Coronavirus arrears report ‘Going freestyle: what happens when the rulebook is taken away’

26 April 2022

The NHF has jointly published a new report with Placeshapers and whg on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on rent arrears approaches at social landlords.

The report ‘Going freestyle: what happens when the rulebook is taken away’ reveals that many social landlords ended the pandemic with lower rent arrears than at the beginning after overnight cultural and legal changes transformed how they worked with tenants.

Twenty organisations, including Teign Housing, Gloucester City Homes, Stockport Homes and Saxon Weald, explain how lockdown changed how they manage rent arrears, and how they have embedded these changes since. We want to thank all our members who contributed their expertise and insight to this report.

Faced with the prospect of lockdown, skyrocketing arrears and real and acute hardship for tenants across the country, housing associations took new approaches to working. These new ways of working allowed the opportunity for greater insight and empathy, and often required staff to put aside established processes and build relationships on a foundation of trust. By the end of the pandemic, two thirds of housing associations reported a fall in arrears.

The report takes the learning from the pandemic and summarises seven lessons for the future for social landlords: 

  • Change can be faster than thought: the speed with which income teams adapted to new ways of working shows how adaptable and resilient the sector can be.
  • Enforced change creates opportunities: the pandemic created very specific business risks in relation to income management and risks and opportunities to do things differently taken by organisations have paid off.
  • Most people respond well to flexibility and trust: greater trust, outside of established processes, showed tenants’ commitment to maintaining a clear rent account.
  • A supportive approach can be just as effective as enforcement: most participants improved their income management performance.
  • Eviction for rent arrears should never be seen as a success: eviction is potentially catastrophic for those who experience it, and is expensive in terms of staff time, legal costs, rent loss and void costs. 
  • Person-centred services enable deeper job satisfaction: many colleagues were able make greater connections and collaborate with tenants to plan and achieve solutions. 
  • Technology can improve our working lives and enhance services: rather than ‘dehumanising’, it can enable flexibility, bolster trust and help target empathetic, personalised relationships.

Who to speak to

Jordane Shaw, External Affairs Manager