Welcome to the WM Blog

Welcome to our blog  where staff from across WM Housing Group will be sharing their news, views and thoughts about our sector. We’re interested in conversations rather than just telling you what we think. If you’ve been intrigued enough to read, share your views with us in the comments section.

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Creating places where people are proud to live and work

Posted on 11 November 2013

What does our corporate vision really mean to an ordinary Joanna? by Joanna Selby, Boot Camp Project Officer.

In a recent employee survey carried out by ORC international over 70% of colleagues “would recommend WM housing as a good place to work”, 9% higher than a UK perspective. I agree. WM regularly invest in their staff, whether through training and career development, regular safety briefings or the great terms and conditions of employment we enjoy.

My colleagues throughout the business are thus empowered to work on the customer element of the vision.

Wherever they are in the business, whether directly engaging with customers day-to-day in the offices, repairs teams or contact centre or working behind the scenes in the many support services, we all strive to get it right first time, deliver an effective and value for money service and make best use of the resources we have available to us.

We also have a crack team working on our Journey to Excellence to provide us with the tools, systems and training to deliver and develop the best service for customers employing more flexible working patterns, newer technologies and streamlined systems over the coming years.

I suppose that is why my colleagues were so positive about working for WM Housing Group. All of the mechanisms we have in place enable us to focus our attention on creating places where our customers are proud to live and work.

Over the last 18 months, housing, rent and money advice officers have been working hard with our customers to support them through the welfare reforms. In the coming months customers across Coventry will benefit from a massive investment in their homes and estates through the Investment Plus programme and I’m currently seconded to Coventry Boot Camp, an innovative project working with NEETs to help them into apprenticeships and work placements to improve their life chances and aspirations.

All of these things provide a clear demonstration to me that the WM Housing Group vision includes both colleagues and customers. In addition, wherever we are in the business, whatever our contribution, we are all “Creating places where people are proud to live and work”

You can follow Joanna on Twitter @JoannaWMG and our Journey to Excellence programme using #J2Ex

It’s housing, but not as we know it

Posted on 08 November 2013

A look into the future of the housing sector by Katie Moore, Head of Business Intelligence.

In recent months, conversations in the housing sector and indeed other businesses, have been about the future:

  • What will it look like?
  • How can we can shape, influence it and fundamentally be best prepared for it?

Future gazing is tough and it’s even harder to imagine beyond the present because over the past few decades we have seen, and been part of, rapid change and innovation.

In this article I will look at the future of housing, particularly how it is influenced and driven by the politics of housing, the economy, societal changes and technology or more widely, business innovation. 

1. The Politics of Housing

Academics have alluded to the ‘perennial problem’ of governments failing to address housing and the underlying problems of this complex policy issue. Political ideology on housing has very much been themed around supply (typically addressing under-supply), homeownership and planning. Over the decades, party manifestos have had a greater or lesser emphasis on any one of these. 

One Rental Sector

Fast forward to the next decade and beyond. What will the political themes be? The same or radically different?  Speakers at the National Housing Federation (NHF) HotHouse forum I attended believe that whilst supply may still be an issue, there will be less distinction in tenure with the rental sector as a whole having one regulator. In one view this could work, but concerns were mooted about the gaps between the ‘poor’ renters and the ‘well-off’ renters which will create ghettos and social residualisation. 

I agree that the line will continue to blur between the private rental sector and social sector, especially with the move towards the ‘affordable rent’ regime. However, there needs to be stability with rents in the market otherwise this will create a rental divide based on income and lower standards of accommodation.

The future of politics could also mean more coalition governments which could create new political hybrids such as Lib:Lab and Con:Lib. 

The Housing Association Brand, a Thing of the Past  

One radical suggestion at the HotHouse debate was that there will be an end to local authorities as we know them. Could this create a vacuum of services which housing associations then provide? Will housing associations become hybrids of housing providers and community service providers? It feels as though the housing association ‘brand’ will be a thing of the past.

2. The Economy

Despite encouraging headlines that the British economy is on this way up, it is still in a fragile position only recently coming out of the longest recession in over 50 years. As a result of this, government spending has been severely cut to reduce the National Deficit.  Housing has been one casualty of these cuts seeing subsidy radically reduced for affordable housing development. 

The End of Capital Grant

Traditionally, housing associations need subsidy to develop affordable housing, however in recent years government policy has made housing associations ‘sweat their assets’ in favour of capital grant. I think it’s relatively clear to state that this trend will continue regardless of the political party and eventually lead to no capital grant. This has been debated by experts in housing for some time now. 

A New Social Housing Economy

With no grant or government subsidy available housing associations will need to cross subsidise with other ventures, usually of the commercial nature, and use the profits for subsidy. This isn’t new as many housing associations, including WM Housing, are doing this, but it will become the ‘norm’ and therefore mean we will have to operate in competitive markets. It will be crucial that we can survive and thrive in these markets to make a profit. The opinion at the HotHouse debate was that we will only see the existence of 10 large national housing associations which will be the outcome of multiple merger activity within the sector. I personally don’t see this as a good thing for housing as it would erode the very reason why so many housing associations exist (like WM), to serve local people and communities. However there will be a greater shift towards the commercialisation and the ‘housing element’ becoming a smaller part of the business.

3. Societal Changes

Living Longer

In 2012 we had the biggest baby boom since 1972 and it is now expected that 1 in 3 of these babies will celebrate their 100th birthday.  This means we could potentially have 160,000 centenarians in the UK in 2040 compared to a mere 12,640 in 2010. There is no doubt (according to the statistics) that we have an ageing population which brings a host of challenges.

The Impact of In-migration

In addition to our aging population we have seen increasing in-migration with highest proportional increase (due to new arrivals) in London, outer London and Midlands. Changes to demography means who we house or provide services for will alter, and how we do this will need to be modified to meet their needs and expectations. 

Living With Grandma and the Kids

We currently build small family homes (4, 5 bedrooms). In the future I think there will be more inter-generational living in the UK as in Asian cultures. This will demand larger homes to accommodate larger family sizes. We also need to build homes which can accommodate our ageing population and support independent living long term. 

4. Business Innovation

Business innovation isn’t something widely associated with housing, but if we look back we have a come a long way, perhaps not as far as we need to but we are catching up! 

We’re Already Changing

Most housing associations can now connect with their customers through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Seven years ago none of these existed as global phenomenon. We now use iPads and various other smart technologies to stay mobile and offer transactional services for our customers when 3 years ago tablets didn’t exist and smartphones were relatively new. 

The Pace of Change Increases

A debate I attended hosted by leading global technological organisation Fujitsu (Doing Business in: 2020) suggests innovation will continue at an even faster pace than we’ve previously experienced. Whilst we aren’t in the business of creating new technologies (yet) we do rely on technology to do business and provide the most up to date services for our customers and staff. 

Future thoughts on these focus on how we store and handle our data – cloud based storage is the future but has implications for safety and responsible use. Technology also doesn’t have to mean the death of customer service as in face to face but in the future this method will be the secondary option to online and other methods. 

Where next?

There is clearly a lot to consider when we think and about the future and how it will look and operate. To summarise my points above:

  • We will see the end of traditional governments, with the creation of a single rented sector. 
  • Housing associations will no longer exist but there will be a need for philanthropic organisations to exist and it will be up to housing providers to determine their own paths since there will be an end to grant bringing greater freedoms but also risk. 
  • We will need to build larger homes to cater for our ageing population and a move to inter-generational living. 
  • Technology will continue to drive businesses forward and change the relationship we have with customers but there will also be the challenge to ensure we use technology responsibly and in the most effective ways to enhance our services. 

Further reading

Recommended articles and other think pieces on the future of housing and business. 

Four big messages about 2033 by Boris Worrall, Orbit Group follow Boris on Twitter @BorisOrbitGroup  

Creating a newvision for housing associations by National Housing Federation follow HotHouse on Twitter @HotHouse2033

Housing Market Trends in England: A Look to 2030 study commissioned by National Housing Federation 

Doing Business in 2020 by Fujitsu and other key speakers

2020 Vision: Our team of futurologistspeers into mists of time published by the Independent  

Is the world of performance indicators really that dull?

Posted on 28 October 2013

Performance and regulation may not sound dynamic but it’s critical to the business argues Michelle Friday, WM Housing’s Performance and Regulation Manager

When people ask me the dreaded question “what do you do for a living?” it is usually followed by a deep sigh on my part and a mad panic to think up an interesting and dynamic description of my role, rather than bore them with the perceived dull world of performance indicators!

In truth I usually fail to make my job sound dynamic but the work of the Performance and Regulation Team is far from dull.

In the current economic climate WM Housing faces a bigger challenge than ever to ‘create places where people are proud to live and work’.  Like many of us, our customers are facing tough times ahead and it is more important than ever that our Boards, Committees and Senior Management Team have information at their fingertips that tells them how we are performing in all the business critical areas and what we are doing to improve areas that are falling short of our targets. 

In short:

  • If we are not collecting rent then we are unable to maintain and improve our properties and our estates, pay our staff and provide the services that our customers need.
  • If we don’t understand the impact of changes such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and Universal Credit then we can’t plan for a possible reduction in income and we can’t fully support our customers to meet the shortfalls in their income.
  • If we are not maintaining our properties then they will deteriorate and we run the risk of not providing our customers with warm, safe accommodation that meets at least their basic needs and not being able to let our empty properties.
  • If we don’t relet our empty properties quickly then we are losing rent, keeping our potential customers waiting and not creating places where people are proud to live.  

So, how can we possibly know how we are doing on these key business critical areas  without performance indicators?  

Yes, they are only an indication of performance;

Yes, you need to consider them in context and alongside other information; and 

Yes, you need to understand what is and isn’t included in the calculations .

But without that ‘can opener’ we can’t even begin to understand how we are doing and how we can improve.

I have recently spent some time helping our Customer Scrutiny Panels to interpret our performance information to give them the tools to determine the areas they want to focus their attention.  The customers on these panels have been brilliant!  They have been interested, engaged and committed to improving performance at WM Housing and have restored my faith in the job I do.

Maybe next time I am asked the dreaded question I won’t be so worried about putting the listener to sleep!!

Involvement is going places

Posted on 21 October 2013

By Dave Hider, Director of Housing Strategy

In Dave’s last post, he described his desire to see more enthusiasm for scrutiny. This month we see how Dave and the Customer Involvement team are creating a new future for involvement at WM Housing Group.  

We’re passionate about putting customers and community at the heart of our business, so much so we’ve been spending a great deal of time getting ready for a fresh take on our approach. 

Can we let you into a secret?

We got a little fed up with the old ways of involving customers. They, and our communities, are changing at a rapid pace and we need to catch up.

The rise of social media, changes to demography and community profiles, rising customer expectations and the need to show a clear return on the investment of our customer involvement teams, together with the advent of scrutiny continue to demand change in our business.

Biting the bullet for radical change

So we thought, why not bite the bullet and make some radical changes? Over the last 12 months, we developed a new customer involvement strategy and communities strategy with Group-wide action plans and a cross Group team to lead implementation. We reshaped our team, redesigned our involvement structures, set up new scrutiny groups and developed exciting thinking about investing in our communities. 

Structured approach to involvement opportunities

Our customer involvement opportunities now fit under 5 key headings reflecting the different levels of commitment that customers want to give and it’s a structure that provides an opportunity for customers to take on more challenging roles as their skills and confidence grow and to move from involvement with their local housing association to having an influence across the Group.  

  1. Governance
    Boards and customer scrutiny panels  

  2. Group wide plans / strategic involvement
    Our strategies, policies and procedures are reviewed with our customer groups to make sure we have their perspective on the documents that govern how we deliver our services. 

  3. Group wide themes
    A range of customer groups are now looking at specific topics like disability and equality, communications and issues specific to leaseholders and we have the flexibility to create ad hoc groups when we need them. 

  4. Local housing association plans
    Customers get involved at a local level with their housing association to monitor agreed action plans, analyse key performance information and shape local services. We are also involving customers more and more in interviews for key staff. Recent senior manager appointments have included customers on interview panels.

  5. Local housing association services
    Arrangements aim to enable local customer groups to discuss and shape local services. In most of our sheltered schemes and at our homeless project in Coventry, The Chace, customers meet with project staff to shape the service. Customers also set up and run their own local customer groups with the support of our customer involvement team and local housing officers.

Investing in the right support for customers

Our passion for customer involvement is backed up by an investment in skilled staff to support our customers. Specialist staff are based at each of our partner associations. Their sole focus is to engage with and empower new community groups, spending time with them to understand their needs, discussing rights and responsibilities of customers and facilitating their voice. 

It’s a new journey for WM Housing, and one my team and our customers are excited to be embarking on. We’ll let you know how we get on and perhaps next time, you’ll hear about our progress from a customer’s point of view.  

You can follow Dave on Twitter @davehider

Why Scrutiny Irritates Me!

Posted on 06 September 2013

By Dave Hider, Director of Housing Strategy

Some of you will recall that when the coalition Government came in 2010, they brought in a whole new way of regulating housing associations. Gone were the Audit Commission (the equivalent of Ofsted in schools) and the Tenant Services Authority. In their place was co-regulation. This suggested that Boards and customers were now in the driving seat as far as holding housing associations to account was concerned. Exciting, yet scary!

About 18 months ago, WM Housing started on its journey towards the customer side of co-regulation. You can find out more about what we set as our vision for scrutiny on each of our housing association websites. Just pop ‘scrutiny’ in the search box. There’s a video there to tell you more and some information on where we have got to so far.

I see scrutiny as something exciting

So, here’s my problem: personally, I see scrutiny as something exciting, empowering and transformational. Something that genuinely gives power to the people who ‘buy’ our services, BUT I can’t seem to find that many people that agree! Maybe I am talking to the wrong people!? There are a number of cynics out there and some of the most cynical have been some customers I have spoken to! ‘I don’t believe it will make any real difference’ is a comment I have heard far too often. 

As humans we love to scrutinise

YouTube, Facebook and the like, have scrutiny running through their veins. Through social media we’ve seen people, organisations and even nations rise or fall based on what other people think!

Most Saturday nights, up and down the country, people are scrutinising. Whether it’s the X Factor or  Britain’s Got Talent the nation is watching, judging, voting, getting rid of what they don’t like and asking for more of what they want. Now that is powerful. 

Scrutiny makes excellent business sense

Scrutiny is a whole lot more serious than these examples. It’s not just about a 2 minute look at a potential pop star and a vote, it’s about a serious look at what the local housing association is delivering, researching if it is delivering the best value for money it can, seeing what other customers think and validating their findings – that’s serious scrutiny

So if, as a nation we love scrutiny, why do more people not understand that if we get scrutiny right, it not only makes excellent business sense, it gives us a sense of what is or isn’t working. It builds loyalty and helps us continue to deliver excellent value for money by looking at service delivery through the eyes of customers.  

Get on board and scrutinise us!

So my plea to customers of Whitefriars, Nexus, Kemble and Optima is ‘get on board!’ Scrutinise us! Use this power that you have been given to give us a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ in our service delivery on repairs, customer service, dealing with ASB, rent collection and so on. Come and look at what we do, tell us if you like us or tell us what we can do better. We are interviewing NOW for people to join our panels. Join us! See our websites, call your local office or talk to our staff.

And my plea to staff at WM is to embrace scrutiny more and more as one way, a powerful way, of letting the people that matter, our customers, have their say on what really works.  

And finally, I’m not ONLY frustrated with scrutiny. I’m also really excited by it too! Having just spent a fair bit of time in the last few weeks interviewing for new panel members and a new organisation to mentor/support panels, most of our scrutiny panels are doing well. We’ve got 4 of them (to mirror our 4 locally based housing associations). The panel members give many hours of their time and have produced some good work from research they have done on areas of our business. All their reports are on our websites in the ‘scrutiny’ section if you want to see them.

So, some of our customers do see the power of scrutiny! More are getting on board now. How about you?

You can follow Dave on Twitter @davehider

  • Whitefriars Housing
  • Optima Housing
  • Kemble Housing
  • Nexus Housing
  • Family Housing
  • Signature Homes
  • Spectrum Development Partnership
One Parklands :: Rubery :: Birmingham B45 9PZ :: T 0121 457 4602 :: E info@wmhousing.co.uk
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