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Our clients in housing are facing challenges with the triple whammy of Welfare Reform, housing shortage and the Right to Buy. These monumental changes can only succeed if housing associations have the right support, infrastructure and staff to handle the new housing world.
This article will focus on the new roles and skills social housing groups need to survive and thrive under a new emboldened Conservative Government.
Starting with Welfare Reform; who are the saviours you need to manage the changes, and who will you need to secure your revenue streams?
Universal Credit changes everything. Understanding the policy changes, liaising with the DWP and the Job Centre, and managing the digital transformation will require a new team member: the Welfare Reform Officer.
What is it – The main duties of this role are to mitigate the changes to the welfare benefits system for organisations residents. The position helps residents to prepare for these changes by helping them maximise benefits take-up. In turn, this sustains an RSL's income revenue stream.
Why is the role needed – A RSL's income revenue is overwhelmingly made up of tenant rent payments. Some organisations will have in excess of 90% of residents in receipt of Housing Benefit so the removal of direct landlord payment poses a risk.
Under Universal Credit, will instead be paid directly to the claimant, meaning this income revenue is no longer the same sure-bet it was before. The knock-on effect will be, an almost certain drop, in income collection rates, and an increased workload for RSLs.
When should RSL’s recruit – Now! The welfare reform programme is a huge shift from previous policy. And, as seen with the recent announcement of a further benefit caps, will continue to evolve and tighten. Universal Credit also has yet to hit many organisations and difficulties found in the test areas could soon become nationwide headaches RSL's will need to face.
Experience and Skills Needed- A strong and current working knowledge of the current and proposed changes to the benefits system is needed with many people coming from a money advice or Citizens Advice Bureau working background.
The simple, secure Housing Benefit payment you received as landlords is being replaced with the complex and unreliable process of Universal Credit tenancy payment. You need to mitigate the risk and streamline your rental payments.
Stepping up to the challenge are Money Management Officers and Tenancy Sustainment Officers. These guys will ensure the myriad of players (DWP, Job Centre, tenants and your staff) are collaborating effectively to secure the rent, and helping tenants to cope.
What is it - An Officer of this type would be required to help residents manage their finances. Specifically: budgeting, debt advice and benefit take up/income.
Why is the role needed – The role is needed to help residents manage their financial commitments and ensure that their priority bills are paid, greatly increasing their chances of successfully sustaining their tenancies.
When should RSL’s recruit – With the recent uncertain economic environment and substantial changes to the benefits system, most organisations will have this type of person in the post already. Those that don't will soon start to realise the benefit of this position when they experience increased rent arrears and their tenant's complex financial difficulties.
Experience and Skills Needed - Experience in a support capacity is advantageous, but a strong working knowledge of the benefits system and welfare reform is essential. Many people in this type of position will have a background in either Income Recovery or Debt Advice, possibly within organisations such as the CAB.
The UK is experiencing a housing crises and too much pressure (without enough support) is being placed on Registered Social Housing Landlords (RSLs) to supply affordable housing.
One of the government's hopes is that the vast sums of cash needed will be generated by selling off existing housing stock through 'Right to Buy'.
Time will tell whether this actually happens, but for now let us plan optimistically. What people and skills will RSLs need to realise the benefits these policy changes - and a most welcome injection of cash.
If ‘Right to Buy’ comes into legislation as the government has outlined, and if tenants acquire the mortgages necessary; RSLs will be selling their prime stock and investing the cash in fresh development.
What is it – an RTB Officer is needed to help manage the process of residents seeking to buy their Council or Housing Association property using the heavy discount benefit promoted by central government.
Why is the role needed – While this type of position has always been needed in some capacity, the recent extension to the Right to Buy programme will undoubtedly cause a huge surge in applications.
When should RSL’s recruit – Since the outcome of the general election and the announcement of the programme extension, many organisations have sought to re-deploy existing staff or start the recruitment process immediately.
Experience and Skills Needed- Due to the legislative knowledge needed, many people recruited to this position have been doing the role elsewhere. And those with a Home Ownership background have many transferable skills.
To build new housing stock, regenerate existing communities or just replenish the housing stock taken by Right to Buy, RSLs will need to develop. Therefore, RSLs will need a raft of construction professionals.
As an RSL manager, you will have to choose from either buying these services through consultancies – expensive – or developing your in-house teams, similar to the larger established developers.
The team you’ll need behind you to either develop new schemes or regenerate existing stock and communities.
Project Managers (PM) – no matter what your project these will be the main operational roles you’ll need.
The PMs you’ll need fall into two categories, broadly defined by the two stages of the development. First, the pre-construction stage, this includes: the identification and potential acquisition of sites; suitability of development or redevelopment; preparation of designs; and liaising with stakeholders.
It’s not mandatory for the pre-construction stage PM to have pure construction skills and qualifications; the focus is rather on solid Prince II qualifications, and experience of delivering medium sized projects.
For the construction or delivery stage, you will need a PM with skills and experience within construction. Roles and experience you’d expect to see on their CV include: surveying; construction management; quantity surveying, and quality control.
These professionals deliver the work during the construction stage and will see it through to the handover, and may continue their involvement until the final phase, known as the defects period.
Clerk of Works checks the standard and quality of the work completed to ensure it is done to specification and the expected quality.
Resident Liaison Officers act as the main conduit for communication with residents affected by the development; before, during and after the construction stages.
Quantity Surveyors will be tasked with managing the budget and supply of materials throughout the project.
Programme managers take a big picture view of all your related projects and coordinate them into one programme. Ensuring all resources from both your organisation, and from your suppliers are managed across each project to meet the overarching schedule and budget.
Both PM roles are integral to ensure a smooth project delivery from inception to completion. They manage a multitude of stages, stakeholders and considerations from the micro inter-organisational level, to the larger, macro regeneration considerations, which may even include various levels of local and central government.
The various auxiliary roles such quantity Surveyors, Clerk or Works, RLO’s and Quantity Surveyors help manage the various stages and stakeholders involved in any successfully delivered project.
Programme managers are essential for managing wider development strategies, and deliver organizational-wide expectations for complex development projects.
The specific requirements for each role listed above will vary but there are some general themes you’ll want to see:
· Proven track record of project delivery (budget and time)
· A clear understanding and appreciation of the social housing ethos
· Commercial discipline and an ability to control construction contractors
By bringing development professionals in-house – instead of sourcing it from external consultants – you will increase your ownership and responsibility of projects, and you will reduce your costs.
Your choice between contract and permanent staff will depend on your programme of development. But, even if you can’t commit to recruiting permanent staff, hiring contractors will still be far cheaper than paying property consultancies to perform the same task.
RSLs face considerable challenges when developing new housing in their communities, but the benefits are huge. The three benefits of development, listed in priority, are:
1. The whole fabric of the community is strengthened through housing development that is led by considerate RSLs like yours. Particularly important in urban areas.
2. Resident-focused development positions your organisation at the centre of the community. An independent institution residents can trust.
3. New housing can also generate fresh income from mixed tenure (which can be significant in the UK’s buoyant housing market), and by opening up access to government funding.
We've been helping housing associations and local authorities source the development staff they need for over a decade. If you need advice about skills, teams and salaries for your organisation, please call 020 7766 9000 and speak to one of our housing specialists.