Welcome to our customer annual report for 2015/16

This year has been a period of significant change for Aster and our customers. Welfare Reform, the Government’s 1% rent cut and a new political landscape after Brexit, have created new challenges for our business.

While rent reduction and the Voluntary Right to Buy will help many of our customers, it has meant we have had to look at our services and find more commercially-focused, efficient and innovative ways to achieve our social purpose and vision of ensuring everyone has a home. We are currently assessing the impact of these changes and preparing our approach in line with our vision – to ensure everyone has a home. Initiatives like our More Homes project are helping us do this by identifying new and more efficient ways of working.

We have also been busy helping many of our customers with their finances and household budgets so that they are better able to cope with the impact of benefit cuts, the under occupancy and the introduction of Universal Credit.  

Through our newly formed Aster Foundation, we also continued to support our communities with local work placements, volunteering, financial advice and providing a hardship fund for those in greatest need.

We made improvements to our repairs priorities, became more proactive in our recharge processes and updated our lettable standards. We also reviewed the use of neighbourhood panels and changed the anti-social behaviour team structure and process. In early 2016, we laid the foundations for a number of efficiency and digital initiatives including our ‘one Aster’ brand and identity, and our new Group website.

We hope you find this report useful and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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

    We have homes in Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Devon and Cornwall.

    • In Dorset we have 9,148 homes, including 156 new properties built this year. There are 8,433 rented, 1,708 of these are homes for older people; 483 leasehold and 232 shared ownership
    • In Hampshire we have 6,342 homes, including 86 new properties built this year. There are 5,672 rented, 224 of these homes are for older people; 454 leasehold and 216 shared ownership
    • In Somerset we have 4.832 homes, including 84 new properties built this year. There are 4,280 rented, 739 of these are homes for older people; 237 leasehold and 315 shared ownership
    •  In Wiltshire we have 6,923 homes, including 151 new properties built this year. There are 6,298 rented, 635 of these are homes for older people; 137 leasehold and 488 shared ownership

    In Devon and Cornwall we have 1,070 homes, including 295 new properties built this year. There are 817 rented, 202 of these are homes for older people, 252 are shared ownership and one is leasehold.

  • Value for money

    We had an initial target to achieve £350,000 of savings through our More Homes project by reviewing our out of hours service; lettable standards; heating and other emergency repair priorities; void standards; and adopting a robust approach to tenant recharges. This target was exceeded with £500,000 of savings being made.

    Further savings of £1.23 million were delivered against a target of £650,000 in response repairs and voids; major and cyclical programmed works; and property investment.

    Through the More Homes programme we have improved our processes, maximised income and made savings of £1.1 million in the following areas:

    • Streamlined our formal customer involvement structure
    • Reviewed and modernised our approach to customer involvement, taking much greater advantage of available technology
    • Reviewed and took the difficult decision to close our furniture re-use stores, handing the Dorset operation to another organisation better placed to provide this service
    • Reviewed our approach to community development, which resulted in ending the provision of Neighbourhood Panels but refocusing our investment in financial and digital inclusion activities.
  • Creating social value

    Aster Foundation is our brand for our social purpose activity and forms part of our corporate social responsibility. The work under the foundation is focused on improving life chances for our customers, supporting the communities that we work in, making Aster a great place to work and giving something back.

    During the course of 2015/16 we have invested £98,000 and secured £45,000 of partner and external match funding which has been used to fund(ing) a number of community based projects.

    Projects include full and part time employment, general employment training, access to the internet, digital and financial inclusion training.

    The total social return on investment (SROI) for 2015/16 for these outcomes calculated using the HACT Wellbeing Calculator is £1.95 million.

  • Funding highlights

    Based on our neighbourhood priorities for 2015/16 we invested a total £41,140 in three community based projects. These were:

    • South West Regional Assessment centre – Just add work programme – supporting people into work, equipping them with the digital skills to understand Universal Credit, Job Match and the requirements of the Department of Work and Pensions in managing their claims. It also developed and enhanced budgeting skills and supported individuals through the provision of on-going support for help with debt, money management and employability skills
    • The Besom in Purbeck provides essential household items and services for those on limited means and in transitional situations such as leaving institutions or long term hospital care, prison or those being rehoused due to debt or other personal circumstances. We developed a Neighbourhood Toolkit which funded Besom’s premises for two years and paid for a qualified PAT tester to carry out electrical safety checks
    • Ansbury: an outreach project to help tenants with employment and learning opportunities – Rent arrears for customers that have returned to work have decreased by 19.1%

    In 2015, we secured £21,550 from the Skills and Learning Partnership fund for a number of cookery workshops embedding IT and English literacy. 

    These initiatives created:

    • £697,890 social return on investment and net benefit of £676,340.
    • A return of £32.38 for every £1 spent
    • £5234.48 worth of volunteer time (472 hours at £11.09/hr)

    We have taken the decision to disband Neighbourhood Panels in 2016/17 and instead focus  investment on financial and digital inclusion activities.

    Total spend by the panels for 2015/16 was:

    Dorset - £97,316

    Hampshire - £59,967

    Somerset - £36,611

    Wiltshire - £40,931

  • Welfare Reform

    We have been working with local authorities and other agencies to identify customers most affected by reduced housing benefit and helping them prepare and budget for the changes.

    For customers having to pay the under occupation penalty, we have provided budgeting advice and helped those who wanted to exchange their home for a smaller one.

    2015/16 has also seen our teams preparing customers for the ongoing roll-out of Universal Credit, which combines six benefits into one single monthly payment. This includes housing benefit which is paid directly to social landlords as a monthly payment paid in arrears.

    We have also supported our customers with Welfare Reform this year through a number of other initiatives. These include: 

    • A dedicated Welfare Reform Strategy Group which ensures customers who need help receive it
    • Close partnership working with local authorities, Department for Work and Pensions and Citizens Advice Bureau, ensuring a joined-up approach to customer support
    • We are in the process of developing a text messaging service so that we can quickly remind Universal Credit customers that their rent is due as they receive their payments
    • Creation of an auto-payment telephon line

    Our Welfare Reform Practitioners’ Group has also been actively involved in helping customers find employment through specialist training and the Government’s Work Placement Programme. This scheme provides people with the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience and supports them moving into work.

  • Digital and financial inclusion

    Our successful partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions has led to some fantastic successes and results for our customers in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset. Through these projects:

    • Over 300 customers have engaged with us
    • 51 customers have returned to full / part time employment
    • Rent arrears for customers that have returned to work have decreased by 28.2%

    In total we have worked with our customers to deliver 39 projects across our communities in 2015/16 which has resulted in:

    • 105 customers moving into full/part time employment
    • 47 moved into volunteering
    • 13 work placements / apprenticeships
    • 186 moving into training 
    • 315 having improved digital literacy and access to IT support
    • 36 having received budgeting / financial support

    The total social return on investment (SROI) for 2015/16 was £1,298,970,528 or £19.91 for every £1 invested.

     

    Award-winning B-roads project

    149 local young people took part in one such project  - the B-roads project, a creative youth employment initiative which ran across Weymouth and Portland between 2013 and 2015. The project won the annual Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) Awards for Excellence in Employment Skills and Training

    Our B-roads project engaged and helped some of the most hard-to-reach young people living in our properties into work, education and training through creative activities, courses, mentoring and work placements. Key project achievements included:

    • 58 qualificaitons in Arts Award, Social Enterprise, Freerunning, EU Youthpass
    • 18 internships and apprenticeships in Dorset
    • 18 work placements with the B-side Festival, South West Arts Works, Robert Golden Pictures, Blandford Museum, Supreme A&D Company
    • Participants reported improved confidence in work experience (70%), networking connections (55%), skills development (75%), and future plans (80%)

    Collaborative and partnership working has played a major part of our success in 2015/16.Over this period, we have worked with over 51 partners who have delivered tailor-made programmes for our customers. Thank you to everyone for their support.

  • Customer scrutiny

    Our Customer Scrutiny Panel (CSP) provides an independent and objective assessment of our services and business processes from a customer perspective. This year the panel carried out three major reviews, completing almost 300 hours of work in the process.

    CSP looked at our readiness for Welfare Reform; grounds maintenance and agricultural services, and the format and content of ad hoc customer letters. Recommendations were made for each project by the panel and provided to our Housing Leadership Team and Customer and Community Network.

    This resulted in the following improvements: 

    • Creation of a link to a benefits calculator on our website
    • Reporting potential cost-savings resulting from fixed-price tendering of grounds maintenance services to customers
    • Development of clear letter-writing guidelines on style and content for our colleagues
  • Customer overview group

    In April 2015 we brought together customer representatives to form The Customer Overview Group (COG).

    The role and purpose of the COG is to provide an overview of customer priorities and involvement options to support the delivery of our Corporate Strategy. The COG focuses on operational performance and the customer experience. It forms part of our formal customer involvement structure alongside the Customer Scrutiny Panel and Designated Tenant Panel.

    From April 2015 to March 2016 the COG have:

    • Reviewed and signed off the Customer Annual report 2014/15
    • Developed a Service Snapshot Report
    • Approved 2016/17 Local Offers
    • Recommended for approval the proposed customer service standards
    • Agreed three priorities to support the delivery of the Corporate Plan: To actively recruit a shared owner to the group; to consider and influence our digital customer offer; to share ideas for greater business efficiency
  • Complaints

    This year we have received and resolved 819 informal complaints and 346 formal complaints. Twelve of these went to Director Review, two to the Designated Complaints Panel and seven went to Ombudsman Review.

    Formal complaints received covered the following issues:

    Customer accounts - 11

    Leasehold and service charges - 43 (service charge 36)

    Anti-social behaviour - 14

    Lettings - 12

    Mutual exchange - 5

    Neighbourhood management - 17

    Tenancy management - 27

    Defect in a new property - 8

    Development of new properties - 3

    Mechanical/electrical - 17

    Planned maintenance - 16

    Response repairs - 124

    Property investment - 10

    Estate services - 5

    Other - 34

    Overall, 1,124 complaints were closed and 229 of these were upheld or partly upheld.  773 were resolved informally.

  • Designated Complaints Panel

    Our DCP is made up of customers and leaseholders who carry out independent reviews of complaints. This year the DCP undertook two reviews. One agreed with Aster’s resolution and the customer was not supported in escalating the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman. Recommendations were also made about the complaint resolution and improvements for service delivery.

    In the other review, recommendations were made to resolve the complaint. These could not be met and the customer was supported in escalating it to the Ombudsman.

  • Performance headlines

    Repairs

    • 92.1% of repairs were completed on first visit (HouseMark* - the top quarter’s performance: 95.08%)
    • 85% of customers were satisfied with completed repairs
    • 8,183 emergency repair jobs, 99.04% were completed on time
    • 56,141 appointed repair jobs, 98.24% were completed on time
    • The total cost per property for responsive repairs was £353.14
    • 99.98% of gas servicing was completed and in dates

    Home improvements

    This year we spent £15.34 million on improvements to our customers’ homes. This included:

    • £3.2 million installing 732 new kitchens at an average cost of £4,434 per unit
    • £1.5 million installing 536 new bathrooms and 52 wet-rooms at an average cost of £2,823 per unit
    • £4.9 million fitting 1,080 new heating systems and one-off boilers at an average cost of £4,515 per unit
    • £799,478 fitting 1,229 new external doors at an average cost of £651 per unit
    • £2.8 million replacing 297 roofs including fascias and soffits and removal of some chimneys at an average cost of £9,421 per unit

    We also spent £2.1 million on the external decoration of 4,147 properties at an average cost of £510 per home.

    Grounds maintenance

    • Overall customer satisfaction rating 83.6% (very or fairly satisfied)
    • 567schemes and estates have received the service this year
    • Approximately 1,212,209m²of communal open green space has either had its lawns cut or shrub and hedging borders pruned
    • Lawns have been cut 17times between April 2015 and March 2016 – approximately 20,607,553m²of grass

    Tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB)

    • Our ASB Team received 660 anti-social behaviour cases, 60 of these were high priority and 85% were resolved successfully
    • 75% of customers were satisfied with the way their case was handled. (HouseMark- the top quarter performance: 92%)
    • 83% of customers told us staff dealing with their ASB complaint were always helpful. (HouseMark - the top quarter performance: 96%)
    • 96% of customers told us staff dealing with their ASB complaint were always courteous (HouseMark- the top quarter performance: 97%)
    • 84% of customers told us staff dealing with their ASB complaint were always responsive and knowledgeable (HouseMark- the top quarter performance: 95%)
    • 85% of ASB cases were resolved successfully (HouseMark - the top quarter performance: 98%)

    Lettings

    • The average time to re-let our properties was 17.61 days (HouseMark – top quarter performance: top quartile 17.44 days)
    • Our general needs average re-let time is 14.36 days
    • 95% of customers were satisfied with our lettings service
    • Rent loss due to empty properties was 0.57%. (HouseMark - the top quarter performance: 0.60%)

    Arrears

    • Current customer arrears this year were 1.94%. (HouseMark - the top quarter performance: 1.61%)
    • Former customer arrears were 1.39%. (HouseMark- the top quarter performance: 0.73%)

    * Where available, we have included comparative industry performance figures from HouseMark, a leading provider of social housing data which we benchmark ourselves against.