Six Town Housing have made several changes to the way they operate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so they can continue to support vulnerable tenants in what have been challenging times.
We continue to deliver the majority of housing management services to customers, all be it over the telephone, via email and through digital platforms, such as Microsoft Teams. This includes dealing with anti-social behaviour, collecting rent and recovering arrears, dealing with tenancy breaches and supporting our most vulnerable customers. Anti-social behaviour cases continue to be monitored closely in partnership with the Police and other agencies.
We have seen a sharp increase in arrears as a result of the pandemic, with many tenants losing their jobs or being furloughed by their employers. We continue to support tenants impacted financially by the outbreak and have set up a dedicated team to offer advice and assistance. This includes setting up a dedicated telephone and online service for tenants who need help applying for Universal Credit. This service is also open to customers living in the private sector. Like all other housing organisations and in line with new Government legislation, we have put a temporary hold on taking legal action against any tenants that fall into rent arrears.
The team has also taken time to contact all of our vulnerable customers, including those over 70 years of age and tenants with underlying medical conditions. We have checked up on over 1,200 tenants and made referrals to other agencies and the Community Hubs, where it has been identified that additional support is required. The team have also supported Bury Council to distribute essential food and medicine to vulnerable residents across the Bury.
Many of our TRAs and community groups also continue to provide valuable services to the community hubs and to tenants living in their areas, with additional support provided by our Community Development Workers who are actively engaged in Bury’s Covid19 community response.
In April, Neighbourhoods colleagues supported the onsite bistro at Red Bank Extra Care Scheme, Cuppacino, in being reclassified as a catering service for the vulnerable. Rather than closing, this meant that the firm was able to provide a valuable service to isolated people living within the scheme throughout the month, producing up to 50 takeaway meals a day.
In one instance in April, a tenancy warning was issued to a woman in Prestwich who broke social distancing guidelines to host a party in Prestwich, with Six Town Housing working closely with Greater Manchester Police on this matter.
Repairs and Capital Improvements
Our Repairs Direct team had to move to providing “essential” repairs only when the lockdown was first announced in March, only responding to emergencies while also carrying out visits necessary for the safety of tenants, such as annual gas checks.
In April, Repairs Direct shared a large amount of stored Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with frontline council workers and community volunteers who are providing services to vulnerable residents in the borough.
After lockdown restrictions were eased the team returned to carrying out standard repairs on 26th May 2020 wherever tenants ask for them. A set of new safety measures are in place to protect both tenants and staff when repairs take place. These measures were influenced by the results of a customer survey featuring practical suggestions from tenants, which is further detailed in the customer engagement section below. Staff are maintaining social distancing rules at all times and following hygiene measures, such as cleaning work surfaces after they have finished and washing their hands. Work is not able to take place where social distancing is not possible and staff are informing tenants which areas they will be working in while in their homes to help this.
The capital works programme (involving the installation of new kitchens and bathrooms) also wound down in March, with work temporary pausing after ensuring work had been completed in homes where it had started to avoid inconveniencing anyone.
Following an easing of lockdown restrictions, the team resumed this work on 1st June 2020 in the neighbourhoods of Chesham Fold (Bury) and Outwood (Radcliffe), following safety measures. Tenants in the two neighbourhoods who are receiving work have been consulted directly so they know what is happening and are happy with staff carrying out the work in their homes. Further feedback is being encouraged throughout the pilot to ensure work is being carried out in a way that ensures everyone feels safe and at ease. The aim of the work in these areas is to pilot a return to regular delivery of the service elsewhere in the borough later in the year. Staff will also start carrying out pre-entry surveys in other homes in the borough this month, in anticipation of further work taking place.
During the lockdown our caretaking team carried out communal compliance works and removed fly tipping in neighbourhoods, which has increased, and maintained communal bin areas. Other caretaking services resumed on 25th May.
A survey was sent out to all tenants to gain their views on the repairs service returning. It received 367 responses, with 80% of these being from tenants who were happy for staff to visit their homes again to carry out repairs. Many respondents, even the 20% wary about having repairs staff in their home, offered practical suggestions that would make them feel safer and more at ease if this occurred. These have helped influence the team’s new safety measures.
In the weeks before the lockdown, when it seemed increasingly likely that one would occur, a digital marketing campaign was created to highlight Six Town Housing’s online methods of contact, including live-chat, our online portal and contact form. This was created to help manage the resources of our customer hub, who would need to work from home during the lockdown. Use of live-chat in particular has noticeably increased in this time and is proving popular with tenants.
To support wellbeing in communities during the lockdown, an online competition was also promoted to tenants encouraging them to share how their households were staying happy, healthy and entertained to help inspire others. The “Staying Well In Our Six Towns” competition gained 22 photo entries, which were shared and seen by 1,000s of people on social media. It also gained local press coverage. Similar initiatives were planned, including a recently launched online version of Six Town Housing’s annual gardening competition.