National Scrutiny Week – working with residents to improve our services
31st Jul 2020
This past week, 27th-31st July, was National Scrutiny Week, an opportunity for tenants and landlords to celebrate the impact of working in partnership to scrutinise services. As Jenny Osbourne, Chief Executive of Tpas, explained: “It’s a chance for us all to embed our learning, showing how things can be done differently and have open conversations about the future”.
So how are we recognising this week at Newlon? Well, first of all, at our organisation it is not limited to one week or even one way of working. At Newlon we scrutinise in many ways to ensure that residents receive the best service and we improve satisfaction. We report to the regulator every year to let them know how effectively we are involving residents, and we provide an annual report on how we are performing against the Tenant Empowerment and Involvement Standard.
But resident involvement and scrutiny is not just something that we have to do, it is the right thing to do. This is because our residents are not only the recipients of our services, but they are at the heart of our social purpose. The latest iteration of our social purpose is set out in our mission statement: ‘To provide high quality, decent and affordable homes for people in housing need in north and east London’. We believe that involving and empowering our residents is integral to achieving that mission.
Our involvement processes are advertised through our website, in newsletters, and captured within our overarching and resident-created Resident Involvement Strategy. This strategy is guiding us with practical actions from now until 2022 and includes key targets around involvement in procurement, communication and monitoring of services.
So how do we do ensure that we deliver effective services that respond to an ever-changing environment that has more and more health and safety expectations and standards, including fire safety and Covid-19 requirements? How do we provide services virtually when many of our residents are used to more traditional ways of engaging – such as events, conferences or meetings?
One of the challenges with resident involvement in most organisations is ensuring that we listen to and integrate the residents’ voice across all of our services. At Newlon we recognise that this is an area for improvement. There have been some key contracts where we should have engaged with residents more.
We have worked hard to engage with our teams and senior managers, as well as getting buy-in and guidance from our Directors and the Board. And while this has helped to underscore the importance and value of resident involvement, we need to do better at creating the practical and day to day channels and processes for this to happen. One example is creating standardised wording that we can use in all contracts to ensure that contractors include social commitments to give back to residents. The other is to create a Procurement Panel of residents who can design, select and monitor contracts.
We have also worked hard to demonstrate across the organisation some of the successes of resident involvement:
- Satisfied and involved residents leads to fewer complaints, which means that our services are being delivered effectively and we are achieving the standards set out in our various service contracts – including repairs, gas servicing, lifts and cleaning. And by involving residents, we have seen big savings and better contracts: the recent cleaning contract asked residents for their input into frequency and standards, and their input helped us shape a contract that included excellent service and value for money. In fact, we reduced the price by over £500,000.
- We support over 45 Resident Inspectors that regularly check their buildings and report back to us to help ensure that standards of repairs and cleaning are upheld.
- We also have over 25 Mystery Shoppers who undertake three mystery shops per year. Together they run approximately 90 tests, which check our responsiveness, professionalism, and overall communication standards. We report the outcomes of these reports to staff, the Board and our residents. Sadly, we had dropped to our lowest level of responsiveness this past year, but have since improved and teams are putting in place more effective communication processes, including coordinated management of shared email inboxes.
- This past year we also developed a high impact scrutiny report on repairs and communications. This recommended a number of ways of improving how we track repairs and communicate between our contractors, sub-contractors and residents.
- Our Residents’ Forum meets four times per year and helps to provide strategic insights and make recommendations on how we can improve and we are grateful to this dedicated a group of 15 involved residents for their guidance and commitment. This past year we doubled the number of Resident Board members, undertaking an extensive and effective recruitment process. We now have two excellent new Board members: Lloyd Gale-Ward (who also Chairs our Residents’ Forum as well as Newlon Fusion, our charitable subsidiary) and Blossom Shakespeare (who is a member of the Residents’ Forum and Chair of our Complaints Panel).
As a result, we involve residents in strategic ways rather than simply having them take part on a surface level. This way our involvement processes positively impact our residents and communities, whether it is through procurement, employment, training, or social impact.
Also key for us is involving residents in the very fabric of our organisation’s ‘people strategy’, as part of interview panels, and ensuring that residents are able to apply to roles within the organisation.
We were proud to have been finalists for the Guardian Public Service Awards which recognised the achievements we have made in this area. With over 18% of Newlon staff being made up of Newlon residents, including over 75% of our Service Centre, this approach is both social and business-minded as we have seen an increase in empathy and improvement in communication and service across the organisation.
It also creates a virtuous circle as we actively employ our own residents and, in this way, practically and directly support our households and communities. It also means that our organisation reflects the communities within which we work: our resident employment programme is an important part of our Diversity Strategy and one way in which Newlon has been working to improve equality. This also reflects the priorities we have heard more recently from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ultimately, we want to see tangible improvements. This is what scrutiny is all about. We have seen satisfaction rise from 63% to 70% within one year, which we aim to continue to improve. We have more residents engaged than ever before, including at more strategic levels. In addition, our Mystery Shoppers have seen an improvement in responsiveness.
We are also working to reduce complaints and improve the way in which we respond and also solve problems for residents.
The key point for us is to ensure resident involvement is not something that happens ‘over there’, or that is somehow separate from the services we provide. As one of our involved residents put it: ‘It is about working together with residents. This will mean happier residents and a better experience. It has to be a two-way process. With Newlon’s various ways of getting involved, including Resident Inspectors, the Residents’ Forum, Mystery Shopping, and other means through which residents can get involved, Newlon shows that it cares.’
We certainly agree, so we will continue to engage with our residents to create a positive environment that improves both service quality and resident experience.
Head of Resident Services