We want our housing services to help our residents to be more independent and resilient so they can achieve their aspirations. So we put a great deal of effort into helping them to sustain their tenancies.
At a time when most housing associations are seeing their rent arrears go up as a result of the impact of welfare reform and a tough economic climate for those on low incomes, our arrears have actually fallen to a record low of 1.99%, compared to 2.8% last year.
This has largely been due to the investment we have made in targeted, specialist support for residents. We recognise that, while residents have a responsibility to pay their rent, we also have a duty to support those who are struggling.
Another remarkable success has been how we have reduced re-let times, which is the time it takes between a home becoming empty and a new resident moving in.
This has fallen by five days to an average of 21 days; this faster turnaround not only gets people in housing need into a home much more quickly, it generates more revenue for us, which can be reinvested in homes and services.
The tenancy support advisers (TSAs) that we recruited in late 2012 to help minimise the impact of welfare reform on our residents have continued to help people who are struggling to make ends meet, and not just those affected by welfare reform.
Many of those who were originally affected by the Social Sector Size Criteria, better known as the ‘bedroom tax’, have been helped to move to a more suitable property, often through mutual exchange, or to find employment.
But some households are now affected by the benefit cap and the prospect of Universal Credit, while others are simply struggling financially, and the TSAs have been making sure that they're supported.
In 2014/15 we invested £3.3m improving the energy efficiency of some of our homes, and helping residents out of fuel poverty. Nearly 400 older properties had physical improvements including insulation and heating upgrades, saving these households up to £300 per year.
We also conducted roadshow events and teamed up with the Centre for Sustainable Energy to help residents understand how to save energy and reduce their utility bills.
- 395 homes received energy efficiency improvements.
- 220 homes lifted out of fuel poverty.
Sovereign takes its responsibility towards its most vulnerable residents very seriously; we sit on a number of local safeguarding boards and are highly valued by partners in this area.
All our employees have a duty to support and protect vulnerable adults and children in our communities, and safeguarding training and awareness is part of our induction process for all employees.
Even before the Care Act came into force, we had appointed a senior manager to take the lead on safeguarding issues, put in place clear policies and procedures on adult safeguarding, and who ensured all employees were familiar with adult safeguarding and trained in recognising the symptoms of abuse.
We offer three different kinds of specialist housing for older people and people with mental health problems or learning disabilities:
- Older persons’ housing
- Extra care housing
- Specialist supported housing
We also provide a care alarm service, to give peace of mind and help at the touch of a button, helping people stay independent in their own home.
In response to the cuts in Supporting People budgets in West Berkshire and Hampshire, we have introduced a new interim older persons’ service model.
This service, developed in consultation with residents, goes beyond what many other social housing providers are proposing in response to the cutbacks; beyond housing management issues, it includes a free care alarm for every resident and a dedicated officer to handle day-to-day enquiries and help organise community activities.
We still deliver support services to older people in Dorset and Oxfordshire.
After 40 of our homes in the Buckskin area of Basingstoke flooded in February 2014, we carried out a major programme of improvements to dry them out and refurbish them.
From late 2014, those residents who wanted to return began to move back into their homes. Among them were Charlee MacGowan, Jason Fellows and their children Ollie and Louie.
“My feelings were mixed when I came back,” Charlee said. “But when I saw it I absolutely loved it. It was better than it was before.”
Michael and Denise Walker, shown on the right, said it was marvellous to be back in their home after the flooding forced them out and the refurbishment work was completed.
- £2.3m spent refurbishing our flood-hit homes in Basingstoke.