Small housing association of the year: finalist

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1 Small housing association of the year: finalist Rockingham Forest Housing Association: Countdown to change Please provide evidence of how your housing association is delivering high quality services to residents, across a range of service areas Rockingham Forest Housing Association does not allow our size to limit our aspirations or our residents opportunities. We are a small, top performing organisation that is community based, independent, financially robust and has an excellent reputation in our local area. We see our small size as a big advantage, we are quick on our feet, flexible and innovative. We achieve top quartile performance in the following KPIs (evidenced by HouseMark benchmarking): Service Area RFHA Performance Emergency & urgent repairs completed in target % Routine repairs completed in target 98.83% % Repairs right first time 92.00% % Properties with gas safety certificate % % Properties meeting Decent Homes Standard % % Rent collected 99.90% % Arrears 2.04% % Rent loss of voids 0.36% % ASB cases resolved in target 98.00% Our excellent rent collection has been achieved without evicting a single tenant for several years. We pride ourselves in supporting tenants to create successful and sustainable tenancies. Our customer satisfaction levels are high. We consistently achieve 100% satisfaction with the telephone handling and lettings services and 95% satisfaction with our overall service, repairs and complaint handling. In 2011, we were awarded the Customer Service Excellence Standard and for over 10 years have been recognised as a Positive About Disabled People organisation. We achieve excellent resident participation results by using Facebook, Twitter and texting, alongside traditional methods. We have customer profiling data on 95% of our customers (top quartile performance) and know that our main client group are young families who respond well to electronic communication. We have been successful at contacting hard to reach groups, such as young parents by being creative and innovative. In the last year we have hosted Pamper Days where parents can come along to have beauty treatments (mums & dads!) while we mind the kids.

2 We are more than just a landlord, we provide a range of added value services for our customers. In addition to our Countdown to Change! project, which is the subject of this award application, we ve run Skills for Life training for residents in partnership with Groundwork UK. This project has been developed in direct response to feedback from the Residents Challenge Group, who asked for training in areas such as basic cooking and budgeting and practical things such as how to bleed a radiator or unblock a sink or vacuum cleaner. We have also provided gardening and decorating services for residents with the support of Community Task Force and in 2009 won the national What We Are Proud Of award for our Sports Week project, which involves the staff team providing a week of fun events for residents children during the Summer holidays. Our high quality services are provided by our high quality staff team. Last year we achieved IIP Gold standard and were commended by our assessor for the enthusiasm, skill and commitment of our staff. Our mission statement of Exceeding Expectations drives us to be an excellent employer, as well as an excellent landlord. Please tell us about a specific project or achievement which sets you apart from other good performing housing associations The project that sets us apart is Countdown to Change!. Which aims to help residents prepare for welfare reform and make the most of their finances. Our financial inclusion work began in 2009 when we hosted a workshop which triggered the formation of the North Northants Financial Inclusion Partnership. As a result of a series of high level discussions, the partnership was successful in bringing affordable credit to the area for the first time via a DWP Growth Fund tender. Midlands Community Finance (MCF), the CDFI that won the DWP contract, operates from the Association s offices two days a week. We were delighted to be able to give office and interview room facilities at no charge, to minimise operating costs, and organised a highly successful marketing and publicity campaign to raise awareness of the service. Priority access to independent debt and benefit advice is available for our residents through a funded partnership with Community Law Service. We have run Making the Most of Your Money advice sessions for staff and residents, facilitated by the Money Advice Service. A Money Advice Service on-line health check is available via our website. It s quick and easy to complete and provides our residents with clear and simple advice to enable them to manage their money more effectively. The next stage of our project was to help residents prepare for welfare reform by providing information in a range of formats, including a HB Changes Impact Assessment Calculator on our website, which helps residents assess how they could be affected by benefit changes, and our Countdown to

3 Change leaflet which was mailed out to all tenants. Why is your approach innovative/unique? We believe our approach is innovative because we think ahead and have shown that you don t have to have big budgets to have big impact. As a small organisation, it s important that we are resourceful in finding ways to deliver added value initiatives. We have been able to accomplish a great deal with minimal expenditure by using what we have to best effect. Our total budget for financial inclusion initiatives is 5K, which we use to help fund Community Law Service. Most of what we have achieved in our financial inclusion work has been done by donating staff time and facilities. Although we are small, we are very influential in our area of operation and have built up a great reputation for partnership working. By active networking we have formed some highly successful partnerships, which have enabled us to deliver services we would not be able to resource in house. Our next resident s event demonstrates our innovation and how we use partnership working to benefit our customers. Partners from a number of organisations, including Natwest and Asda, will be on hand with staff to offer advice to residents about a wide range of issues including housing, benefits, returning to work, education and healthy eating on a budget. These informal family friendly events provide an opportunity for residents to access services in an non-threatening environment. This year s event will be held on a Saturday at a local family run pizzeria which is a cost effective venue and the offer of free pizza is already proving popular. Please provide evidence to demonstrate the positive impact of your project or achievement for the communities involved It is evident that our Countdown to Change project has had really positive outcomes for both RFHA tenants and also our wider local community. Our partnership with MCF has seen fantastic results this year as there is now a high-profile base in East Northants to directly challenge the presence of the doorstep lender. MCF offer a competitive interest rate of APR 40% compared to APR % offered by the typical doorstep lender. In real terms, a loan of 300 with MCF would cost in interest over 52 weeks compared to 246 in interest with a doorstep lender. MCF report the following lending activity from RFHA s offices for the financial year to date, which clearly demonstrates the scale of the dent being made in the local doorstep lenders pockets: 221 customers have been seen 95% were social housing tenants 25% were RFHA residents and 75% were from our wider local community 185 loans have been approved so far

4 The average loan amount is of these loans have been made to RFHA tenants, totalling 30,250. That s over 82,000 in interest that s not going to doorstep lenders and an extra 70,000 that RFHA residents have in their pockets so far this year, which impacts on their capacity to meet other financial commitments, such as rent. As we Countdown to Change in April 2013, it is evident that our facilitation of MCF s presence in our community is proving to be a critical tool in assisting our residents to maximise their income. Our strong focus this year on our partnership with Community Law Service (CLS) has also delivered excellent results for our residents. Income maximisation is addressed through their benefits advice service and we have increased the number of referrals made this year by 40%, impacting on 10% of our residents. Our priority is to help residents to get their benefits correct, particularly in the shifting economic environment where more residents become out of work who are unfamiliar with the benefits system. We offer referrals for benefit advice when we become aware of a change in circumstances, at every pre-tenancy interview and also at sign-up. The offer is accepted by 9 out of 10 new residents and an estimated 62% of referrals made this year have been for benefits advice to maximise residents income. We recognise that the introduction of Universal Credit in April 2013 may result in an increase in the number of residents falling into debt due to lack of money management skills. 24% of our residents have been referred to CLS this year for debt advice and we have reviewed our service level agreement with CLS to be sure that an increase in demand for debt advice can be met. Whilst the demise of the Financial Inclusion Fund threatens the funding stream of providers such as CLS, it strengthens our commitment to ensuring that our residents continue to have access to benefit and debt advice to be best prepared for the Welfare Reform changes to come. Please tell us briefly why your housing association should win this award? To be successful with limited resources, we need all staff on board to help promote and implement change. We listen to our residents and act on what they tell us. Our Countdown to Change project was created in direct response to our residents telling us that they don t feel prepared for the changes to the welfare system, that finding affordable credit is difficult and they are unsure where to go to get impartial advice. We have established links with the local Community Law Service to ensure our residents can access their services directly without delay. We started our Countdown to Change advice and information campaign in January 2011 which is still running, and provides up to date advice. We also campaigned to bring affordable credit to the county,

5 and MCF Loans now operate from our offices 3 days a week. We think we should win this award because our Countdown to Change project has had such a big impact on a wide range of people, not just our own residents. We have prevented a significant number of people falling into the hands of loan sharks and we have given our customer the tools to cope with hard times ahead. We have delivered big results with limited recourses because we have a great staff team. All staff take responsibility for signposting residents in the right direction. We believe that size is not a barrier to achieving projects with far reaching implications. We are forward thinking and ensure our residents are at the heart of everything that we do.

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