New volumes of complaints to the Housing Ombudsman show how vital it is to meet residents’ expectations quickly.
The Housing Ombudsman recently published its latest statistics on complaints in 2022/23. These outlined a huge spike in maladministration findings compared with previous years; for the first time, over 5,000 complaints were escalated for formal investigation, representing a 27 per cent increase on the previous year.
Meanwhile, new research from Housemark, the first to delve into tenant satisfaction measure (TSM) scores, has found that around 40 per cent of tenants don’t believe their housing provider listens to their comments or takes action to remedy problems.
Holding housing providers to account
TSMs are intended to make housing providers’ performance more visible to tenants and help them to hold their housing providers to account. They cover five main areas: keeping properties in good repair, maintaining building safety, effective handling of complaints, respectful and helpful tenant engagement, and responsible neighbourhood management.
Housemark’s research also found that only a third of tenants are happy with their housing provider’s handling of complaints; there is obviously some way to go to improve these scores.
We all know it’s vital to handle complaints effectively. It isn’t just about the communications and the resolution, but also having the right training, the empathy to deal with different types of customers and updating customers within a reasonable timeframe.
Turning to tech to minimise complaints
The focus on shifting to digital channels has enabled housing providers to share essential information faster and more easily, minimising the need to call or email for every interaction.
Better case-management automation contributes to updating customers regularly so they feel their problems are being heard and acted on. This leads to improved customer service and satisfaction and the prevention of such complaints in the first place; it’s all about building trust with your customers.
‘First-time fixes’ in terms of available information has never been more important in a world where technologies such as repair diagnostics, smart-home sensors and monitoring solutions, building information management and digital twins help housing providers to proactively monitor and prevent problems from arising in the first place.
More focus on using this data to assess trends around fuel poverty and proactive monitoring to avoid rent arrears also support the need for smart-home technology and moving ahead with digital twins.
Forecasting stock condition
The return on investment, let alone the indirect cost-savings through improved service provision, can be realised within months of implementation. The future of how stock condition can be forecasted, planned and delivered can also change by using proactive monitoring technologies, leading to improved satisfaction and, in turn, fewer complaints.
If we consider repairs, tailored help articles on tenant portals or Alexa/Siri devices can help avoid repairs. These can also improve tenant satisfaction because tenants might be able to resolve the problems before they lead to a necessary repair, all helping towards reducing the volume of potential complaints.
With many housing providers and local authorities citing fewer resources to deal with customer volumes, technology must be considered to help improve communication, visibility, insights and trend analysis, along with further proactive monitoring to help meet the requirements of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act.
Prevalence of damp and mould
One high-focus area of complaints concerns damp and mould. A 2023 report from the Regulator of Social Housing reviewed progress in this area and found around six per cent of social housing stock in England had some form of ‘notable to severe’ damp. At the same time, the best-performing housing providers were using a wide range of data sources to feed into the overall picture on stock condition, including responsive repairs requests and complaints. They also had accurate and up-to-date information on their tenants, including potential vulnerabilities and language requirements.
It’s evident there needs to be a shift in tenant satisfaction to avoid time-consuming and expensive administration. We need to ensure tenants are living in homes where they feel comfortable and safe, and where complaints are the exception rather than the rule when engaging with their housing providers. Although the number of complaints has risen, there are also many lessons around housing providers’ good practice.
Combining the latest technology with the desire to boost tenants’ experience will no doubt see more improvements for the future.
Helen Rogers is the director of product management at Civica.