Can Housing Mega Mergers Solve Every Problem?

The social housing sector is doing well! Housing associations as a collective are building more than ever before to solve the housing crisis. We are seeing mega-mergers driving large scale synergies. I, personally, am seeing the use of behemoth IT solutions such as IBM’s TM1 and Microsoft’s Dynamics to bring about a transformation in insightful decision making.  Large scale advances are taking place that I am in favour of. But…and oh how I wish there wasn’t a but!
In my opinion the sector is still not joined up, not working or thinking collaboratively on mass. We don’t behave like a collective trying to resolve the same goal. We are all too guilty of looking myopically at building as many properties as possible or delivering our own services more efficiently. I feel we’ve neglected the nuanced area of inter-dependency within the social housing sector.

Allow me to illustrate what interdependencies exist within our sector:

A proportion of the families who live in affordable housing use housing benefit to contribute to their rent. The housing benefit calculations are often processed by local county councils.

Housing benefit is often calculated in a system within a county council where the data is sent to Housing Associations as a pdf via e-mail of even by post (which for the millennials reading this may as well arrive by horse back). The housing association then keys in the information into their systems to reconcile rent accounts. You’d think it’d be a simple process to receive the data that both parties need in a format that suits both, however it’s unfathomably difficult to achieve this. This wastes costs thousands of pounds in labour that could be spent better. It’s also an inefficiency that can’t be solved by a merger between HA and HA or council with county council.

Housing associations receive key operational information from lenders, councils, service providers, agencies, the HCA, the government and all too often the information being passed and received is not reviewed from the position of what’s best from the sector. I genuinely believe hundreds of thousands of pounds can be saved across the sector with a concerted and collaborative process review.

This is not to say that we as a sector are not capable of this holistic approach to lean reviews across organisations as I know on a small scale we do co-operate well. I see examples where a housing association works with local community forums on summer fares and gardening projects, education and skills courses. However, we don’t take this enthusiasm and collaboration to the back office work.

If you read this and empathise, please do lobby the HCA the next time you see them.

We have recently saved a large housing association thousands of pounds by working on their behalf with councils and external companies in order to receive and give information in the most efficient manner. Our solution is more than a lean review; it’s the knowledge of the sector and creative use of IT to drive savings. We are keenly motivated to make the social housing sector the best it can be.

So, whilst we drive forward with mega merger after mega merger, and implementing complex IT systems let us not lose sight of the warts that can only be cleansed via a more collaborative and joined up approach to delivering a social housing service.

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