Housing sector update – surviving, thriving and driving business

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the housing sector already had a challenging agenda in relation to risk management and managing change with the consequences of Grenfell, increasing housing demand and development targets and potential Brexit implications.

The sector has survived this challenging time through resilience and robust risk management.

Post-COVID-19 many providers have escalated their remote and home working arrangements and discovered an alternative service delivery programme with business as usual being the achieved objective.

The key to this is the significant work undertaken in relation to COVID-19 risk assessments, safe operating procedures, coupled with the need to ensure data security and meeting data protection requirements. Risk practitioners should ensure there are suitable records in relation to DSE assessments and appropriate training, to mitigate future employer’s liability claims.

But what about the wider horizon? The Regulator of Social Housing’s Sector Risk Profile identified some interesting challenges for the sector, and risk practitioners would do well to self-assess their organisation against its critical issues.

The need to adequately understand the legislative requirements relating to health and safety compliance following the reforms set out in the Building Safety Bill including the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator housed within the Health and Safety Executive will require a rethink of compliance arrangements. This includes the requirement to include evidence to meet the new standards and effective reporting to the board.

The quality of data a provider relies on is essential and the Sector Risk Profile makes a number of references to this. In simple terms the data held in relation to properties and customers is the life blood of an organisation and should drive decision-making at both operational and strategic level.

It is further identified that Boards should consider the impact that strategic decisions will have on different stakeholders, including diverse groups of current and future tenants, and be prepared to explain the factors that influence their decisions.

This will be affected by the quality of data and the clarity of the reports, and the ability to show they can justify that they have set the strategic direction for their organisations and can manage the risks that arise from these, including where there are difficult trade-offs.

Development carries significant risks that boards will need to manage, including the potential for impacts to financial viability and strategic objectives, as well as providers’ reputation with stakeholders. Boards will need to ensure they are managing risks to liquidity and financial covenants and assure themselves that they understand the implications from lower than forecast sales income, stress testing against feasible but severe scenarios.

It is essential that boards have the appropriate skills to understand and challenge the broad range of information and advice they receive, and while this can be dealt with through board development activity and succession planning, it may be prudent to review the format and detail of reports they consider. It is essential that boards have a clear line of sight between the strategic plan, the impacts on all stakeholders and budgets and financial viability while simultaneously managing the risks to the business.

Changes in the role of the Housing Ombudsman and the published Complaint Handling Code provides further challenges and will potentially need a review of an organisation’s approach to complaints, the response and reporting arrangements and the ability to act on and learn from any perceived failings.

The one certainty we have in the sector is that we have many masters, some new and some established, that we need to be fleet of foot and able to flex in delivering prime housing to the satisfaction of our customers and that risk management is our key to surviving, thriving, and driving appropriate and proportionate change.

Carolyn Halpin, Senior Assurance Manager, Thirteen Group and Lead of the ALARM Housing Focus Group

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