Stuart Hough, Managing Director of Travis Perkins Managed Services discusses Brexit and the repairs and maintenance of social housing.
A lot has changed since the EU referendum in 2016. We have had three sets of elections, two Prime Ministers and even a World Cup, but although three years has passed, one thing we are no closer to knowing is what a post-Brexit Britain might look like. As October 31st — the UK’s current leave date — fast approaches, how will social housing providers navigate the opportunities and challenge that lie ahead?
The social housing sector has always been driven by political change, but mostly of a domestic nature. But like other sectors such as construction and manufacturing, the inherent uncertainty surrounding the Brexit process has created challenges for the social housing sector, too.
One particular issue the social housing sector faces, unlike other industries, is that any impacts on cost cannot reasonably be passed on to the end user and nor should they be. New social homes being built are already likely to cost more than before and nearly a third of social housing tenants are from vulnerable households, for whom cost increases are simply not acceptable.
The priority for social housing landlords is to provide and maintain high quality homes for tenants in communities across the country. And support functions that enable this are crucial, and none more so than those providing repairs and maintenance for estates. But landlords are under significant pressure to deliver higher-quality services and greater tenant engagement in an increasingly challenging financial setting. However Brexit is a significant, but often unforeseen issue in the sector with the potential to impact the cost of products and materials, the smooth running of supply chains and access to a valued workforce.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom and in fact there are plenty of opportunities for social housing providers to use Brexit as a catalyst to improve the service they provide to tenants. For repairs and maintenance in particular, a growing number of registered landlords are now adopting managed service models to help turn Brexit challenges into opportunities, and provide at least some element of certainty in what is an uncertain time.
Tackling the challenges
Importing materials for repairs and maintenance in social housing is an obvious place to start. Many of the materials used either come from the EU, or contain parts that come from the EU. Indeed, housing associations are heavily reliant on imported materials for important repairs to boilers or lift systems, or for their supply of softwood timber for walls and roofs, 92% of which originate from the EU. Put bluntly, Brexit increases the risk of border delays and the sourcing of specific products.
The first way managed service models tackle this challenge is through product standardisation. Having a defined range of products used across a housing portfolio streamlines the repairs process and minimises the delays in importing materials. Imagine trying to replace the kitchen taps across a housing portfolio with 50 different tap types, considering the time and cost of trying to locate each part from a different supplier and waiting weeks for it to then arrive from across the continent before the rest of the repairs job can be completed.
Supply chains are also feeling the effects of Brexit. The construction, maintenance and operation of the social housing sector is reliant upon ‘just-in-time’ delivery and supply chains. If materials suddenly stop arriving, deadlines are missed and time taken on site will increase, ultimately increasing costs. Evidently, this will also have a significant impact upon on the tenant experience. Social housing landlords can turn to managed service providers with UK based branch networks and supply chains to reduce risk during the Brexit process.
With each challenge comes an opportunity, and one particular opportunity resulting from Brexit is the re-evaluation of how technology is used by the social housing sector, particularly in reducing inefficiencies in the supply chain. Managed service models that use online systems and other technologies to track and schedule repairs and maintenance can make the repairs process seamless. One example is the Travis Perkins Managed Service’s TP Go app, which allows tradespeople to monitor repairs and maintenance in real-time to order and replenish stock quickly and easily.
But technology can also have an impact beyond the supply chain, making properties safer and giving landlords greater opportunity to improve tenant engagement and make tangible improvements to services. For example, Travis Perkins Managed Services has been working with the NEST (Google) system to increase safety in buildings, an issue of heightened importance in the wake of Grenfell. Through the NEST system partnership Travis Perkins Managed Services is aiming to install one million Thermostat E’s into social housing properties across the UK, improving building safety and enabling tenants to better track energy usage and reduce bills.
The political and financial challenges facing housing associations and local authorities are becoming more evident. There is a housing and affordability crisis, which will not go away any time soon, and Brexit could make this situation even worse. With little clarity over the future agreement, housing associations and local authorities have a window of opportunity to review their repairs and maintenance provision before the process is complete and assess the potentially significant upside of shifting to a managed service with a domestic supply chain.