do in the case of a fire so please read fire safety notices in your building and see more advice on the website.

Workplace strategy

Steve Barford, Executive Director Property Services, explained Sovereign’s workplace strategy, which is about being a forward thinking business which is growing, with great frontline services and a forward-thinking team of people.

The first goal is about changing how the business works so that staff can be effective wherever they are – and this equals great customer service. The second is for the offices to be a great place to work.

The plan is to reduce the number of offices to seven modern environments over the next few years. Staff had been informed and were having a chance to what was important to them and it’s clearly also important how residents view the change. The business case shows annual running costs should be no more, and hopefully slightly less, than now and we agreed that we’re looking forward to keeping up to date on progress.

Investing in communities

We were delighted to hear about the significant increased investment in communities that the Board has committed to as it’s something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

The new model is based on five themes – priority communities, education and skills, employment and training, community action, and new neighbourhoods. Jon Fisher, Head of communities, was also clear action would always be ‘with’ and never ‘for’ communities.

Monitoring performance

A new style customer dashboard provided some very interesting insights into the range of customer data available and should evolve over time to be more interactive.

Our regular review of operational performance included uncertainties about the further national rollout of Universal Credit, continuing improvements on lettings, spend on planned works to homes and the option for telephone callers to take a survey after their call – managed by an external company and designed to continually improve on the quality of service.

We heard about work to make service charges more consistent around health and safety checks and asked for more detail on this. A detailed review of service charges will also take place in 2019 and we’re pleased that the Partnership will be involved.

Our meeting ended with various other items including preparing for our annual involved residents’ conference and Sovereign’s application to be involved with the government panel about fire safety, in addition to being on Inside Housing magazine’s working group on fire safety.

 

It’s very satisfying to look back on a year when I feel the Partnership’s been so involved at the heart of Sovereign’s decision-making and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to 2019.

Joyce

Focusing on homelessness

At our July meeting we had a detailed presentation on Sovereign’s approach to homelessness, including some of the barriers for people in accessing housing and how homelessness could be reduced.

This was a very insightful session and we felt we understood more about how this fits in the bigger picture. For example, how homelessness can be affected by welfare benefit reforms and how Sovereign’s employment and training team focuses on not just helping people get into work but also helping those in low paid jobs to move into better paid ones.

We also heard how The Foyer for the Island, on the Isle of Wight, provides safe and secure accommodation for young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – alongside giving them individual support, advice and guidance.

We also learnt about the inspiring Joshua Tree project in Basingstoke, which provides accommodation for homeless families in individual flats. Members felt this provides such a valuable service we’d like to see more of this within Sovereign’s mix of accommodation.

If you’re at risk of being made homeless, or you’d like support around employment and training or money worries, do check out this helpful section of the website: (If you’re registered on MySovereign you can also find advice and ask for support there.)

Reviewing the Empty Homes Standard

At each meeting we review a key resident policy and this time we looked at a draft empty homes standard – the proposed rules, if you like, that Sovereign follows when it’s getting a home ready to re-let.

Again, it was fascinating to find out more about aspects of this, such as the trade-off between how much work can be done while a home is empty and how long someone therefore has to wait before they can move in.

We think it’s vital that residents are able to influence such important service areas and members raised a number of queries which officers took away to review.

Strong performance

We also queried the latest information about Sovereign’s performance on key services to residents. This covered the period when a new digital platform went live to let the two current contact centres work together and another project saw all of Sovereign’s 56,000 properties moved on to a single system – a big activity following the merger in late 2016.

These IT projects may not sound very sexy but members agreed that they’re very necessary as they should make it easier for the business to provide a better service to residents – as well as enabling the Partnership to see better ‘like for like’ performance data across all regions.

Alongside this discussion and one about customer feedback from the ‘care calls’ made to residents after some key contacts with the business (such as when a repair’s completed or they move into their new home), we also had a report back from the main Sovereign Board about the results for the whole financial year.

You can read more about this, and about Sovereign’s strategic plan, in this online version of the annual report (which also includes an animated summary).

Results of scrutiny into lettings

One of the most exciting parts of this meeting was hearing from Danny Lynch about results from the second scrutiny review carried out by the Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG) and the scrutineers it recruited.

This looked in more depth at the performance of the lettings service in the South region and why results may not be as good as elsewhere. The review found that some of this was due to particular challenges around the type of housing, some harder to let homes and from things like the timescales for new residents being nominated to homes by particular local authorities.

You’ll be able to find out more about these findings in a few weeks on the SCG’s webpage but we felt it had been a well-run review. We thanked the group for the work that had been done to lead to some really clear, insightful recommendations which should build on other improvements already underway.

In the meantime, the SCG is now carrying out its third review, looking into why residents sometimes need to make repeated contact about the same repair. Planning’s also underway for the scrutiny after that, which will investigate the planned maintenance programme.

They’ll be starting to recruit for scrutineers soon for this so keep an eye on the website and the Sovereign Facebook group for more about this!

What next?

We’ve got a Resident and Board Partnership awayday coming up at the end of this month so I’m looking forward to that as it gives us a bit longer together to look at a few issues in more detail.

This time we should be meeting Mark Washer, the new Chief Executive; looking at the end of fixed term tenancies and what exactly needs be involved in those reviews; getting an update on the Grenfell Tower fire and the overall position for Sovereign on fire safety; as well as exploring some of the issues we raised at the annual residents’ conference – such as how to get more young residents involved in the business.

It’s all go but I hope you’re having a great summer.

Joyce

Resident and Board Partnership reports

It’s been a busy few weeks with our conference for engaged residents at the end of April, a trip to London when our approach was shortlisted for the UK Housing Awards (sadly no win on the night) and then a Partnership meeting.

Conference success

Our May meeting included reviewing feedback from the Residents’ Conference and this was very positive. As a Partnership we ‘hosted’ and arranged this event in Winchester, which also involved members of the Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG) and representatives of our first six supported community groups, as well the main Sovereign Board and staff.

Residence conference

Everyone agreed there’d been a great atmosphere and a good mix of activities – from presentations and videos to break out workshops.

The conference gave us all plenty of chances to network and there were some insightful questions asked of the Chief Executive and Sovereign’s Chair.

In fact you can watch two of them yourself - an animation about the Partnership’s first year and a fun film starring members of the SCG.

I particularly enjoyed the session where we thought about the benefits of social housing and what’s most important to us as residents. The result was a ‘jigsaw’ which we’ve shared with the National Housing Federation as part of the national debate on this topic.


Jigsaw collage

Tackling antisocial behaviour

Our May meeting included an interesting ‘deep dive’ look at antisocial behaviour (ASB). We found out more about the types and volume of ASB cases and the different roles of the police and Sovereign as a landlord. We also heard about some of the tools officers use to manage ASB and the importance of managing people’s expectations around what Sovereign can (and can’t) do.

With 7 specialist ASB officers and support from 70 housing officers, we felt that residents were very fortunate to have this service.

Contact and feedback

Many of us want to interact with Sovereign differently these days and we had a really useful session on the right sort of ‘contact strategy’ in the future.

The business wants to offer more choice over how we make contact but we all agreed it’s important to get the right balance between digital channels and human contact.

In the next 12 months there’ll be more improvements to MySovereign, the key digital channel for residents, and we had a demonstration of this during our meeting.

Once you’ve created an account, you can check your rent balance, make a payment, log a repair, check your appointments or just find answers to lots of common questions.

Planned improvements include information that’s more tailored to your own circumstances, such as community groups near you or tips and support if you’ve just started a claim for Universal Credit.

Gathering feedback is another key element of shaping and improving future services. During an interactive session we discussed how to develop a wider range of ways to collect and measure how satisfied customers are with different services and what their perception is of Sovereign.

Trust was a key element and we came up with some suggestions for measuring this as well as identifying some of the other questions that will need answering to take this work forward.

A good performance

As usual we reviewed the latest performance ‘dashboard’ – looking at all sorts of facts and figures on services to the end of March 2018.

Some highlights included low levels of people being in arrears on their rent, homes being ready for renting more quickly and good progress on carrying out repairs (especially given the heavy snow across most of the south in March) so we congratulated the team.

As well as this regular monitoring of performance, part of our role is to recommend how key services should be assessed. We looked at this for the new financial year and made various recommendations on measures and targets which will now go to the main Sovereign Board.

In other news…

Elsewhere on the agenda we agreed some more items to add to our meeting plan for the next year.

These include inviting the new Chief Executive, Mark Washer, to attend a meeting once he joins. We also asked to learn more from Development Director, Ben Denton, and will be planning in reviews of complaints and other policies, such as some of the key customer-facing ones led by the Property Services team.

We’ll be arranging a Partnership awayday later in the summer as well, so there’s plenty to look forward to!

 

Joyce