The maddening drip, drip, drip of a leaky tap. Sitting in the dark, unable to even make a cup of tea, after a power surge or blown fuse. Curling up under a duvet on the sofa, because the heating doesn’t come on until later and the flat is icy cold.
In these and countless other familiar household scenarios, most residents would love to do something constructive. The problem is that many just don’t know how.
A task as seemingly simple as resetting a trip switch can seem daunting to those who have no experience of dealing with electricity. Adjusting the heating might seem an alarming prospect for anyone without technical knowledge. What’s more, for many there is a genuine, if sometimes misplaced, concern that they will be penalised by their housing provider for damaging the property if they attempt to fix or correct a small repair problem.
The value of responsible residents
Of course, the reality is that providers are very happy for residents to take more responsibility for their homes, make certain improvements and manage everyday repairs and tasks without needing help from the works team or contact centre. Not only does this help to keep everyday management costs down, but it also builds a more pleasant environment in the long-term.
Housing minister Grant Shapps has said tenants could be offered a ‘tenant cashback’ scheme, of up to £1,000 per year to maintain their own homes in an attempt to control the repairs budget. He said, “Social housing should act as a springboard to help people make life better for themselves. When residents take pride in their homes, it saves their landlords cash so I think that it’s right that tenants should benefit too.”
Housing provider Moat welcomed the announcement, with its chief executive, Brian Johnson, saying, “We believe that the most successful relationship with residents is one with reduced bureaucratic control and increased empowerment. The government’s announcement fits perfectly with this belief, offering tenants responsibility for their repairs budget and more power over the services delivered in their areas.”
Improved information & increased responsibility
For a number of housing providers, the answer to this challenge is through improved resident information – literally giving residents a handbook that explains how to fix common problems in the home. This information is provided as standard in all properties, and while it doesn’t oblige residents to do more around the home, it means they can if they want. When the alternative is calling up and then waiting for an electrician or plumber, it’s an opportunity many residents are willing to take.
These handbooks can have diagrams and clear step-by-step guidance to completing tasks – vital when you have to fix something by torchlight! More importantly, the guidance demystifies the problems, provides a list of any tools or equipment needed and highlights possible safety issues.
As well as covering basic maintenance, the guides can also include useful tips and recommendations. For example, in addition to explaining how to set and adjust the central heating system, it might also cover the efficient use of central heating. In this way, the guidance becomes more than an emergency handbook and actively enables residents to take more responsibility for their home. It also indicates the kinds of improvements residents are entitled and encouraged to make, such as decorating their home.
Realising the benefits
As a provider of housing handbooks and guides, we would naturally recommend that when searching for such a guide, housing providers should look for one that has been in use for a number of years and has benefited from user feedback and continuous improvement. As a result, you can be confident that the content will meet the needs of your residents, removing the time and cost involved in developing your own.
More importantly, the cost savings really add up due to reduced dependency on the provider to fix simple faults and undertake everyday maintenance. Works teams can focus on tasks that genuinely need specialist skills, and residents no longer feel reliant on the housing provider for every single problem.
In other words, enabling residents to help themselves ultimately helps providers to deliver better services while reducing unnecessary operational costs.
Peter Graddon is a director of Omfax Systems.