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Resident and Board Partnership
 

Resident and Board Partnership reports

Joyce Ward
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


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

Jenny Mennella, Vice-Chair of the Resident and Board Partnership, chaired the group’s March meeting.

I’m delighted give you this insight into the Partnership’s work – as well as what the main Sovereign Board and Scrutiny Coordination Group are involved in.

Update from the Board

As usual our meeting started with what had been discussed at the last Sovereign Board meeting. This included performance results, the proposed budget from April 2018, progress on developing the new Strategic Plan and Development Strategy, work on managing risks, benchmarking with other housing associations and a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.

The Board had also heard the results of a major project to harmonise employee terms and conditions (needed following the merger in November 2016) and the outcomes of our annual gender pay report and about the in-depth assessment then underway by the regulator.

Plans for our conference and for scrutiny

There’s good progress on organising our engaged residents’ conference at the end of April, which is hosted by the Partnership.

Although there are clear lines of communication between all three parts of our engagement structure, I’m looking forward to chatting more informally with Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG) members and residents from our new supported communities groups. We’ve also extended conference invitations to the Sovereign Board.

We’ve had some insight already into the SCG’s plans with an item about their proposed 18 month rolling scrutiny programme. Resident scrutineers are being recruited at the moment to help review the performance of lettings in the south division from April, and future reviews should include looking at why residents may have to make repeat contacts about a repair, and what could be done to improve this.

View from the frontline

Our regular ‘View from the frontline’ was an insight from Katie Hayward into the role of a housing officer. Katie looks after around 550 homes in Southampton – including those on one of our largest estates, built in the late 1960s.

Katie gave an overview of her patch, some of the things housing officers do, how they manage tenancies, look after neighbourhoods and work with partners. Her presentation included an anonymised case study about someone with a hoarding disorder and I’ll confess I hadn’t realised quite how much would be involved.

In this instance, we made 11 attempted visits before having to get a court order to finally access the flat. Fortunately the resident then engaged with Katie and she shared some before and after photographs as she talked us through the support we’d given to the resident and the work needed to clean and repair the property.


Rethinking Social Housing

We then took part in an interactive session so that our views can feed into the Chartered Institute of Housing’s ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ initiative, which is being sponsored by Sovereign alongside several other housing associations.

This project is about assessing the real value of social housing to society – something that, as residents, we obviously feel very passionate about and had a great deal we wanted to say!


Feedback on the Partnership

The Partnership’s terms of reference were agreed in January 2107 and will be due for a full review next January but we agreed to gather feedback after the first year on things like our formal meetings, the agenda, learning and development and our interface with the Board.

The results of a survey of members showed strong support for a lot of how we do things now (such as the timings of meetings and many of our standard agenda items) but also suggestions for improvements.

Some specific actions include creating a key decisions log; a review in May of the content and format of performance reports, including inviting officers from across the business to present on their areas; and arranging for some future meetings to be held in other locations.


Policy review

One of our standard agenda items is to look at key housing policies when they’re due for review. This time we gave our views on the revised anti-social behaviour policy. The policy covers how Sovereign will prevent, address and tackle anti-social behaviour; how it will work with partners; and how it will support victims and witnesses.

We felt it was very helpful that the policy includes examples of what isn’t anti-social behaviour (such as sounds of everyday life, children playing and one-off parties) as well as what is.

We also debated and fed back on some specific questions:

  • When possible, we expect residents to resolve issues such as car parking disputes themselves. Is this the right approach? And when should staff get involved?
  • Anti-social behaviour may be a symptom of another issue. Is it Sovereign’s responsibility to help someone change their behaviour? If so, when does this end?
  • What should the approach be to residents who are abusive to staff or contractors?

 

Monitoring performance

Another regular item is to review the organisation’s performance and we looked at key results to the end of January 2018.

Income and arrears performance compared well to this time last year. We also found out how these figures are affected by the gradual roll out of Universal Credit across the country.

Lettings performance was also slightly better than target levels but there are a small number of homes in the south which are taking much longer to re-let (one reason why this is the focus for the SCG’s next scrutiny exercise).

We found out that January’s one of the busiest months for the customer contact hubs and that more customers also made contact via social media. While call answering narrowly missed the target for response times, the quality of calls was above target and we heard this is likely to be due to an ongoing focus on training and coaching for advisers.

There was also an improvement in how many complaints were resolved when residents first made contact so that’s very encouraging.


We also passed on our thanks to the teams for their recent great work in the recent snow. Many staff had gone the extra mile and worked out of hours and over the weekend to maintain services as much as possible, particularly for emergency heating repairs.

Finally we reviewed spending this year against the Partnership’s budget and agreed the agenda for our session in early May.

All in all another fascinating meeting – and one which gave me plenty of opportunities to feel that the Partnership is playing a useful role in the business. And there seems some support for that since we recently won the TPAS Southern Region ‘Excellence in Engagement’ award.

 

Jenny

It feels like our effectiveness as a Partnership is ramping up now and we’re working closely with officers and the main Board, as well as with the Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG).

Below are some highlights from our last two meetings to give you a flavour of what we do.

Scrutiny gets underway

The SCG is responsible for developing our approach to scrutiny, agreeing a rolling programme of reviews and recruiting for scrutineers.  

It recently reported back to us about its first mini scrutiny exercise. This was mainly a learning exercise on how to conduct a scrutiny and members took a topic close to home: how our new involvement structure was set up following Sovereign’s merger with Spectrum.

After questioning residents involved in creating the new structure, as well as interviewing senior directors, they gained some valuable insights for commissioning and carrying out future reviews.

Talking of which, they’re now finalising a timetable of reviews for the next 18 months and will start recruiting scrutineers for the first review in late February.

Safeguarding and domestic abuse approach is impressive

Before Christmas we received a fascinating presentation from Marian Hart, Regional Housing Manager, on Sovereign’s role in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. The case studies she used illustrated the challenges. For example, how officers work with other teams and agencies to support hoarders but also have to think about minimising the risk to other residents and our properties.

In January, Housing Services Manager Ali Pearce then gave us a thought-provoking insight into what Sovereign can do to support victims of domestic abuse. This includes things like fitting additional home safety measures and ‘panic rooms’. She also explained the training staff receive and some warning signs they look out for.

Members were extremely impressed with the approach and work that Sovereign’s doing on issues like these and felt that we should be sharing more good news stories to publicise this.

I’d also encourage us all to think about how we can be better neighbours. If you’re at all worried that someone may be at risk, please report this. If you’re the victim of domestic abuse or need other support, please do speak to someone.

Policy reviews

At every meeting we give our feedback on a rolling programme of policy reviews and we see this as a key element of our role.

Most recently we’ve reviewed the safeguarding and domestic abuse policies as well as tenancy fraud and the draft succession policy (who can and can’t take on a tenancy and how we assess that).

Getting it right on fixed term tenancies

An interesting debate about fixed term tenancies saw us agree that it feels right to review a new tenancy after a certain number of years.

In most cases it might be quite right for someone’s tenancy to just carry on as it is. But sometimes a change in circumstances might mean a resident could move to another home or they might want to part buy one, freeing up their property for other families in desperate need.

However, we wanted to make sure officers ask the right questions when a fixed term tenancy comes up for review, so we’ve set up a working group to look more at this process and what criteria should be used.

We’ve also been:

  • contributing to a new set of values for the merged Sovereign
  • helping to test the new MySovereign portal – a single site for all residents, launching later this spring
  • starting to work on the agenda for our first conference for involved residents
  • helping to shape how resident and customer feedback should be gathered
  • developing our understanding of supported housing, how Sovereign’s services need to be different for residents in these homes and some future considerations (such as a government consultation on future funding and rent levels for these homes)
  • continuing to review Sovereign’s performance.

We’ve also discussed important government announcements, including the new rent settlement, changes to Universal Credit and a visit to Oxfordshire by the (then) Housing Minister, Alok Sharma. Several of our residents shared their views with him on how residents are being listened to at Sovereign and the effect on them of various national policies.

Representing residents

As members of the Partnership, we’re here as individuals rather than to represent a particular geographical area or group of residents. But I think we’ve got a hugely important role in making sure that the viewpoint of ordinary residents is firmly at the heart of discussions on important issues like the ones I’ve mentioned here.

All of us have got involved to help the business listen and act. If you do have a major issue, please know that you can always make us aware and we’ll do what we can to help.

As Chair of Sovereign’s Resident and Board Partnership I’m very proud of the way residents led on developing our new engagement structure and that this enables us to influence such a range of activities.

The Partnership works closely with the main Board and gives residents like me a chance to get involved in Sovereign’s strategy, policies, service standards and performance.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently as this topic cropped up at our last meeting and I’m preparing a presentation on our engagement structure for residents of another housing association.

Hopefully this report on our meeting’s a good illustration of what we do.

The Partnership works closely with the main Board and each meeting we get a report on the Board’s activities. At our end of October meeting we were delighted to have this presented by Christine Turner, who’s taken over as the Board’s link into the Partnership since Gordon Holdcroft was appointed Chair of the Board.

Fire safety a priority

We were pleased to hear from Christine that safety and compliance remain a high priority in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. In the weeks after the fire there was an urgent review of all our blocks with any cladding, which confirmed that none of Sovereign’s are clad in the same sort of material as at Grenfell Tower.

While other checks and improvements have already been made, such as a tightening up on the message to residents around not leaving items in corridors and other communal areas, we’re now awaiting any recommendations from the wider fire safety review underway nationally.

Christine also touched on Sovereign’s strong performance since the merger and that we expect an In Depth Assessment soon by the regulator, the Homes and Communities Agency. This will focus on customers and include the work of the Partnership and other resident engagement structures.

Scrutinising our engagement structures

The Scrutiny Coordination Group also reported back on their work and are about to start their first scrutiny exercise. Aptly this is into resident engagement and the way we developed our new structure.

In our case the approach was slightly unusual with engaged residents from Sovereign and Spectrum coming together in advance of the merger being completed. The review was led by a working group of residents, with support and facilitation from an independent consultant.

View from the front line

One of the most interesting items at each meeting is a view from the front line. This time Chris Jones shared his experience as an Anti-social Behaviour (ASB) Officer during one particularly difficult week. While Chris spends a lot of time dealing with fairly simple noise or drugs issues, he can also handle some very complex cases. In this case it was clear officers face very real or potential danger and need to think carefully about risks and safety (their own and that of individuals and neighbours). It’s clearly a rewarding but even more challenging job than I’d realised!

We also looked at ASB under our performance agenda item and saw how the previously different ways that this service was managed are being brought together following the merger.

On a personal note I’d also like to congratulate Richard Lane, our Oxfordshire ASB Officer, who I know well. I’m delighted that Richard’s been shortlisted for Practitioner of the Year in the annual RESOLVE ASB awards.

Shaping our culture and values

Elsewhere on the agenda we had input into shaping the new Sovereign’s future culture and values. We had a very high-energy, interactive session on this and it’s great that residents are being asked to contribute their views alongside employees, the Board and others.

Fact-finding on the Isle of Wight

Two of our members also shared their thoughts from a ‘fact finding’ visit to the Isle of Wight. Perhaps surprisingly it’s one of the least affluent parts of the country outside of inner city areas – but there were some good examples of our support and community activities there.

In particular we heard about the Foyer for the Island’s amazing work providing safe and secure accommodation for young people who are homeless or at risk of this.

Reviewing key landlord policies

We regularly look at Sovereign’s policies and procedures when they need reviewing or revising. This time we reviewed the tenancy policy, which we felt was still appropriate – including continuing to offer probationary tenancies.

Much of our debate then centred on what criteria should be used to assess whether a fixed term tenancy should be renewed or not. We’ve agreed to run a separate discussion forum on this so that we can consider everything in more detail.

I’m looking forward to being able to share some of my enthusiasm for our approach with residents at another association but I’ll confess to being a bit nervous too – so wish me luck!

The Resident and Board Partnership is a new group, set up this spring as part of the new engagement structures introduced following Sovereign’s merger with Spectrum Housing Group last November.

Our role is to work closely with the main Board and enable residents to have an input into Sovereign’s strategy, policies and service standards, as well as its performance.

Over the last few meetings we’ve been learning more about key service areas and we had another ‘fact finding’ session at our latest meeting. Area Development Manager, Raphael Cohen, gave us an overview of the ways Sovereign can get involved in developing new homes – either by building homes itself, entering into joint ventures with developers or by buying new homes straight from them.

These items are so informative and we had particularly interesting discussions on how rents are set and what the future might hold for homes at ‘social’ rent levels, rather than at the slightly higher ‘affordable’ rent level.

We also learnt a lot from a presentation by Matt Giles and Kevin Burgess of our customer contact centre. They explained the different ways residents can contact the business, including how newer digital channels are being used more and more.

Nowadays a number of residents communicate via Facebook with organisations like their bank or utility company for example. And they want to be able to pick up their smartphone or tablet and get hold of Sovereign in the same way.

Members were particularly interested how this works for specific or sensitive enquiries. Matt and Kevin explained that they always ask the resident to send a direct message with more details. That means someone’s not sharing their details widely and it lets us check someone’s who they say they are, before we confirm any account or other personal information. The data protection aspects of these newer channels are something we might like to delve into a bit more in the future.

As a Partnership we’re also going digital ourselves – viewing reports and papers on our iPads (a steeper learning curve for some of us than others!). This certainly makes it easier to look at the ‘dashboard’ of data we review each meeting. This shows how Sovereign’s performing across key service areas and we talk about anything where there have been changes we’d like officers to look at. If we’re more concerned, we can ask the Scrutiny Coordination Group to do some extra investigating into that service.

We’re also able to have an input into Sovereign’s future policies and procedures. This time we were pleased to support a proposed new approach to complaints (and asked to review this again in a year to see how it’s bedded in). We also agreed a timetable for reviewing other key policies over the coming year: for example, we’ll be looking at the policy around tenancy fraud at our next meeting.

Reading this report back, the major thing that strikes me is what a wide range of topics we covered! I think it also shows how we, as residents, are getting involved and do have an influence on things. We may not have a final say, and that’s probably right, but residents’ views are being considered and Sovereign’s listening.

With that in mind we were really pleased to congratulate Gordon Holdcroft on being appointed Chair of Sovereign’s main Board. Gordon very much supports resident involvement – he was the Board’s representative on the previous Resident Council and then the link with the Partnership since merger. While we’re very sad to lose such direct involvement with him, we know he’ll continue to champion the role of residents in his new wider role, which is great news.

There are exciting times ahead!