Is a DLO or partner model right for your social housing organisation?


Delivering a first-class repairs and maintenance service is vital for a social housing organisation, according to survey findings.

Tenants’ and residents’ organisations of England reveal how improved repairs and maintenance service is top priority for 40% of respondents. 

As an increasing number of housing providers have looked at how they can improve their repairs and maintenance service, one of the ‘hot topics’ has been that of the DLO (Direct Labour Organisation).

Trade publications including Inside Housing, Housing Excellence and 24housing have all covered the subject in recent months and the conversation around it continues to develop. A lot of the coverage has focused on how an increasing number of housing associations are creating their own in-house teams to complete repairs and maintenance work. In fact, our new eBook – Is Insourcing the Answer? – looks at the experiences of four organisations that have their own in-house teams. It considers why they chose to go down the DLO route and the results of doing so, along with helpful advice.

But there’s another side to the story

There are still many housing providers successfully working with external contractors to deliver work – sometimes exclusively and sometimes alongside an internal team. Clearly, the DLO model is not going to suit every organisation. It certainly has its benefits, but it also comes with its own challenges and costs. It’s a big undertaking and simply may not be a viable option for some organisations. Let’s also not forget that there are still many large and small contractors out there who do an excellent job for housing associations that choose to outsource their repairs and maintenance work.

Gilmartins and Origin Housing

A great example of this is Gilmartins. As mentioned in this Inside Housing article, they have been working successfully with Origin Housing since 2012 and the relationship between the two organisations continues to flourish. Origin pays for repairs on a price-per-property basis, rather than per repair. This provides them with a level of cost certainty and puts the onus on Gilmartins to get things right first time. The results speak for themselves, with customer satisfaction reaching 93% – a 10% increase on last year. (Source: Inside Housing Repairs & Maintenance supplement).

Every organisation is different

The main point to remember here is that one size does not fit all. Circumstance will dictate whether creating a DLO is the right choice or not. Moreover, the debate can extend beyond DLO vs. no DLO. Many organisations choose to have a DLO and also work with contractors. Another option, referred to by Scott Kay at Inside Housing as ‘the third way’, is to create a subsidiary company that is managed by an external contractor. The newly formed business employs a direct workforce and is owned by the housing provider, but is more or less fully managed by an external provider. This removes some of the challenges presented by creating a ‘full’ DLO but also means there is not a complete reliance on an external contractor (because the workforce and service would still be there if anything were to happen to the contractor).

At Oneserve, our aim is to help housing providers deliver a better repairs and maintenance service whichever approach they choose. We work with DLOs and commercial contractors, as well as with organisations that have both a direct workforce and work with subcontractors. All of our customers share a desire to constantly improve the service they deliver. This goal should, therefore, be the driver to deciding which delivery model is right for your organisation. The answer: the one that helps you achieve a better service. On a final note, you can read more about our housing repairs and maintenance software here. If you’d like to discuss how it could help your organisation, request a demo today.