Knowing our Homes: improving social homes means improving the information we have about them

Annie Owens, 08 June 2023

One of the key findings of the Better Social Housing Review is that social housing providers need to improve how they collect and use databoth about the condition of the homes they manage and about who lives in them. Its recommendation is for the sector to work together to conduct and publish a thorough audit of all social housing in England.

As part of the action plan we published together with CIH in response to the Better Social Housing Review, we have committed to a range of work to address the issues identified by the independent panel. One of the key recommendations is to ‘conduct and publish a thorough audit of all social housing in England’. We will be delivering against this recommendation through a programme of work we are calling ‘Knowing our Homes’, which I am leading on.

Through Knowing our Homes, we aim to establish with our members a shared, standardised approach for gathering and using information about the condition of our properties and the residents who live in them. This will help us to:

  • Improve our understanding of the condition of housing association homes, to ultimately help improve stock quality across the sector.
  • Rebuild trust in the data we hold among social housing residents and the government.
  • Understand and address inequities in outcomes for different groups of residents – particularly around race and ethnicity.
  • Make the case for additional investment to improve the quality of housing association homes.

We aim to do this by developing a framework that all housing associations can sign up to. It must be deliverable and not require an unrealistic level of resource. We expect this to include four key elements:

  • A core set of standardised measures of stock condition that align with regulatory requirements.
  • An agreed set of data to collect on residents – both protected characteristics (including ethnicity) and factors that may make them vulnerable to specific issues like damp and mould.
  • A broader, non-prescriptive framework for augmenting this with additional, up-to-date information collected from residents and via other means, drawn from current examples of good practice across the sector. This will include a focus on how landlords can link up property and resident data.
  • All delivered to an agreed set of data standards. We will work through with our members what a practical and proportionate approach to data standardisation should be, and one that works across various different IT systems.

All of this will be closely aligned with changes coming to consumer regulation and the Decent Homes Standard. As the project evolves we will look at a range of options for how the data are collected and by which organisation. 

We have developed this plan together with our members who told us they were concerned about the importance of aligning with upcoming changes from the government and the need for our proposals to work with different IT systems. We will build on all of these points as we go forward and I would like to thank everyone who has shared their time and thoughts with us already.

We know that success will depend entirely on close and ongoing engagement with our members and other key stakeholders. We have established a group of members who will help steer this work and engage closely with our other member groups (such as smaller housing associations and supported housing providers). We will test our proposals with all NHF members to ensure that they work for all different types of housing associations.

We are also working to ensure this can be adopted by other social landlords too, as we know this work will be most impactful if it covers the entire social housing sector. To ensure our proposals can be widely adopted, we have agreed an approach to joint working with the Local Government Association, National Federation of ALMOs and the Association of Retained Council Housing.

The first stage of our work is to develop a baseline understanding of current practice across the sector, i.e. how housing associations are currently collecting and using data about their homes and residents. This is crucial as it will enable us to understand how best to ensure our proposals are both ambitious and feasible. After that, we will develop our initial proposals, work with members to refine them, and finally support the sector to adopt the new framework. We are aiming to have proposals ready to test by April 2024, but we recognise that implementation will need to be spread over a reasonable timescale after that to allow time for housing associations to make any necessary adjustments.

We think this approach has the potential to help the sector collectively deliver against upcoming statutory and regulatory changes in a way which improves the quality and consistency of data held for years to come.

For early opportunities to input into this project and our broader work related to asset management and the quality of existing homes, join the National Asset Management Network.