The Estate We’re In

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London at Night (Churchill Gardens) by Scott Wylle

For many Estate Services is the weird and wonderful offshoot of the more glamorous Responsive Repairs and Planned Maintenance aspects of a landlord service provision. Perennially unpopular with a vocal minority because it is often paid/charged for in addition to rent, if you get this badboy right you are doing very well indeed.

A bit like our sector, part of the issue is the incredibly diverse nature of the beast. Internal cleaning of communal areas, litter picking, grounds maintenance (communal gardening to you and me), in some cases waste collection and disposal plus a host of other bits and pieces fall into ‘estates’. Also, as a rule we don’t always help ourselves. Larger organisations can potentially have distinct variations in what should in effect be the same service provision. From internal to external teams, differing service level agreements (SLAs) depending on location. Estates split between different providers, estates overseen by caretakers as opposed to ground maintenance teams. Think of all the different ways of managing an estate and a Housing Association over 10,000 units spread out across more than 2 counties will no doubt use each and every last one of them.

What can be Done?

The first thing to do is know who is doing what and where. Considering estates don’t move (a lot like stock, but that is a whole different kettle of fish) you would be amazed at the confusion over who EXACTLY does WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. To resolve this issue I would suggest your estates team sits down with your GIS team, stock up on coffee and donuts and no-one leaves until everything is agreed, NO-ONE. If you haven’t already rationalise the ways in which the service is being provided. Variations on a theme, not a box of Celebrations here kids. Variety isn’t always the spice of life, not when you’ve got to manage micro-SLAs at any-rate.

Next communicate with your customers. It is a common, repeated mantra of mine. Treat your customers like adults and they will respond as such. A significant number of customers won’t see the boys and girls out and about as they will be at work so manage expectations. Clearly state the Grounds Maintenance ‘seasons’ i.e. that in Winter the grass won’t be cut as often as in Summer. Point out that no the service will not do your lawn, unless you want to pay for it. Bulky waste clearance is not part of the job description. Arrange on your own to get your old sofa to the tip. Even if it’s a bulk text with a hyper-link to information on your website, that is better than no communication. Or worse still, flyers left in communal hallways.

So far, so basic, what else?

Make more information available online, and to your contact centre. As a sector we have this existential angst over getting people online. Quite often the brutal truth is that people don’t use the online offer of Housing Associations because it is crap. But, allowing someone to put in their post code on your website and have it bring up live, useful info like the below might help resolve that. It sure as hell beats the patronising waffle or PAY YOUR RENT NOW malark that makes up most of the content of the sector’s websites.

  • Who is responsible for the various bits of estates services in their area
  • A breakdown of what the service charge pays for
  • When different ‘seasons’ of ground maintenance start
  • What work is actually undertaken in those seasons
  • A map (copyright permitting) of the areas covered
  • Who is responsible for tree maintenance

So there you have it, a quick look at the ins and outs, and potential solutions to Estate Services. Who said housing isn’t sexy?

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here

 

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3 thoughts on “The Estate We’re In

  1. Neil, following on from postponements to rent decrease and LHA, DWP think “they’re at it” (i.e. HAs are milking the system – raking in HB) so there will be a review of service charges. You are on to a rich seam of analysis here about what is a service charge and what is ‘benefitable’. Also the implications of withdrawal of funding of services on estates. Complex area.

    Like

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