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

    Our homes

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

    • In Dorset, we have 9,158 homes, including 52 new build affordable and social rent properties. There are 8,411 rented, 483 of these are leasehold and 264 shared ownership 
    • In Hampshire, we have 6,342 homes, including 86 new build affordable and social rent properties. 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 build affordable and social rent properties. 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 build affordable and social rent properties. 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 build affordable and social rent properties. There are 817 rented, 202 of these are homes for older people, 252 are shared ownership and one is leasehold
  • 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 Value for Money report we’ll tell you how we’re making the most of every pound we spend. From making small changes to the way we ask for your opinion, like giving you the option to tell us what you think via email or online; reducing costs by £20,000; and by saving £4.3m in operational costs through more effective ways of working. 

    The report also looks at how well you think we’re doing and it’s great to see that 88% of our customers are satisfied that their rent provides them with value for money. 

    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, core services to our customers and build more much-needed homes.

  • Creating social value

    Our work under the banner of the Aster Foundation is focused on supporting our customers and the wider communities in which we work.

    During 2016/17 our commitments were based around the four themes of People, Places, Planet and Performance.

    People

    • We provided 45 work placement or apprenticeship opportunities for customers either directly or through our supply chain
    • Nearly 44 days have been given to communities through our colleague volunteering programme
    • Colleague charitable fundraising activity has been matched to a total of over £20,200

    Places and Planet

    • We saved over £150,000 on mileage claims by increasing the use of digital technology to reduce travelling
    • We invested more than £80,000 in innovative ideas, including transforming an existing office space into a flexible, creative and collaborative working environment

    Performance

    • We saved enough through our LEAN efficiency programme to build 30 new homes

    Many of these initiatives will continue this year. We are also working to evolve the Aster Foundation with an increased focus on evaluating the social value we deliver.

  • Digital and financial inclusion

    We have invested £21,550 in employment and digital projects this year and have received a further income grant of £50,754.43 which we have spent on further enhancing our approach to employability and digital training for our customers.

    Our pioneering and innovative approach to tackling the challenges of welfare reform saw us partner with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) throughout 2016/17 to put the customer at the heart of the programme.

    Our joint ASpect project gave our customers crucial employment support and training as well as a renewed sense of belonging.

    Throughout 2016/17 a dedicated DWP partnership officer was seconded to us with the specific role of:

    • Finding customers who would benefit from help to get back to work and/or supporting them to overcome barriers to finding work 
    • To give us some key insights into the most effective approach to employability skills so that we are better placed to develop and support our customers who are seeking employment 
    • To encourage and support financial inclusion 
    • To be in a better position to support the needs of our customers as we transition to full service Universal Credit roll-out

    As well as our work with the DWP we have also been working with partners RCS and Skills and Learning to bring our customers a range of free training designed to help them back into work.

    RCS - A taste for work We invested £4,000 into a pilot programme for four bespoke employment training courses in Hampshire. These courses were developed and written in conjunction with our customers and were carefully tailored to their needs.

    After a successful trial in Hampshire, we funded further courses in our other key operating areas using our established partner network.  

    Skills and Learning (SS&L) Dorset and Poole Based on the RCS – A taste for work programme, we funded Skills and Learning Dorset and Poole to provide four bespoke employment training courses in Dorset. This programme acted as a spring board to then refer customers on to other programmes.

    Skills and Learning (SS&L) Somerset We also funded SS&L Somerset to develop and deliver a course specifically designed with our customers in mind. These courses were designed in conjunction with our customers and included skills such as IT, CV writing, interview skills, basic office skills and in addition was a fantastic confidence builder for some who had been out of work for some time.

  • Welfare Reform

    2016/17 has seen our teams preparing customers for the on-going roll-out of Universal Credit, which combines six benefits into one single monthly payment, to help them to understand how to effectively manage their finances and the importance of a rent first approach.

    Our Welfare Reform Strategy continues to support our customers whilst protecting the business and a review of our welfare benefit and customer engagement teams last year has resulted in a new team being created to provide our customers with seamless access to debt and welfare advice and digital, financial and employability skills training.

    The new customer support services team will be key to reducing rent arrears through education and advice, together with digital, financial and employability training being provided consistently across all regions. Through these changes we hope to positively influence the behaviours of our customers and their attitude towards financial management.

    We have also continued our collaborative approach to working with DWP which allows us to provide the DWP with key information about the impact of Universal Credit on our customers.

  • Customer Groups

    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 five major reviews, completing 311 hours of work in the process.

    The CSP completed five scrutinies in 2016/17 focusing on:

    • Customer involvement and digital inclusion
    • Right to buy process
    • Hoarding
    • Responsive repairs service
    • Former tenant arrears

    A number of service improvement recommendations were made by the panel which where escalated internally to our Housing Leadership Team, Customer and Community Network and Group Audit Committee.

    The CSP suggested the following improvements: 

    • Greater focus on encouraging customers to update their records on line through My Account
    • Ensuing that the mobile office visits neighbourhoods in all regions
    • Our complaints procedure to be included in both the monthly customer e-shot and quarterly newsletter
    • Promote the revised repairs handbook the monthly e-shot or quarterly newsletter as well as clear signposting from the website
    • Hoarding awareness events with the local fire service and promotion of the issue using customer channels

    Summaries of the CSP reports are available here.

    The CSP also completed an internal review of its own processes identifying the strengths and potential weaknesses of the group, the difficulties that may prevent the group from giving an excellent service and the opportunities to ensure continuous improvement.

    An action plan to take forward identified actions and improvements has been drawn up.

    Customer Overview Group

    The Customer Overview Group (COG) was set up 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 2016 to March 2017 the COG have:

    • Reviewed and signed off the Customer Annual report 2015/16
    • Continued influence and development of the Service Snapshot Report
    • Approved 2017/8 Local Offers
    • Recommended for approval the proposed customer service standards
    • Agreed three priorities to support the delivery of the Corporate Plan
    • Recommended for approval the revised customer expenses procedure
  • Improving our homes

    We spent £16m on improving our homes this year:

    • £3.6 million on installing 778 new kitchens at an average cost of £4,640 per unit
    • £1.57 million on installing 569 new bathrooms including 52 new wet rooms at an average cost of £2,694
    • £4.5 million on 1,220 new heating installations including one-off boilers at an average unit cost of £3,706
    • £791,000 on 1,184 new external doors at an average unit cost of £668
    • £3.2 million replacing 314 roofs including fascias and soffits and removal of some chimneys at an average unit cost of £10,072
    • £2.3 million on the external decoration of 4,607 homes at an average unit cost of £509 per home
  • How did we do?

    Repairing our homes

    • 85% of customers found the repairs process easy
      • 89.8% of repairs were completed on first visit
      • 84.30% of customers were satisfied with completed repairs
      • Of the 7,679 emergency repair jobs completed 99.8% were completed on time
      • Of the 70,399 appointed repair jobs completed 98% were completed on time
      • The total cost per property for responsive repairs was £308
      • 99.99% of gas servicing was completed and in date

     Maintenance 

    • 82% of customers were satisfied with the grounds maintenance service
    • 1,578 schemes and sites, including new developments received an annual cyclical service that included grass cutting, shrub and hedge pruning and hard surface maintenance
    • 819 communal blocks received an annual cleaning service that included sweeping and mopping communal stairwells and landings
    • 869 communal blocks received cyclical window cleaning services for communal windows
    • Our estates service team undertook 2,789 separate jobs including bulk rubbish collections, graffiti removal, bin rotations and property clearances

    Handling complaints

    Under our new complaints process we no longer report on any informal complaints received. This year we received and resolved 574 formal complaints. Ten of these went to Director Review and seven went to Ombudsman Review.

    Our Designated Complaints Panel, made up of customers and leaseholders carried out two reviews and a number of recommendations were made about the complaint resolution and improvements for service delivery.

    Tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB)

    Our ASB team received 666 anti-social behaviour cases in 2016/17, 129 of these were classified as 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 was 14.26 days (HouseMark – top quarter performance: top quartile 14.04 days) 
    • Our general needs average re-let time is 12.85 days 
    • 95% of customers were satisfied with our lettings service 
    • Rent loss due to empty properties was 0.45%*. (HouseMark – the top quarter performance: 0.42%) 
    • 81% 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.