Written evidence submitted by Stonewater [RSH 046]
Stonewater manages and owns more than 34,500 homes across England with over 76,000 customers and has one of the UK’s largest development programmes to help meet the rising demand for good quality, affordable housing. Our vision, quite simply, is for everyone to have the opportunity to have a place that they can call home.
We believe that all housing associations can contribute to ending the housing crisis and support the Government’s levelling up agenda. Our ambitious house-building programme aims to see us become one of the top five developers in the UK by volume, building a minimum of 1,500 new homes every year from 2022/23 and we are constantly looking to find new ways to increase this number even further.
Please see below our submission to inquiry into the regulation of social housing, addressing questions, 4, 7, 8
Yes, they are clearly defined. The Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman have different functions but have arrangements in place for the two bodies to work together.
The Memorandum of Understanding sets out how the Ombudsman informs the Regulator of potential systemic issues relating to compliance with the Regulator’s standards. It also confirms how the Regulator signposts tenants, or their representatives, who are seeking resolution of individual complaints, to the Ombudsman.
We welcome the Social Housing White Paper’s proposed reforms to the consumer regulation of social housing to strengthen the accountability of landlords for providing safe and warm homes, quality services and treating residents with respect.
The recent publication of the Regulator of Social Housing’s high-level principles and the consultation on Tenant Satisfaction Measures and statement on principles and regulation are helpful. We endorse the six consumer standard themes identified and we look forward to working with the Regulator to shape the new standard. We intend to pilot the Tenant Satisfaction Measures at the earliest opportunity to understand how they can help us to improve our customer service.
We have moved ahead of formal legislation as delivering the Social Housing White Paper is at the heart of our customer voice strategy and central to how we live and breathe our customer promise. We have identified responsible persons for safety and consumer standards and introduced a new customer voice function to lead our work to engage and empower our customers in line with the Charter for Social Housing Residents.
We are passionate supporters of the NHF’s Together with Tenants and we have benefitted from active engagement from over 3,000 customers shaping our services since April 2021, including our pet ownership, repairs and ASB noise policies, as well as active consultation and co-production of new initiatives for local communities.
We’ve recently launched a new ‘toolkit’ of customer engagement and involvement options. We’re particularly proud of our Community Champion programme, which empowers our customers to lead community improvements. We already provide clear information about how we spend our income to our customers and we involve customers in influencing our communications. This is supported by our new Customer Communications function, which is charged with supporting Stonewater to communicate brilliantly with our customers.
We have prioritised extending professional training and development across our teams and we are rolling customer service training out to our partners and contractors. We have also reshaped our Complaints and ASB service to improve our customers’ experience and perception. We continue to work hard at driving improvements in these key areas, which are prioritised in the Tenant Satisfaction Measures.
We are keen to move, as quickly as possible, to embed the new proposals fully and to that end, we would like to encourage Government to bring forward legislation at the earliest possible moment to embed the new consumer standard. We believe this will help our sector to demonstrate accountability to our customers.
We wish to emphasise the importance of the review of the Decent Homes Standard and to call for clarity as quickly as possible on what that standard will include. This will enable housing providers to plan investment to improve the quality and energy efficiency of homes.
There has been a suggestion that minimum energy efficiency standards could be incorporated into the Decent Homes Standard. However, many social landlords have already made commitments to improve their homes to a minimum of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C. Therefore, we would welcome confirmation from Government on any minimum standards to ensure we can use our resources as efficiently as possible and deliver the greatest the impact for our customers.
We would also like to highlight the importance of alignment across the Building Safety Bill, the new Decent Homes Standard and consumer regulation as this will help providers to focus our energies but more importantly, to provide clarity to customers about what they can and should expect from their landlord.
Finally, we believe there’s an opportunity for Government to provide leadership and build confidence about building safety as we move forward. Excellent communication with customers will be critical and we think a sector-wide communications approach, underlined by shared expectations on building safety across providers will be impactful and important.