The social housing sector is experiencing a myriad complex challenges that need to be promptly overcome. We have a growing population combined with an affordable housing shortage, national economic uncertainty and increased political focus on us from the housing Green Paper and the recent Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, to name but a few, and all the while ensuring that properties meet the required safety and compliance standards within increasingly tight budgets.
It’s probably one of the toughest times to be a social housing provider so that’s why the housing sector must evolve and embrace technologies that can help meet increased demands, alleviate day-to-day pressures and ensure our tenants are safe.
When it comes to gas safety, we need to avoid the trap of finding other responsibilities that may be deemed to be more pressing or urgent to deal with because “gas looks after itself”.
And rather than say the obvious thing and explain that gas safety should be an equally major consideration for all housing providers, perhaps the time is now right to re-assess how things are done when it comes to gas management? Remember, the social housing regulator asks the sector to “think beyond statutory compliance”. That’s why I would encourage every reader to seek out technologies that improve efficiency, support best practice and take away some food for thought regarding your current gas safety management process.
Maintaining workforce standards
Whether outsourced or in-house, there needs to be a process to ensure that visiting engineers have the correct competencies and are qualified to complete work at the property. Research by the Gas Safe Register finds that tenants in the UK don’t tend to ask the engineer for ID and as a consequence an estimated 1.1 million illegal jobs are carried out every year. Technology exists to help remove the administrative burden of manually checking those credentials and, more importantly, verifies that the engineer has the relevant Gas Safe qualifications to do the work safely.
Managing access and evidencing attempts
No access to a property is a frustratingly common issue and is estimated to cost the sector over £500 million over the next ten years; each attempt costs around £50 and first-time access rates can be as low as 30 per cent. But how do we know if the engineer has actually attempted access? How do we know the best time to gain access?
Again, technology can provide the answer. Providers can use technology that will prove the engineers attempted access by time- and date-stamping, recording their location and demonstrating real-time photographic evidence of the attempt. We can also use predictive analytics from data collected to make informed assumptions around the best times to reach tenants and avoid wasting time and effort on missed appointments.
Driving positive engineer behaviour
Each time an engineer visits a property and completes work, without technology we can’t know for certain if the work consistently met the required standards. Even if an engineer has the correct qualifications, there are still on-going industry-wide issues regarding poor workmanship. A ‘Which?’ consumer report found that eight out of 10 qualified engineers who conducted a regular annual inspection failed to meet legal requirements.
To help tackle this issue, providers can implement systems which guide engineers and standardise the process of servicing, with prompts to remember each action via smartphones. All work can be stored in the cloud, available for analysis at any time, helping providers to identify the areas for improvement.
Unlocking true compliance
We need technology to understand where we’re truly at when it comes to safety and compliance. It could be said that we have more technology available to us when ordering a pizza or taxi and often we’re committed to old methods which lack the transparency required to make sound judgments.
It’s not that we don’t ask the right questions, but it’s whether we ask them in the right environment to the right person. In academia, when any meaningful research is conducted, there are measures taken to ensure that the respondent(s) selected have no biases and are placed in a neutral environment that won’t influence the response. In any pressured work environment, where our reputation is questioned, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction for us to protect ourselves and say that we know the answers, when the reality is that we sometimes don’t. Through applying technology that can give us the assurance needed to give confident answers, we can prove that properties are safely maintained because we have the real-time evidence to back it up.
As the sector evolves and the management challenges intensify, we need to be brave and seek technologies that can simplify our everyday working lives.
I believe the phrase ‘transformation’ insinuates that there is a lot of effort and a major overhaul involved, thus we create mental barriers to procuring new technologies which are in actual fact a fairly simple decision, often with minimal effort for maximum output.
We can’t say that technology will eliminate all of the problems that we face as a sector, but the right technology can be used as a tool to help us do the absolute best we can. After all, compliance is a journey, not a destination.
Stewart Davison is the business development director at Gas Tag.