Service reviews in Ireland: Empty homes, allocations and lettings
INNOVATION & IMPROVEMENT
Senior associate consultant,
The Housing Agency recognised the juxtaposition of a national housing crisis and the length of time it takes to re-let empty homes across the Republic of Ireland. As a result it partnered with Campbell Tickell to carry out service reviews of empty homes, allocations and lettings functions across the state.
Campbell Tickell has worked on these reviews over the past three years with Louth and Fingal County Councils and with Clúid Housing. This project was to recommend ways in which their services around empty homes, allocations and lettings – and specifically the time it takes to let an empty home – could be improved.
Each review was measured against five themes, with strengths, areas for improvements and recommendations identified for each. The five themes were:
- Policy, strategy and risk
- Operational delivery
- Quality of service
- Resource management, efficiency and value for money
- Performance and continuous improvement
Research was carried out through a mix of desktop document reviews, supplied by each client, interviews with key staff, as well as visiting a selection of empty properties. Due to recent COVID-19 restrictions, interviews and the tours of empty homes – at tenancy termination and on completion of empty homes works – were carried out virtually.
We proposed a thorough set of ‘areas for improvement’ and ‘recommendations’ to each client. Here are a few extracted example recommendations under each theme.
1. Policy, strategy and risk
Organisations should look to develop service-level agreements with key stakeholders in the supply chain. For example, the provision of nominations from local authorities to AHBs.
Also, organisations should strengthen the structure and content of policy and procedure documents for empty homes, allocations and lettings. This would give appropriate weight and prominence to the distinct functions of the efficient management of carrying out empty homes works, in addition to allocations and lettings.
2. Operational delivery
Make the best use of IT and digital systems to support operational delivery. For example, moving to an online digital system for Field Supervisors delivering and managing the empty homes works process. This technology will enable the capture of real-time data, using generic templates with standard descriptions, and allowing for comments and photos.
3. Quality of service
It is important to ensure the ‘void guidelines’ are customer-focused lettable standards, and that organisations liaise with Housing Services and engage with tenants throughout. Indeed, transparency is key. Organisations should demonstrate what service is being provided, with the lettable standard available to prospective tenants in all accessible formats (on and offline).
4. Resource management, efficiency and value for money
It is recommended to carry out a value for money review of the empty homes, allocations and lettings service, considering whether it is economical, efficient and effective. Sharing these results with staff so that they understand cost, efficiencies and where improvements could be made, as well as how they compare to competitors, is important.
5. Performance and continuous improvement
To understand performance and drive service improvement, organisations are encouraged to make a distinction between performance that requires a target, and performance that is used as management information. An example of an area of operation requiring a target could be void turnaround time. Whereas an example of management data, could be the number of offers taken to let the property.
One of the central targets of this joint work is to improve letting times across Ireland. It is hoped some of the recommendations will help on an organisational level.
Joint working between local authorities and AHBs is also important to achieve this target. Recently, the AHB Forum, which meets with the Department, Housing Agency and The County and City Management Association (CCMA), set up a joint working group to further explore how letting times can be reduced. This will help ensure AHBs and local authorities work more closely together.
Additionally, the development of national guidelines and benchmarking, to help improve letting times, and a national choice-based lettings ITC system may help. Indeed, as set out in the Programme for Government 2020, there is commitment to introduce a social housing passport, allowing households to move from one local authority list to another and to create a website to allow for choice-based letting on a nationwide basis.
This project was undertaken by senior associate consultant, Kathleen McKillion and associate consultant, Cath Davies, and overseen by David Williams, partner.