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Housing Associations seek out solutions to enhance their customer’s experience

TriPartum were pleased to be a sponsor and exhibitor for this year’s National Leasehold Group (NLG) Annual Conference held at Olympia, London and have the opportunity to meet with many industry professionals within the housing sector, many of whom expressed the need for enhanced customer communications around service charges.

Jamie Flintoff (Leasehold Manager from Notting Hill Genesis) and Becca Fury (Conference Chair from Hastoe Group) presented a session on “Service Charge Communication & Presentation – Is There Best Practice?”. This was an open and honest review of how two organisations tackled a common requirement — to communicate service charges to leaseholders —but with very different processes and associated numbers of residents. Notting Hill Genesis has c9,000 leaseholders and c4,500 tenants with some 40 staff involved in the end-to-end process, whist Hastoe only has c450 leaseholders and 3 staff generating the service charge reporting.

The issues for the both organisations were the same:

  • checking the number of repairs that contribute to the service charges
  • managing spreadsheets to capture and allocate the associated costs
  • apportioning the costs and checking, checking, checking and more checking.

It was important to ensure the reporting of service charges were correct as it only takes one leaseholder to identify an error then the level of trust with all is lost.

A show of hands amongst the audience for those housing associations that also relied on spreadsheets to manage and report on service charges – indicated that the majority were also using spreadsheets and had empathy with the comments being made during the presentation.

Another aspect of service charges is explaining the Reserve (Sinking) Funds and Cyclical funds to tenants. The key was to provide context to the potential funds required with estimates supported with previous year’s figures. Explaining all major works undertaken or scheduled is necessary but often access to the source information is not easily accessible.

Whist the processes for generating service charge figures takes time the production of statements for tenants is another challenge. Notting Hill Genesis have recently taken to providing additional information with a combination of WORD merge documents, including graphs and tables from spreadsheets. Manual collation of the pages along with the fulfilment taking resources away from the ‘day job’ to stuff envelopes. Hastoe have much smaller volume but the same tasks need to be carried out.

Jamie raised a question as to who was looking out for the ‘outcome’ which was to present the figures and supporting information to tenants (customers) in a meaningful way. With all the activity to generate and report this is very often forgotten. Notting Hill Genesis created new reports with more information and explanations around service charges but feedback from tenants was there were too many pages and the information was not clear enough. This was impacting overall customer satisfaction ratings which were c55% down from c60%.

Both Jamie and Becca said their respective organisations were looking at alternative software solutions to improve the collection of data and preparation of reports. It is questionable whether the actual reporting would still be sufficient to deliver the level of customisation that would best explain the charges to the individual.

This is an area in which TriPartum have excelled with other housing associations in providing customised statements, which are easy to understand, whilst ensuring statutory obligations are met and deliver value for money.

After the presentation James Shand, Managing Director interviewed Jamie and Becca with three questions.

With everything you are doing today what would your top desired outcome be?

Jamie: “We lack a system that produces a clear and easy to understand account for customers that we could support with easy to access information.  This would allow local officers to have tools to communicate quickly and accurately on a more personal basis with leaseholders.  We need to have a unified voice across our whole service and we need our offices to be customer focused”.

Becca agreed with this idea “I think we need a clearer set of communication rules and a better ability to produce and explain accounts to our customers”.

With the number of stakeholders involved, 40 at Notting Hill Genesis and 3 at Hastoe, how do you manage the different interests?

Becca: “I think for us we don’t tend to have a specific person leading the project – it’s often me – as everyone has the same goal and that would be the same if you have 1 person managing it or 40 people managing it”

Jamie: “To a degree its similar, being a much larger organisation, our local offices are responsible for creating the commentary about the service charges. This being the case it’s important that we have a unified voice across our whole service. To do this we ensure our management teams are very customer focused.

You both mentioned the need to focus on the customer so what specifically would help you achieve this?

Becca: “I think just a clearer set of communication rules with the ability to produce and explain accounts that produce the customer statements.

Jamie: “Yes, I agree. We spoke a lot about officers before but I think what probably happens is we lack a system that produces clear, easy to understand accounts of customers and that we could back up with easy to access information.  So, giving the local officers the tools to be able access information to communicate with our leaseholders quickly and accurately would help”.