The social housing landscape has changed significantly across the past five years. As demand for affordable housing has risen, its supply has not matched the same trajectory. Accelerated by societal turning points, such as the Grenfell Fire and the Coronavirus pandemic, the sector has faced significant challenges. Ensuring building safety, meeting decarbonisation targets and continuing to develop new housing are essential points that social housing providers must efficiently and effectively navigate.
Ensuring building and fire safety
In response to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, public inquiry turned its attention to building and fire safety across the social housing industry. As a result of the findings from Dame Judith Hackett’s Building a Safer Future report, systemic issues surrounding cladding, its production and use in particular came to light. As such, the drive to fix a broken system and accelerate cladding remediation has dominated the sector.
This challenge, driven by the need to ensure fire safety, is an immediate task. Removing unsafe cladding and ensuring housing safety is the primary concern for social housing providers, as outlined by the government. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, housing demand is requiring more homes to be built. This means that funding that could’ve been assigned elsewhere, whether it be for development or energy improvements, is being directed to ensuring building safety. Therefore, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s decarbonisation goals, social housing providers are being met with logistical and financial hurdles.
In 2019, the government introduced laws committing to greenhouse gas emission reduction to net-zero by 2050. For the social housing industry, balancing the need to achieve new energy targets with ensuring fire safety and developing new homes has become a crucial topic.
Decarbonisation in the social housing sector is crucial to the UK achieving the 2050 emissions target. The cost of decarbonising the social housing stock in the UK is estimated to be £104 billion. Significantly, this cost is in addition to the costs associated with ensuring safety standards are met, investment in properties to keep up with demand and routine maintenance and operations.
This has resulted in more providers turning to for-profit companies in the sector for partnerships in the development and management of housing. With increased investment costs cemented by legislation, the development of homes becomes a secondary requirement. For providers and associations, the drive to tackle the housing crisis in the UK is essential. By securing third party funding, social housing providers can alter their ownership structures, continue developing affordable housing and manage their unit stock effectively.
Using technology to minimise rent arrears
The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant financial impacts on people across the UK. Despite the government’s efforts to halt sharp increases in unemployment with furlough, this will be coming to an end later in the year. Whilst restrictions are beginning to ease, families’ economic stability could take time to mend. This consequently could impact the likelihood of rent arrears in the social housing sector.
More social housing providers and associations have turned to technology to ensure that rent arrears are minimised. By cutting out any errors, mistakes or delays caused by human error or inefficient processes, associations have been able to improve their operations and ensure their unit stock is managed as efficiently as possible.
Through automation, housing providers have been able to centralise and streamline the processes by which financial information is managed and tracked. Technology has enabled the social housing sector to remain fully compliant, reduce rent arrears and improve their efficiency in tracking rent payments securely and flexibly.