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CORPORATE PLAN 2024-2027

Community will always come first...

Ann Bennett
Ann Bennett
Chair
Matt Cooney
Matt Cooney
Chief Executive

FOREWORD BY THE CHAIR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE

We're here to make a difference...

Community Housing is a passionate team of people who want to make a difference for customers. The people who work for our company are committed to social housing and want to provide quality services to help people live a good life in the homes we provide.

When we last developed a Corporate Plan in late 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic was still prevalent and we struggled to speak face to face with many customers, and when we visited their homes, it was only to do emergency or essential maintenance. We have been playing catch-up since and the demand for repairs has been high. Our priority is to invest more on customers' homes for the foreseeable future and we are trying to make sure that we get better at carrying repairs out to our customers' satisfaction. In fact, we are deliberately focussing on the basics because we know that we do not always get things right.

This plan talks about the 4Rs, they are Repairs, Relets, Rents and Respect. We are working through the processes that lie behind getting these services right. We want to involve customers in this journey to make sure that we prioritise the things that customers value most.

In this plan, we have divided our priorities into four themes: our Customers, the homes they live in, our colleagues who provide the services and the health of our company. We believe that the 4Rs coupled with our 4 priorities is the right mix of things to improve outcomes in our business and for our customers between March 2024 and April 2027.

We are an ambitious team, and our aim of providing affordable, quality homes and delivering great services in safe communities underpins the content of this plan. In simple terms, we want to be the best landlord that we possibly can be.

WHO ARE WE?

Community Housing is the trading name for The Community Housing Group. This is a Co-operative and Community Benefit Society with charitable aims, and we are a Registered Social Housing Provider. We are regulated by the Regulator for Social Housing. We are governed by a team of independent Non-Executive Directors who have been chosen for their skills and experience. The Executives who run the operations are accountable to the Board but are not members of the Board.

Community Housing was formed in 2000 through a stock transfer from Wyre Forest District Council. We are a social business and one of Worcestershire's largest Registered Providers of social housing. The Group provides and manages 6000 homes. We mainly operate in the Wyre Forest area, but also in Worcester and Malvern and the office headquarters are in Kidderminster.

OUR VISION AND VALUES

Respect Values image

OUR AMBITION

To provide affordable, quality homes and deliver great services in safe communities is our key long-term challenge. We feel that this has to start by putting the basics of being a good landlord at the heart of our plans.

We are passionate about our core business, and we want to be the best we possibly can be at what we call the 4Rs, which are Repairs, Relets, Rents and Respect. We believe that if we get these basic things right, we will improve the performance of the business and gain enhanced satisfaction from customers.

The 4Rs

REPAIRS Provide the best possible repairs service to our customers. This is the service that our customers value most, and if we get it right, satisfaction will increase. This includes key safety issues like gas, fire, electrics, asbestos, lifts, legionella, damp and mould.
RELETS Empty homes are not good for communities and not good for our finances. The quicker we relet homes, the better and every empty home must be explained!
RENTS If we are efficient in collecting income (rents and service charges), the cashflow for the business will be healthy and bad debts will be minimised.
RESPECT Respect reflects our values and the quality of our customer services. How we react when something goes wrong, is key to whether customers trust us.

Affordable quality homes and great service...

We have already started reviews into the 4Rs and we will keep refining and constantly improving our approach to how we provide basic services.

In the past, Community Housing has gone beyond its remit as a housing provider and has sold a variety of services to third parties. While this has been valuable to partner agencies and has created turnover and extra employment opportunities, it has meant that we haven’t fully concentrated on our core priority, i.e., being a good landlord. We want our people to be excited about improving our landlord services and generating the highest possible customer satisfaction.

  • Getting repairs services right and keep looking for marginal improvements, over time will make a big difference
  • Maximising spend on customers’ homes and communicating when repairs or improvements will happen
  • More customer involvement in designing services and processes that matter most to customers
  • Learning from complaints and doing our best to design out common mistakes
  • Better communication with customers: we should be proactive and they should not have to chase us up
  • Strong customer satisfaction and developing a deeper understanding of what customers value most.

We will monitor our progress against the 4Rs on a monthly basis throughout the life of this Corporate Plan. Our service improvement plans will all be related to improving the 4Rs.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL 2024-27

Things have changed since we developed our last Corporate Plan.

We have seen an economic downturn, a cost-of-living crisis affecting our customers and lessons have been drawn from the Grenfell fire disaster and the tragic death of a young boy, Awaab Ishak who died through exposure to damp and mould in a housing association home. These events have changed our operating context, and this new Corporate Plan introduces some new strategic directions.

IN THE PAST THIS CORPORATE PLAN
Pushing for ambitious margins to generate more funds for building new homes Maximising spend on customers and their homes
Selling services and joint investment with stakeholders Focussing investment on our own customers and the 4Rs
Trying to build customer satisfaction and high-level customer engagement Involving customers in rebuilding the most common customer processes, to ensure that we deliver first time and keep customers informed

THE 4 PILLARS

Our 2024-27 Corporate Plan has 4-pillars that represent our current priorities.

LOOKING OUT FOR
CUSTOMERS

LOOKING AFTER
HOMES AND NEIGHBOURHOODS

LOOKING OUT FOR
COLLEAGUES

LOOKING AFTER OUR
COMPANY

LOOKING OUT FOR CUSTOMERS

Vision: A modern customer service that customers have confidence in.

Improving Customer Experience

We have maintained reasonable levels of customer satisfaction, but we know that our customers expect more. They experience better communication than we currently provide from major retailers, and they understandably expect the same service from us.

We will improve our top 10 processes with customer input to ensure that we achieve improved communication, a first-time fix, and avoid customers having the inconvenience to contact us again, about the same matter.

Digital Customer Experience

In 2022, we launched a new portal where customers can order repairs and check basics like their rent balance. We know that some customers want to be able to go further, in being able to serve themselves at a time convenient for them without having to call us during business hours. In addition, we want to be able to give easier access to important documentation. For example, we want to provide customers with easy access to important documents such as their Gas Safety record, Fire Risk Assessment, Electrical condition report as well as providing their tenancy agreement. We also want the opportunity to be able to ask questions and harness important information about customers that can help us serve them better and avoid mistakes.

This is not about trying to replace the telephone access: it's about giving the choice that customers expect. We will build a new secure digital channel to facilitate a two-way relationship with our customers that will enable them to receive the service they need from us while at the same time providing us with the information that we need to serve them better.

Knowing our customers

We want to provide services that are appropriate and tailored to individuals wherever possible. We do not want to unwittingly let customers down through lack of knowledge about them and their circumstances. We will try to ensure that we have the essential knowledge about customers and collect the information we need to serve them well.

By March 2027, we aim to have close to 100% data about our customers. Customers of course do not have to provide information that is not essential to the contract that we have with them, but we believe that that if we explain why we need the information, they will provide it.

The 4Rs & Service Improvement Priorities

We aim to make our performance against Repairs, Relets, Rents and Respect, the best it can possibly be. The headline measures that we will scrutinize are set out earlier, however we will develop service improvement plans behind these measures that are designed to enhance performance.

Wellbeing & Financial Help

A notable success of our previous Corporate Plan was the targeted assistance to customers who experienced financial difficulties. This has sometimes taken the form of cash help typically for fuel and other household costs. The key benefit of this approach is that it has provided the opportunity to discuss budgets with customers and as a result, we have been able to claim £4m of previously unclaimed benefits to help our customers manage their household costs better. We have also developed closer ties with foodbanks and food-share projects to help struggling households. Moving forward, this approach will continue, and we will investigate new ways to help people to cope with the cost-of-living crisis and enable customers to successfully maintain their tenancies.

Service Charges - Value for Money

Our customers have told us that they do not believe that we are explaining our service charges very well and they are sceptical that some charges represent value for money. We will work with customers to deliver greater transparency over charges and aim to improve the quality of services that are subject to service charges.

Growing Customer Engagement

We want to work with our customers to gain a deeper understanding of what matters most to them and what customers value most. We will build a service improvement programme around the 4Rs and engage customers in the development of the improvements and how they will work on the ground. We want customers to influence our future plans and to feel confident that they will be listened to.

Our Customers: Our Goals

  • Work with our customers to deliver right first-time processes that satisfy their communication needs and reduce customer effort in securing the right outcomes
  • Deliver a viable alternative to the telephone for customers who prefer to report their requests by digital means
  • Extend digital services and provide easy access to important tenancy documents
  • Create a closer relationship with customers and collect important information to make sure that we can deliver the right services to them
  • Track performance against the 4Rs and share the results with customers to achieve strong performance that customers and colleagues can be proud of
  • Review our approach to well-being and providing financial help to customers to ensure that they can pay their rent and cope with the cost-of-living crisis
  • Improve customer perception of Service Charges and provide a better insight into how the money is spent
  • Generate a vibrant engagement framework that enables customers to work with us to improve their services

LOOKING AFTER OUR HOMES AND NEIGHBOURHOODS

Vision. Customers feel happy and safe in their homes, and they are in good condition.

Implement new Asset Management Strategy

Making sure that our homes are well maintained and meet our residents’ needs is a key priority for us. Our homes also need to be fit for the longer-term so that they can continue to play a role in resolving the housing needs of local people for generations to come. We want to make sure that our customers know when their home improvements are due, and our aim is to publicise our investment programme to affected customers on an annual basis by 2024 and provide a two-year notification by 2025. Notable themes within this plan will be as follows:

Accurate Condition data: Our aim is to is to ensure that we have 100% stock condition data from surveys of customers' homes that were done within the last 5-years, by March 2025. We have made a good start on this, as we already have the data from 80% of homes surveyed within the last 5 years.

Energy Performance Certificate Level C will be the minimum standard: The energy performance of our homes is a key priority for our customers and over the course of this Corporate Plan and beyond, we will invest in a programme to make sure that all our homes achieve this minimum standard by 2030 at the latest.

Approach to Damp & Mould: Damp and mould has been an issue of heightened public concern over recent times especially following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak from the effects of damp and mould. Our approach to damp and mould will be proactive. As well as carrying out repairs, we will respond to each report by opening a case and will follow up with calls and inspections to make sure that the damp and mould does not re-occur. The policy and agreed process will be reviewed for damp and mould in conjunction with customers when we know what the government’s plans are for the introduction of Awaab's Law.

Estate Regeneration

Many of our estates were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and while they have stood the test of time, some areas now need re-investment. We have four priorities:

  1. Hurcott Road: We will rehouse the existing residents at the 3 high-rise blocks at Hurcott Road and demolish them in 2024-25. The site will be re-built together with a nearby former school site into a cohesive new development that will improve the local area
  2. Borrington Road Flats: The 4 blocks of flats are of non-traditional construction and their design makes it difficult to fully achieve compliance with modern safety standards. When the rehousing of Hurcott Road completes, we will make a start on rehousing the residents of Borrington Road to make way for a redevelopment and new homes
  3. Foley Park: We will aim to start to uplift of the appearance of the area through a combination of new housing, removing run-down garage sites and transforming green areas
  4. The Walshes: We will work with residents to identify future regeneration solutions for the area and agree a financial plan for the improvements with our Board

Environment Plan

As a business, we have a responsibility to meet UK decarbonisation targets. Our Asset Management Strategy will deal with EPC Level C (National energy standard for homes) and decarbonising customers’ homes. The Environment Plan will set out proposals to reduce our carbon footprint as a business and will contain measures ranging from converting our vehicles to greener energy to making sure that pesticides are not used, and that greener energy is consumed for heating and lighting our business premises.

Annual Home Welfare Checks

In addition to surveying customers’ homes every 5-years, we will introduce an internal Home Welfare Check to make sure that customers’ homes are in good condition, check the customers health and well-being and provide cost-of-living and energy advice.

OUR HOMES AND NEIGHBOURHOODS: OUR GOALS

  • Develop a new Asset Management Strategy to provide clarity about our priorities, how our homes & neighbourhoods will be maintained, a plan for decarbonisation and a timescale for the works
  • Publicise our investment programme to affected customers on an annual basis by 2024 and provide a two-year notification to affected customers by 2025
  • Accurate stock condition data with 100% of homes inspected within previous 5-years by 2025
  • Agree a plan to get all homes to EPC Level C by 2030
  • Review our approach to damp and mould to comply with Awaab’s Law
  • Commence regeneration works at Hurcott Road, Borrington Road Flats and Foley Park Estate
  • Develop a viable plan for the regeneration of the Walshes Estate
  • Involve colleagues and customers in the development of an Environment Plan to reduce the carbon footprint of repairs and maintenance operations and the business overall
  • Internally inspect all customers homes on an annual basis to make sure their homes are free of disrepair and damp & mould

LOOKING OUT FOR COLLEAGUES

Vision: A vibrant and happy place to work where our people feel they belong and can excel

A key element of our last Corporate Plan was to develop a People Strategy and, in 2022-23, we delivered this with the help of our Colleague Voice Group. This strategy has a 5-year outlook, and its key aim is to modernise and improve the employment experience of our people and lay the foundations for being an employer of choice. We are not based in a big city location with convenient public transport links, but we can provide a very strong employment experience for committed people who want to work for a business that has a strong social cause.

Strategic Workforce Planning

As we develop our Operating Model and clarify the best structure to implement our plans, our People & Culture Team will use the target operating model study to develop a Strategic Workforce Plan and will work with managers to implement it across the business. This will enable us to achieve our targets in a manner that shows value for money. We will compare our operating cost and performance outcomes to other housing providers. The Strategic Workforce Plan will aim to maximise performance by considering how we can put the long-term skills in place to deliver our Corporate Plan.

Operating Culture Review

The quality of our customer service and the health of our business depends on how well motivated our people are, and that they feel part of a healthy work culture. We will work with colleagues developing our approach and will independently test our culture to make sure that it is positive. The review will identify any gaps or obstacles that are causing problems and we will share the results with colleagues and develop a plan to improve. We want to make Community Housing an exciting place to work and to pursue a rewarding professional career.

Review Salaries and Employment Benefits

We will review our old-fashioned incremental salary system that has been in place for 24-years. We will consult colleagues about the implementation of a modern salary system that keeps pace with market rates and introduces an annual review. We recognise that to attract and keep good people, we need to compete in the employment market. We will conduct a review of our benefits package to make sure that it is the best we are able to provide. This review will aim to give Community Housing a better kerb-appeal in the jobs market and keep existing talent within the business.

Colleague Health & Wellbeing

We recognise that creating a sense of belonging where colleagues look out for each other, is a key part of generating the culture we want. This can be things like friendships developed through lunchtime craft clubs, through to providing professional counselling to help people cope with mental health setbacks. We will develop a programme that contains a rich mixture of practical health-help and support, but also little things that cheer people up and create ties between our colleagues.

Engagement Programme

We want our people to feel that they are part of something and that they genuinely have a say about where we are going. There are several elements to this:

Listening: We will undertake an annual Engagement Survey to enable people to feedback their thoughts about their team, management and the overall leadership and direction of the company. We will share the results widely and reflect on the actions that need to be taken to deal with weaknesses. We will reflect a 'You Said – We Did' dialogue to remind people of our journey.

Involving: We will build on team and 1-2-1 meetings by communicating leadership priorities in a 2-way exchange. This will take a variety of forms from Executive roadshows, video messages and regular events to communicate priorities and changes clearly. We will actively engage colleagues with touchpoints. For instance, we will hold regular colleague days where we mix a bit of fun, with colleague benefits, leadership and operational messages and health and well-being.

Celebrating: We will introduce formal recognition of personal achievement, team success and collective achievements by the company starting in 2024. We want our people to be proud of their achievements and, most of all, we want to thank people when they have gone the extra mile.

Equality Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (EDIB)

Over the course of our previous Corporate Plan, we made EDIB a corporate priority and the feedback that we received through Engagement surveys, was that colleagues had taken the messages to heart and valued the aim of enabling people to truly be themselves and be respected for doing so. We want to build upon this and further develop opportunities to generate EDIB. We also want to ensure that our internal culture flows out into detailed consideration of customer needs and hardbake them into our customer service processes.

Professionalisation & Vocation

First, we will respond to the new statutory requirement for our senior housing managers to be qualified via the Chartered Institute of Housing. However, we will widen the opportunity for colleagues to pursue wider professional disciplines. We will also build on our recent record of introducing apprenticeships to grow talent into the business and help with long-term succession. We will also deliver a Leadership Development programme – "Compassionate Leadership" that will help our managers to hold people to account in a positive way

OUR COLLEAGUES: OUR GOALS

  • Develop a Strategic Workforce Plan that delivers our target operating model and the skills necessary to deliver our plans going forward
  • Review our Operating Culture to make sure that we are a healthy workplace and remove any obstacles or gaps that cause difficulties for our people
  • Review our salaries and benefits package to ensure that we can compete in the employment market, retain good people and be an employer of choice
  • Undertake a programme of Health and Wellbeing activities targeted at our employees to enhance their employment experience and general mental health
    1. Listening (annual engagement survey) to find out where we need to improve
    2. Involving colleagues in touchpoint events where we can gather informal feedback
    3. Celebrating individual and collective successes
  • Undertake an Engagement Programme that has three components:
  • EDIB: Build a programme to ensure that we have a vibrant, inclusive culture that reflects our community and build customer initiatives to make sure that EDIB is strongly anchored into our customer service processes
  • Develop a plan to deliver an easier route to professional qualifications for our people
  • Deliver a Leadership Development Programme - Compassionate Leadership to our managers

LOOKING AFTER OUR COMPANY

Vision: A financially resilient and well governed business

The cost-of-living crisis in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for most businesses and it has been a big challenge for Community Housing. We were unable to do many repairs during the pandemic and, when it ended, we saw an exponential rise in demand for repairs and maintenance at a time of high inflation and a cap on rents for 2022-23. This affected our performance, but we are now coming out the other side.

Over the course of the 2024-27 Corporate Plan, we want to put the foundations down to create a strong, resilient business with excellent governance. We aim to deal with our big regeneration challenges, invest in our homes, meet environmental targets and still do our bit in providing new homes. Our aim is to build 700 new homes over the next 10 years.

Financial Resilience

The economic conditions over the life of this Corporate Plan are uncertain. The two-years leading into this plan have seen a cost-of-living crisis with high CPI inflation and high interest rates. The measures in this plan are ambitious and we will ensure that our Business Plan is regularly reviewed from a viability perspective, and that we have access to sufficient funds to execute our plans within the timescales we have indicated.

As we meet the challenges of regenerating estates, enhancing investment in customers’ homes and building new homes, we need the headroom to plan spending effectively. We will re-negotiate covenants and work with our Board to set new viability targets. A key priority will be to have a tight grip of our cashflow, maintain strong interest cover and protect our gearing ratio.

Pension Viability

During the last Corporate Plan period, we took the step of limiting future pension deficits on our defined benefit Local Government Pensions Scheme (LGPS). However, to avoid the debt crystallising, we left a small number of lower paid employees in the scheme. We will consider the remaining deficit on the scheme and exiting LGPS altogether. We will review our current defined contribution pension, to see if higher net contribution rates can be achieved via salary sacrifice.

Optimise our operating model

As a business, we are facing increasing demands on our resources, and we need to make sure that we are organised in the best way to meet our strategic objectives efficiently and effectively. We will develop a Target Operating Model to ensure that we have the right resources, in the right place to deliver for customers. We will look for opportunities to benchmark our costs to help to refine our operating model.

Revisit Golden Rules

We believe that the economic conditions that we will face in future, will be more adverse than the very low interest rate environment that we have seen in recent years. We will review all our financial targets with the aim of optimising financial resilience.

New Finance System

Our finance I.T. systems have not been upgraded for some time and our aim is that financial control will be improved at every level of our business. To achieve this, we need a user-friendly system that our people understand and that integrate well with all our other systems. We will introduce a new Finance system that is user-friendly for our budget managers and create efficiencies through automation. The new system will also provide an opportunity to improve income collection methods.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

We will continue to adopt 'The Sustainability Standard for Social Housing' and share our results on an annual basis with The Good Economy. We have an active Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) plan that is updated and published annually. Sharing our results with the Good Economy will enable us to compare our ESG journey with other housing associations and benchmark our performance. We will also improve reporting by adopting a specialist ESG reporting tool that is available through our current governance software supplier.

Establish a PMO

This Corporate Plan contains several critical projects that are important to the future success of the business. We believe that we can improve the execution of major projects within the business by introducing a Project Management Office capacity to coordinate our people and resources on the right priorities at the right times.

Improve Governance oversight

In 2022-23, we underwent an independent review of governance and this gave rise to a Governance Improvement Plan that is considered regularly by our Board. The Board also decided to recruit a customer Board member to ensure that the Board remains focussed on customer views. Throughout this Corporate Plan we will maintain a Governance Improvement Plan and we will undertake a further independent review of governance in 2025-26. We will also keep a succession plan in place for the Board and ensure that we have the right skills in place.

OUR COMPANY: OUR GOALS

  • Deliver new finance facilities to provide sufficient liquidity and keep access to cash under constant review
  • Negotiate the removal of tight banking covenants to allow spending on estate regeneration, compliance with EPC C and other spikes in repairs and maintenance
  • Explore a permanent exit from the legacy Local Government Pension Scheme
  • Undertake a review of our operations and develop a Target Operating model for implementation by 2026
  • We will seek opportunities to benchmark our management costs to help to refine our operating model
  • Review and agree our financial golden rules and targets to help us become a more resilient business during 2024
  • Introduce a new and more modern finance system to help managers improve financial control
  • Continue to monitor our annual ESG performance and share our results with customers, funders, investors and the public and introduce new software to help us collect and present the data
  • Establish a PMO to help de-risk the delivery of key projects
  • Maintain a Governance Improvement Plan and we will undertake a further independent review of governance in 2025-26
  • Keep our Board Succession Plan active to ensure the Board has the right skills to steward the business

CONCLUSION

So, taking into account our priorities and our plans, where will that take us if we achieve our targets by March 2027? This plans logs where we are at the start of our journey and where we aim to end up in 2027.

Where we are March 2024?

  • Good service but not always keeping customers informed
  • Median to lower performance against the 4Rs
  • Simple structure, strong values with high colleague engagement
  • Improving digital infrastructure
  • Reasonable satisfaction but requiring effort from customers
  • Reasonable knowledge about customers but not using data to prevent failures
  • Poor perception of value for money for service charges
  • Customers are listened to
  • Investing in customers' homes is improving
  • A sound data-driven understanding of stock condition
  • Plans for Estate Regeneration
  • Getting to grips with damp and mould
  • Ambitions for decarbonising our business and environments
  • Improving colleague and work culture
  • Running the business well and coping with inflation

OUR VISION

To provide Affordable Quality Homes and deliver great Services in safe communities

OUR CUSTOMERS
  • Improving customer experience
  • Knowing our customers
  • The 4Rs and service improvement priorities
  • Wellbeing and financial help
  • Service charges - value for money
  • Growing customer engagement
OUR HOMES
  • Data at forefront: 100% target for surveyed within last 5 years
  • Annual internal inspections
  • Approach to damp and mould and disrepair
  • Implement estate regeneration
  • Insulation and decarbonisation
  • Agree an environment strategy and commence implementation
OUR COLLEAGUES
  • Conduct a review of our benefits package
  • Activities to support Health & Wellbeing
  • Active colleague engagement touch points
  • Celebrate success and demonstrate compassionate leadership
  • Review learning and development opportunities including apprenticeships and professional qualifications
OUR COMPANY
  • Build strong financial resilience with a focus on cash liquidity
  • Revisit Golden Rules
  • Develop a Target Operating Model
  • Introduce a new finance system

Where we will be March 2027?

  • Customer communications are designed into our approach
  • Upper to median performance against the 4Rs
  • A company that is a leader in using digital capacity to serve customers better
  • Strong satisfaction with low effort from customers
  • Strong customer knowledge using data to deliver the right service
  • Service charges are understood, and services are valued
  • Customers are engaged and influencing all aspects of service improvement
  • Delivering a planned maintenance service that raises the quality of homes and is understood by customers
  • Delivering Regeneration and transforming key neighbourhoods
  • Dealing effectively with damp and mould and delivering insulation and ventilation to help customers live healthier lives
  • Making a contribution onto net zero in Worcestershire
  • Engaging our people in delivering a healthy culture and high performance
  • Investing in colleagues
  • Running the business well, meeting financial targets and delivering value
Download a full PDF Version of the Corporate Plan