Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

I’m not one for New Year resolutions, they’re not worth the booze stained paper they’re written on. Whilst an arbitrary date might help some on the path to negating an annoying habit/chronic cake addiction, the reality is that most of us will fail to keep to those good intentions. Governments are not excluded from such foibles, especially when it comes to housing policy. Unfortunately, unlike the Konami games of old, you can’t just use a cheat code to solve a nation’s housing market problems. A pity really, given the way housing policy is currently heading we probably need all the ‘help’ we can get.

OK Time for Plan B

For all the positive vibes coming from the Barwell/Javid axis little has materially changed so far in May’s tenure as Prime Minister. The switch in rhetoric has been welcome, and you do genuinely get the feeling that Sajid Javid is sincere in his desire to improve the housing situation facing many in the UK. However rhetoric and reality have not quite met. At least not consistently. Indeed it seems at times that Mrs May is willing to do pretty much anything to help the housing crisis, apart from actually do things that will help on a practical level. Promises of a Britain that works for the many have so far fallen flat. That needs to change, sharpish.

Right to Buy, or at least its extension to Housing Associations, is seemingly getting kicked into the long grass (FYI check out Nick Atkin’s piece on why RTB has had its day here). Positive news over better regulation for parts of the PRS and the scrapping of lettings fees should help those renting. But policy and capital funding wise the Autumn Statement proved to largely be a bust. The vast majority of the £44bn earmarked for housing initiatives has been kept for demand side interventions. And of that all bar £15.3bn had already been announced.

A give away on Stamp Duty and a continuation of policies such as Help to Buy are not really what the doctor ordered. With Help to Buy being described by the Adam Smith Institute as being like throwing petrol onto a bonfire. Whilst the Stamp Duty cut is a great example of a policy that on the surface is great for individual households but is actually bollocks at the macro-economic level – a typical state of play for housing policy in the last 2 decades.

Elsewhere, although several million has been set aside to help with homelessness initiatives. Even here Theresa May has managed to piss me off. Her response at the last PMQs before Christmas showed just how little she understands the subject. She also showed that you can be right on a technicality, but utterly wrong on the bigger picture. Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sleeping rough. But regardless, the lack of a safe, secure and affordable home has serious detrimental effects. Still, shout out to Theresa May’s researchers for finding the one technical point where the homelessness situation wasn’t total crap. But make no mistake, as a country we’ve been regressing alarmingly on this issue since 2010.

Here Comes the New Sound, Just Like the Old Sound

Since the clusterfuck that was the Brexit vote and subsequent change of personnel in Government I’ve been hoping for a significant departure, in practical terms, from the clueless/ideologically driven housing policy under Cameron et al. Sadly, some honourable mentions aside, what we’ve had so far is more of the same.  Plus ca change. Some improvements have been made, but it’s all a bit piecemeal.

Still, it could be worse, the Conservative Party’s attempt at revamping its social media presence is nothing short of alarming. Honestly, Activate is probably the shittest thing I’ve come across on social media since Mogg-Mentum. It sounds like the start of a fight on Robot Wars for fucks sake. Who are these clowns? Have they met real life people? One only hopes that Conservatives spend more time on fine tuning their housing policy in the upcoming Housing Green Paper than they have on their current social media engagement strategy. Otherwise we really are fucked.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Emil Athanasiou (2015) Same Yet Different

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Big data, big problems

In the wondrous world that is social housing we collect a shed load of data on our customers/tenants/residents/people what live in our dwellings.  However as a general rule we have not been brilliant at a) using it effectively b) keeping it updated.  As Richard Blundell quite bluntly puts it we have historically been bad with data because we have had very little reason to need to be good with it.  As he also notes with the welfare reforms in full swing it is probably a wise move to get to know our customers.

Mr Blundell’s sales-pitch aside the chap does highlight one or two failings within our sector.  Over the years I have heard horror stories over ‘forgotten’ estates or of social landlords finding they have stock registered in places they don’t even operate in.  Having largely worked in roles that heavily use data (both on stock and households) I know how much of a ballache it is to keep on top of things.  Especially when idiots don’t put stock on the housing management system or, my pet hate, use spreadsheets to keep track of things like planned maintenance works.  If you have a housing management system with a planned maintenance module use the damn thing or failing that find yourself a new job.

If you are reading this and thinking that it doesn’t affect your organisation the chances are you are probably a bit too far up the food chain.  One of things that has struck me from a speech by Sarah Cooke, of Midland Heart fame, at last year’s Young Leaders Experience was her statement that the higher up you go up in social housing the less problems their appear to be with you requests, or with the organisation in general.  This is definitely the case in terms of issues around data.  Senior management want figures, not major caveats around why the figures are next to meaningless.  That is not to say that they are oblivious to the problems concerning data, just that they may not always appreciate how messed up things have been.

If you still thinking your organisation is OK tell me a) how many properties you both own and manage (split by tenure type please) and and b) how many of your customers have a disability.  I guarantee you if you ask question (a) to your finance director, director of housing and the monkey in charge of repairs and maintenance you will get 3 different answers (or at the very least two contradictory ones).  If you ask question (b) especially if you want to know the changes over a period of time, you will get a response with more loopholes than your average piece of tax legislation.

It’s not even the case that many organisations have bad computer systems, we just don’t use them properly or effectively.  Most data input will be done by housing assistants or your contact centre because these are the people that either have the most contact with customers or get handed all the crap jobs.  My question would be how often these poor sods get trained to correctly enter the data, probably not that often.  Actually, definitely not that often as my roles have required me to go and clean up the mess that is left in the wake of them incorrectly storing data.  You find that with a little encouragement, a handily designed idiot’s guide and some time and attention people get what is needed to be done.  Failing that a big stick works (joking…kinda).  Often things just need a little light maintenance.  One of my favourite mistakes to find is a new contact that has been made for an expected child.  Great, but the contact was set up in 2010.  Either that is one hell of a long pregnancy or someone has not been updating their records.  Apparently housing associations, like right wing Americans, appear to only care about children when they are in the womb…

Despite Nick ‘two face’ Clegg and co trying to distance themselves from the monumental travesty that is the bedroom tax (how the hell did Iain Duncan Smith keep his job? Is he their care in the community project?) it is likely to be around for a while.  And with things like Universal Credit and the benefit cap sticking about, better knowledge around our customers is always welcome.  All in all it is time we slightly upped our game around customer records, not quite a ‘must try harder’ but certainly a ‘room for improvement’ grade from me.  On a side note I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who spotted the old political trick of trying to bury bad news on a busy news day.  Kudos Jules Birch.  For more info on the bedroom tax take a look at Speye’s blog.  He is as accurate as he is prolific.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs at https://ngblog2013.wordpress.com.