By Chris Proctor
The challenges presented by poor data (or lack of key data ….or any data at all) and record-keeping are increasingly evident in the housing sector, causing distress and basic health and safety issues for tenants and eroding trust in landlords.
This has been highlighted on several occasions in recent weeks and months as the social housing sector’s regulator and watchdog firmly tell providers to make good data a priority.
A report by the Regulator of Social Housing in June, shedding light on the lessons learned by housing providers regarding damp and mould, said that better-performing landlords excel in data management. They possess accurate and up-to-date information about tenants’ homes, leveraging it proactively to identify and resolve damp and mould problems.
But the flipside of the report was that a dozen landlords have self-referred themselves to the regulator over “a potential breach of the Home Standard due to damp and mould”.
This came hot on the heels of the Spotlight report by the Housing Ombudsman which showed the alarming frequency and breadth of these challenges and stated the compelling need for solutions.
Ineffective information and knowledge management can have severe human and organisational impacts, according to the Ombudsman’s report. It set out a situation where a disabled woman was left without a suitable toilet for more than a year, and other instances of tenants suffering extended periods of disrepair due to data failings. These stories are a strong reminder of how data mismanagement can manifest as real-world suffering for tenants.
Systemic issues, such as the inability to properly schedule appointments or unjust claims about ‘refusal of access’, are often rooted in data discrepancies. These issues compound the problems faced by tenants and often result in unjust accusations and exacerbate existing tensions.
In addition, the Spotlight report indicates that these information-related problems extend beyond a single case or two. In the year leading up to March 2022, the Ombudsman dealt with 191 cases where data and information management were central to the complaint. This resulted in 242 orders and 147 recommendations for improvement, a clear indication of the widespread nature of the issue.
Poor data management also significantly impacts complaint resolution times. When paperwork is required, it takes an average of 19 additional working days to return the necessary documents, sometimes even longer. This causes unnecessary delays in addressing complaints and further exacerbates the tenants’ issues.
At the same time as the Ombudsman’s report, the Regulator warned that rolling five-year stock condition surveys might no longer be sufficient, especially for landlords that rely on an out-of-date approach to data gathering. Fiona MacGregor, the RSH chief executive, underscored the need for more holistic and up-to-date data across the board, suggesting that landlords should integrate multiple data sources for a more comprehensive view.
This combined data should include fine-tuning repairs information, requests from tenants and complaints, along with assessing whether issues such as damp and mould in one property are prevalent across an entire estate. Relying on out-of-date and less proactive methodologies is no longer enough.
Both the Regulator and Ombudsman have been pretty clear in terms of what they want and expect from providers. The Regulator has even stressed the importance of focusing on tenants’ needs rather than just striving to maintain a high grade.
The ball is now in the providers’ court and time is ticking on the data challenge. Too much is at stake for the sector to fail.
At Oneserve we know how effective data and information management is critical to improving services and satisfaction for tenants. The social housing providers we work with understand the impact of adopting a more sophisticated approach, ensuring data synchronisation, appropriate staff training and using comprehensive data for an accurate overview. We continue to work with the sector to help providers make informed decisions based on accurate, real-time data to prevent the human and organisational impacts of poor data management.