Safe as Houses: Using data to stay compliant 

Data is critical to showing compliance with RSH regulations. Here’s how Housing Associations can make sure their data is up to the task.

Social housing offers more than just affordability to tenants. It gives security, choice and stability: the opportunity to make a property a home, not just temporary accommodation.

The only way that Housing Associations can offer that safety and stability to tenants is if their properties are well maintained, they understand the people they are renting to, and they have a stable business model. Data is (you guessed it) critical for Housing Associations to understand how well they are performing in all three areas, complying to sector regulations and illustrating that compliance to the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH).

Yet to achieve compliance through data, Associations need to know that the data they have is reliable – a challenge we explored in our recent resource, Housing Associations: A guide to data. If you’re a Housing Association looking to tighten up your data and make regulatory compliance simpler, download the guide to find out how achieving a ‘golden record’ with your data will transform the way you record and use data. In the meantime, let’s look at the regulations and the vital role of data in staying compliant.

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Understanding data objectives: economic and consumer

The RSH regulations have two main objectives: economic and consumer. The consumer objective is to ensure that tenants have safe, well-maintained accommodation, choices over their property and protection. Tenants should be able to hold their landlords accountable, and data should provide a clear narrative of complaints, issues and concerns. It covers four standards: Home Standard, Tenancy Standard, Neighbourhood and Community Standard and Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard. The Economic objective is to make sure that registered social housing providers are “well-managed and financially stable”. This provides some degree of protection against the sudden and unexpected collapse of a social housing landlord, which would have dire consequences for their tenants, their local council and their investors. The RSH’s economic standards are Governance and Financial Viability, Value for Money and Rent.

Economic regulations

Financial instability in a Housing Association is one of the biggest risks to tenants – a lesson learned the hard way in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, when near-bankruptcies amongst landlords created a crisis in the social housing sector. Housing Associations now need to report regular, comprehensive financial data through NROSH+, the RSH’s data collection portal.

The mandatory data collated by NROSH+ enables the regulator to clearly see the financial health of Associations, assessing both their current financial strength and their long-term viability as a social landlord. Under Section 118 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the RSH can deregister Associations that fail to comply on financial grounds and enter them into insolvency proceedings, as happened to Essex-based Larch Housing Association earlier this year. As well as financial stability, the regulator can also govern how Association’s housing stock is being managed, from the availability of housing offered by the Association to the amount of housing stock that is being ‘disposed of’ (sold).

Data that needs to be recorded and submitted includes an annual statistical data return, financial forecast return and electronic annual accounts, as well as a quarterly survey. The challenge for Associations is collating this data and ensuring its accuracy and completeness – especially if they have multiple sites, multiple data systems and multiple data stakeholders across the business. For Associations without a central source of data, every report can spark a frustrating manual process that’s both time-consuming and prone to errors.

Disparity in data reporting across the Association can also add another layer of complexity and risk, with those responsible for reporting having to search for the data they need and convert it into the correct format before they submit.

Consumer regulations

In 2020, the Government published a white paper that defined what Housing Association tenants could expect from their landlords: The Charter for Social Housing Residents. This charter proposed changes to the RSH’s consumer regulations, strengthening landlord’s accountability for their properties and their duty to the people who live in them. Between 2021 and the beginning of 2022, the RSH regulations uncovered thousands of social housing failures based on the standards outlined in the Charter and forced non-compliant associations to put right the problems that had been reported.

In a report from the RSH, Kate Dodsworth, Director of Consumer Regulation at the RSH, commented: “the critical difference between landlords who provide good services and safe, decent homes and those that don’t is often whether they listen to tenants and really hear what they have to say.” For Associations, data is vital to not only listening to tenants’ complaints, queries and issues, but acting on them quickly.

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A well-managed, well-maintained data process ensures that any property problems – be it unsocial behaviour, mould, a broken window or a tenant’s personal accessibility issue – are easy to track and hard to fall off the radar. With a central source of data, and a single version of the truth within it, Associations can be confident that they have full visibility over tenant concerns and robust, data-driven methods to act on them. In the unlikely event that any reported issues do still fall through the cracks, a clear data trail makes it easier to see where mistakes have happened and how to avoid them in the future. Good data practices also provide clear evidence if an Association is challenged by the regulator.

How to achieve the ‘golden record’

In order to fully trust data for regulatory compliance, Housing Associations need to achieve a ‘golden record’: one version of the truth, wherever that data is accessed. At Amplifi, we’ve already helped housing associations to achieve this ‘golden record’ and tackle their data challenges. You can take the first step by downloading Housing Associations: a guide to data, where we outline the six basic steps you need to transform the way you use data, from strategy to culture and everything in between.

Download - Housing Associations: A Guide to Data

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