‘We must set our tenants up to thrive not to fail. That is why we are moving to furnished tenancies’ – read our Chief Operating Officer, Kate Still’s, comment piece for Inside Housing
Our Chief Operating Officer, Kate Still, has written a comment piece for Inside Housing about our Fresh Start Standard.
Inside Housing is a publication that covers news in the housing sector.
Kate talks about we have to make a real difference to people’s lives and not set them up to fail.
Read Kate’s comment piece here:
We need to face a stark reality: often when we let our homes we are setting our tenants up to fail. Alison Inman made the point perfectly recently when she argued that new homes should be furnishd as standard.
We are “sending people into the arms of high-interest loan providers”, she said.
Alison is right. That is, unfortunately, exactly what we are doing when we give people a home without any of the essentials that they need.
Earlier this year we set about piloting a new standard for re-letting our homes with a view to fundamentally rethinking it. Our current model is not unusual – decorating vouchers and no flooring, white goods or furniture. Nonetheless, we believe this needed to change.
One of the first things we did was go out with people when they first walked into their home so that we could experience it first hand.
I’m not afraid to admit that the reaction of some people during the project made me feel ashamed.
As social housing providers, we are often stepping in to provide a home that is helping people out of very challenging circumstances.
Imagine being in that situation and then walking into a house with your children and seeing it has no furniture, nothing on the walls, no white goods or even carpet.
For many people, entering their new home feels like one step forward and two steps back.
One of our customers said all she could think of was how she was going to buy everything she needed as a bare minimum and the impact that living without this while she saved up would have on her children. Others said they would rather remain in a homeless hostel.
In the end, many people in this position get high-interest loans or take out finance deals to get hold of the things they need. Not televisions, games consoles or the luxuries some would have us believe, but a bed for their child, carpets, fridges – the things we can all agree we couldn’t live without.
It’s no wonder that just months down the line many of these tenants find themselves in trouble and struggling to pay their rent. And this too often spirals into a situation which is overwhelming and irretrievable.
To tackle this we created a super team made up of the people across our organisation who were closest to the re-let process. They worked with an innovation company to lead on what has become our ‘Fresh Start Standard’.
This new standard includes bright, clean decoration and flooring – what people told us they wanted during our research phase – as well as white goods.
We piloted the Fresh Start Standard on 10 of our homes during October. The reactions of the people who moved into them was one of shock for all the right reasons.
Suddenly people were walking into a place that they could make their own without spending thousands of pounds in their first few days or be faced with crushing worry about how they were going to cope. Instead it was a place they were happy for their children to stay.
Clearly there is work still left to do to roll out the model across our portfolio. For example, we are working with white goods providers to come up with low-cost lease options which we can offer through a tiny weekly charge, and developing furnishing packages of which some can be funded through the care grant process.
Our board recently approved a £1m package of funding that will allow us to expand the Fresh Start Standard to 300 of our existing homes in the next financial year. All our new build social rent homes will also adhere to the standard from next year. Eventually, our aim is to apply it to every home we let.
We are phasing the process as it does require us to learn continuously about how to do this right and maximise the benefits for our customers and our organisation.
We know all this will place our void costs in the bottom of the lowest quartile of performance in the sector, and for us that is absolutely fine.
We need to change the narrative that low void costs equals good performance.
Social housing’s roots are about tacking inequality in all its forms. It was always about so much more than physical shelter, it was about giving people a foundation in their life – the base and the skills they need to be resilient and to play their part in society.
When we put people into an empty home with no decoration, flooring, furniture or white goods, we are betraying that vision.
Yes, there are challenges involved – but we must be willing to find ways to do this because this is how we will make a real difference to people’s lives.