Welcome to our customer annual report for 2016/17

Our colleagues work hard to provide every single one of our 78,000 customers with a good reliable service, and we’re pleased that in the most part we get it right. With 98% of the 70,399 repair jobs in 2016/17 being completed on time, 90% of all anti-social behaviour cases resolved successfully and 88% of our customers satisfied that their rent provides value for money.

But we know on occasions that there are things that we can do differently to make things even better.

That’s why it’s so important that we hear what you think and why I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to leave a comment, fill in a survey or provide us with feedback over the past year.

I’d also like to say a special thank you to our involved customers, members of the Customer Overview Group, Customer Scrutiny Panel and Customer and Community Network who spend their own time working with us to help us to get it right.

We are a business with a social purpose and we are committed to supporting our local communities and the people living in them. Which is why we think it’s right that we provide local work placements, digital skills training, volunteering, financial advice and a hardship fund for those in greatest need.

At the end of this year, we donated over £20,200 to charity through match funding and 43 of our colleagues took time out of the office to support local community initiatives.

We pledged to provide 40 work placements a year to our customers and we are delighted to say that we exceeded that last year by giving 45 people the opportunity to find out what it’s like to work in our industry. We also supported 13 apprentices as they gain on the job training with us whilst studying for a vocational qualification.

We’ve also looked at how we can improve the support we give to customers around employability, financial and digital skills and have made some internal changes that will enhance the support we provide our customers as the changes to welfare reform come into effect.

We are working hard to really transform the way we interact with our customers and have revised and enhanced the way our contact centre operates.

This isn’t just about making everything digital – we will always take calls from our customers – it’s about changing the way we work to reduce effort and make processes simpler and easier for customers, as well as for us.

We’ve already made lots of changes over the past couple of years – for example moving to one website and introducing My Account. And over the last 12 months we have amalgamated all of our contact centres into just one central contact centre which manages contact from customers through different channels and across the business.

Looking to next year we will continue to find new ways to use technology to support and communicate with our customers but we know that isn’t for everyone, which is why you will still always be able to call us and speak to someone if you need to.

Thank you for reading this year’s annual customer report and if you have any concerns or feedback, I’m always happy to listen.

Jean Dalziel housing, care and support director, Aster Group

To find out more and to read our full report click on the sections below

  • Our homes

    Our homes

    We have homes in Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon and Cornwall. We now have more homes for affordable and social rent and shared ownership than ever before.

    • In Dorset, we have 9,176 homes. There are 8,416 rented, 495 of these are leasehold and 265 shared ownership 
    • In Hampshire, we have 6,724 homes, including 306 new properties built this year. There are 5,855 rented, 250 of these homes are for older people; 457 leasehold and 412 shared ownership 
    • In Somerset, we have 4,993 homes, including 71 new properties built this year. There are 4,369 rented, 781 of these are homes for older people; 238 leasehold and 386 shared ownership 
    • In Wiltshire, we have 7,258 homes, including 103 new properties built this year. There are 6,474 rented, 677 of these are homes for older people; 150 leasehold and 634 shared ownership 
    • In Devon and Cornwall, we have 1,451 homes, including 201 new properties built this year. There are 1,049 rented, 218 of these are homes for older people, five are leasehold and 397are shared ownership
  • Creating social value

    Our work under the banner of the Aster Foundation is all about making a positive impact on our customers’ lives and in our local communities

    Through the Foundation we’ll deliver targeted, non-core activities which support our strategy, provide proven value to our customers and communities and maximise the impact of available funding and other support.

    We’ll do this by:

    • Supporting our customers while protecting our business
    • Helping our customers to become digitally and financially included
    • Giving our customers vital employability skills
    • Providing local communities that people are proud of

    During 2017/18 our social return on investment was an impressive £655,125.00, we donated £35,240 to good causes through match funding and our colleagues dedicated 66 days to volunteer for worthwhile causes in the community.

    Over the past year we’ve also taken on eight apprentices and trainees and 10 people have had the opportunity to undertake a work placement or volunteering opportunity with us.

    We are looking at how we can evolve the work of the Foundation and we’ll be sharing more with you over the coming months.

  • Digital and financial inclusion

    To help our customers, we provide a range of support around digital and financial inclusion, employability skills and help accessing and understanding Universal Credit.

    We work with the right partners to provide customers with support to improve their digital skills, access digital services so that they can effectively interact with us and others and explore innovative solutions so that customers (and especially those in rural communities) benefit from being digitally connected.

    Through the work we do around financial inclusion we hope to make a real impact on our customers’ abilities to sustain a tenancy and to manage their financial commitments.

    We also have a team of colleagues who work with our customers to maximise their income, so that could be around ensuing any benefits they are entitled to are received or looking at ways to better manage their finances. We also provide our customers with vocational experience through work placements within Aster and our supply chain and work with partner organisations to provide customers with support to improve their vocational skills.

    To help us to achieve this we received external funding of £38,766.00 last year which we have spent on further enhancing our approach to employability and digital training for our customers.

    Over the past 12 months we’ve supported 46 customers back into full or part time work and 34 customers took part in general training to help them back into employment.

    To help us to shape the support we provide we’ve been looking at where our support has the biggest impact and it’s encouraging to see that of the 95 customers we’ve looked at, 54 have been able to reduce their rent arrears by a huge 74%.

    We’ve also successfully secured funding from Dorset County Council for a second year to fund a ‘Dorset families matter’ officer who acts as a support role for our neighbourhood, customer account and anti-social behaviour (ASB) teams. Since April 2017, this role has directly supported 25 families and has resulted in nine evictions for rent arrears being avoided and one eviction and two injunctions avoided under ASB.

    More specifically through our work with the Department for Work and Pensions we’ve partnered with Romsey Community School to provide customers in and around the Andover area with the skills they need to help them back into employment. Focusing on interview techniques, writing for job applications and building self-confidence, the course gives people the support and encouragement they need to take that first step back into the world of work.

    We continue to work with trainers We are Digital, to run a weekly course in locations across our patch that focus on IT basics for beginners, giving people the skills they need to pay their rent on time, to manage their finances online or to search and apply for jobs.

    We are also part of the Alliance Programme, a Big Lottery Fund and European Social Fund supported project to help tackle social isolation and we are offering places to our customers who would benefit most from face-to- face wrap around support to help tackle complex barriers to working.

  • Welfare Reform

    2017/18 has seen our teams continue to support  our customers during the on-going roll-out of Universal Credit, which combines six benefits into one single monthly payment.

    On average 100 of our customers move over to Universal Credit each month and we’ve been working hard to ensure that each of those customers is clear on what this means for them.

    We’ve spoken at national and local events on the subject and have developed internal training programmes to ensure all customer facing colleagues are aware of the support we can offer our customers as the changes are implemented.

    We have also continued our collaborative approach to working with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which allows us to provide the DWP with key information about the impact of Universal Credit on our customers. It also gives us a platform to influence national decision making and to ensure up to date and regular information is fed back down to the teams that need it.

    Over the past 12 months we’ve processed rent verification data, provided general advice and directly supported our customers to make and then sustain a claim if they needed it.

    We continue to develop the support we offer our customers around financial and digital inclusion, as well providing access to training and employment support.

  • Our Customer Groups

    Customer voice plays a vital role in helping us to shape and to evolve the services we offer. We use digital consultation methodologies to listen to our customers in conjunction with traditional face to face focus groups, door knocks, telephone and printed surveys to ensure that we hear from as many customers as possible.

    Our customers provide us with a wealth of feedback each and every day and it’s important that we take and act on the feedback we’re given. Changes to the way we prioritise our approach to heating and hot water repairs for example is as a direct result of listening to the voice of our customers.

    You can find out more about the work of our customer groups in 2017/18 below.

    Customer Scrutiny Panel

    Our Customer Scrutiny Panel (CSP) provides a thorough, independent and objective customer focussed assessment of our services and business processes. This is a huge benefit and particularly important is that the CSP undertakes its reviews of our services from a customer’s perspective.

    This year the panel carried out three major service reviews, completing approximately 350 hours of work in the process.

    The reviews carried out in 2017/18 focused on:

    • Aids and adaptations
    • Care and support services
    • Service charges 

    The CSP made a number of service improvement recommendations which were fed through to our Housing Leadership Team, the Customer and Community Network and our Group Audit Committee for consideration.

    Recommendations included:

    Aids and adaptations:

    • After work has been carried out customers to be asked whether they were happy with the standard and quality of the work. This will provide a clearer indication of customer satisfaction with the work completed
    • Develop a clear, process flow chart to ensure that each step in the aids and adaptations process is followed and completed

    Care and support:

    • To review of all communications with customers to ensure consistency throughout Care and Support services
    • Review written procedures so that they can be flexible enough (as far as possible) to cater for differences between councils

    Service charges:

    • To develop an explanation of the three year cycle of service charges to help customers understand how service charges are implemented
    • To let customers know how long it will take to respond to their service charge query 

    The CSP also focussed on maintaining and raising the profile of the group, both internally amongst colleagues and externally with our customers. All reports and outcomes as a result of the CSP scrutiny exercises can be found here.

    Customer Overview Group

    The Customer Overview Group (COG) is comprised of customers from across our regions and provides an overview of customer priorities and involvement options to support the delivery of our Corporate Strategy.

    The COG scrutinises and offers feedback on operational performance, policy development of customer facing services, and the customer experience. It forms part of our formal customer involvement structure alongside the Customer Scrutiny Panel and Designated Tenant Panel.

    From April 2017 to March 2018 the COG have:

    • Reviewed and signed off the Customer Annual report 2016/17
    • Continued to scrutinise and influence performance priorities through the Service Snapshot Report
    • Influenced the content of our 2018/19 Local Offers
    • Recommended for approval the proposed customer service standards
    • Influenced Key Performance Indicator targets to support the delivery of the Corporate Plan
    • Endorsed the unreasonable behaviour guidance on complaints management

    Designated complaints panel

    Our Designated Complaints Panel, made up of customers and leaseholders made a number of recommendations about the complaint resolution and improvements for service delivery which we accepted and have incorporated into our processes.

  • Improving our homes

    We spent £17.2m on improving our homes this year:

    • £3.6 million on installing 775 new kitchens at an average cost of £4,671 per unit
    • £1.45 million on installing 509 new bathrooms including 52 at an average cost of £2,857
    • £4.14 million on 1,183 new heating installations including one-off boilers at an average unit cost of £3,501
    • £1.54m on 1,967 new external doors at an average unit cost of £784
    • £3.9 million on replacing 406 roofs including fascias and soffits and removal of some chimneys at an average unit cost of £9,617
    • £2.53 million on the external decoration of 4,882 homes at an average unit cost of £518 per home
  • How did we do?

    Repairing our homes

    • 85% of customers found the repairs process easy
    • 91% of customers said they were satisfied with their repair when asked ‘Overall how satisfied or dissatisfied were you with the quality of the repair?’
    • 82.6% of repairs were completed on first visit
    • 84.30% of customers were satisfied with completed repairs
    • Of the 8,027 emergency repair jobs completed 99.3% were completed on time
    • Of the 64,973 appointed repair jobs completed 93.3% were completed on time
    • The total cost per property for responsive repairs was £315.54
    • 99.95% of gas servicing was completed and in date

    Handling complaints

    We changed the way we process new complaints last year and under our new complaints process we no longer report on any informal complaints received. This year we received and resolved 469 formal complaints. Eleven of these went to Director Review and six went to Ombudsman Review.
    Our Designated Complaints Panel, made up of customers and leaseholders made a number of recommendations about the complaint resolution and improvements for service delivery which we accepted and have incorporated into our processes.

    Tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB)

    Our ASB team received 829 anti-social behaviour cases in 2017/18, 129 of these were high priority and 90% were resolved successfully.

    In addition:

    • 75% of customers were satisfied with the way their case was handled
    • 83% of customers told us colleagues dealing with their ASB complaint were always helpful
    • 96% of customers told us colleagues dealing with their ASB complaint were always courteous
    • 84% of customers told us colleagues dealing with their ASB complaint were always responsive and knowledgeable
    • 59% of customers found the ASB process easy

    Lettings

    • The average time to re-let our properties in 2017/18 was 16.39 days (HouseMark – Q4 17/18 upper quartile performance 19 days)
    • Our general needs average re-let time was 14.06 days
    • Rent loss due to empty properties was 0.78%*. (HouseMark - Q4 17/18 upper quartile performance: 0.56%)
    • 82% of new customers found it easy to move into their Aster home

    * The amount of rent and service charges lost through all general needs and housing for older people properties being vacant as a percentage of the total rent roll. The rent roll is the total amount of potential rent and service charges collectable for the period for all dwellings managed by the landlord for that needs category(ies),if all dwellings had been occupied.

    Arrears

    • Current customer arrears this year were 1.95%* (HouseMark - Q4 17/18 upper quartile performance: 1.77%)
    • Former customer arrears were 1.35%. (HouseMark - Q4 17/18 upper quartile performance: 0.77%)

    *Arrears of properties within the needs groups of general needs and housing for older people; managed by Housing, Care & Support. The arrear is a best balance arrear, which looks back at the previous month and picks the best weekly balance. This shows an arrear that excludes unpaid rent due to housing benefit and direct debits which are paid in arrears. The arrear is calculated as % of rent debit. The rent debit is continually recalculated to take into account voids and new properties.

  • Value for money

    We strive to achieve real value for money for our customers, lenders and communities.  It’s about making the best use of our resources to provide comfortable homes backed by good, quality services. 

    In our latest annual report and accounts we tell you how we’re making the most of every pound we spend and in line with the new regulatory standard published in April 2018, our performance is measured against seven agreed metrics: Reinvestment; New supply delivery; Gearing; EBITDA MRI interest cover; Headline social housing cost per unit; Operating margin; Return on capital employed.

    Continuing to review how we deliver our services remains one of our priorities. Maintaining this focus will ensure we are able to concentrate on our primary purpose to provide good, reliable core services to our customers and to build more much-needed new homes.