Over the past 30 years I’ve worked in property services for seven social housing providers in England and Wales. My early days were spent on-the-ground in quantity surveying and property maintenance. I went on to lead the property services teams for Shrewsbury, South Shropshire Housing Association, Merthyr Valleys Homes and Wrexham Council.
Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve conducted an asset management review where applicable. It’s something that property services directors often do when they first come into post and should then review annually. It gives you an initial idea of what’s being covered, how your housing association is approaching it, what’s not covered and the risks.
Later down the line, an asset management review can show – to both the board and tenants – the value for money your team is providing. It can clarify why you have revised your strategy; for example, introducing longer life cycles or disposing of (or refurbishing) properties that weren’t returning a profit.
Throughout my career, I’ve honed the asset management review process. There are four main areas that I recommend focusing on when conducting an assessment. I’m keen to share my knowledge with members and hopefully this will help you focus your own evaluation.
If you don’t comply with statutory asset regulations, then you or your colleagues could end up in court. It’s that simple. Do you have systems in place to check and monitor compliance; is gas servicing being done correctly, are records being kept in the right way? What about fire risk assessments? Have the appropriate electrical tests been carried out? What about measures to prevent Legionnaires’ disease? Do property alterations comply with Construction Design Management (CDM) regulations? For example, if you are building an atrium, what methods are being used to lift the glass? How do you repair glass that breaks? What about safe cleaning techniques?
Spending money unnecessarily on stock maintenance is an issue for social housing. If a property is hard to rent and costing a lot to maintain then your asset management review should flag this up as one to investigate further.
A resident might not want to live in the property because it is on a hill and is too draughty. Even if you pay for insulation, the resident may still not want to travel up the hill and you’ve wasted money.
Do you have a system in place that helps you evaluate this information? Every time you repair a property, the data should be recorded and analysed. Are you repairing a door regularly because materials don’t stand up to the heavy wear and tear of a family home? Or perhaps the door is being damaged by the tenant and a re-charging process is required. Your review should identify these issues.
Programmes of work
An asset management review should assess why and how work programmes are being carried out. Are you exchanging a kitchen, not because it is no longer functioning, but because your replacement programme happens every 20 years? Could you extend it to 22 years? It might be more cost effective to buy a product with a higher price tag but a longer lifecycle. What about different products to suit different client bases? A family home may need a tougher kitchen than a property for older age groups.
This reasoning should be communicated in your asset management strategy, so your tenants, staff and suppliers understand key decisions and can be involved if necessary. Communication between departments around asset management can also drive down costs. For example, if you are putting up scaffolding to repair roofs, it will be financially beneficial to install solar panels or replace soffits at the same time.
Repairs and maintenance
A review should help you understand what repairs are being done, by who, your approach to emergency, urgent and planned maintenance work and how you communicate with tenants. If a tenant phones up about their fallen front fence, when can they expect a repair? If they haven’t got children and the fence doesn’t pose a risk, then the repair might not be planned for weeks or months.
Disrepair claims brought by tenants against housing associations for defective properties are on the rise, but landlords must have compliant systems in place, so they don’t financially cripple themselves by simply sending a team out every time any repair is requested.
And what about your DLO? What percentage of work are they being given? Do they have trading accounts to help you understand if they are profitable in certain areas and not others? Has action been taken to address it or do you get a sub-contractor in to cover those less profitable areas?
Well communicated, well connected approaches to managing housing stock, all driven by data, are crucial to boosting value for money. A thorough asset management review can offer a unique vista across a housing provider, helping to drive down costs and improve quality for years to come.
To help you manage your assets compliantly and effectively, PfH have a range of services and frameworks that have a proven to deliver value for our Members.
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