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Solace blog

6th April 2017

A shifting social population: four trends to prepare for for the future

There are a diverse and challenging number of factors currently at play when we consider changes in our social housing landscape, ranging from shifting central government policy, UK and global economic trends and the still unknown impact of Brexit, whether hard or soft.

While we’re set to see a number of positive initiatives launched in housing this year, including new garden towns and villages to provide 200,000 more homes, and thousands of new ‘quick-build’ homes promised by Secretary of State Sajid Javid, the core issues of supply and demand still remain.

A growing lack of affordable housing to rent or buy is now considered by many to be a national crisis, with confused or contradicting government policy-making finding solutions ever more difficult. The challenge for housing providers is compounded by the fact that for every 1,000 council homes allocated each year, more than 3,000 people join the housing list.

The pressure is mounting and a radical transformation is now required for social housing providers to cope with the financial demands placed upon them. Our recent report, ‘The Changing Landscape for Social Housing’, was created in partnership with Solace and The Chartered Institute of Housing to highlight the increasing challenge housing organisations face during this period of
significant social, financial and service change.

We developed the report using insights from roundtable discussions between local authority and housing association leaders, plus research which questioned a further 100 senior housing decision makers.

It drew attention to the struggles organisations face with current housing policy. It showed that over the next 12 months, social housing providers will be prioritising dealing with changing regulations and reforms (52%), safeguarding jobs (59%), cutting costs and driving efficiencies (57%) and improving customer service and satisfaction (57%).

We also identified four key characteristics of social housing tenants; distinctive trends to watch for in the future including:

1. Diversity and population growth

Our report found that 66% of social housing providers are now working with an increasingly aging population, while 44% say tenants are becoming more linguistically and culturally diverse.
Alongside these changes, the sharp increase in costs of homes on the private rental and purchase market is adding to the housing crisis. This affordability gap means more and more young professionals and working families are accessing home-ownership through social housing providers. Right to Buy will also have an effect, with the Local Government Association predicting that 88,000 social homes will be lost via this scheme by 2020.

This growing demand for diminishing social housing stock, means housing providers must tackle how our social housing stock is replaced, built and also redesigned to meet needs.

2. Divided communities

While multiculturalism brings many benefits to society, it has also created some divisions among social housing tenants.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union in last year’s referendum was taken by many as a vote of discontent from people who feel marginalised in our society. Today’s social housing providers now need to manage popular misconceptions that those people born outside of the UK are receiving preferential treatment when accessing social housing. With increased tension within communities as the British population continues to diversify, there is a risk that this perception will increase.

3. Data trust issues

While most of us are now happy to use our mobiles and online devices to make purchases, access online banking and further services, some consumers are still very cautious with data sharing and demand data security guarantees.

There is strong mistrust among the general public regarding how the UK government use electoral role and personal data without their consent.

It’s now vital that social housing providers set about educating and building trust with tenants over data security. The industry needs to use information gained from tenant interactions more effectively, such as better evaluation of data to find and help those in the community who need further support.

4. Demand for mobile self-service

From the rapid growth of social media use among Generation Y to tenants demanding immediate access to services via the internet and mobile apps, customers now want to use and interact with public sector services which best suit their lifestyles. Social housing providers need to meet this demand and respond accordingly – offering easy access to all services online and quick results for customers.

But providers must also consider those ‘digitally excluded’ customers – our report found that just 38% of those aged 75 and over are internet users, while 25% of disabled adults have never accessed the internet.

In order to survive, the social housing industry must drive significant transformation within the next 12-18 months. The sector must take steps to confidently navigate this changing landscape and harness innovation. The secret to this success is strong leadership, supportive partnerships, key people and skills, and detailed data. Major advances and improvement in services are often dependent on the best technology and automation; organisations will need a robust, technology-based approach and partners to support this.

A stronger understanding of the needs of the local population will reap dividends in the future.

Jeff Hewitt, Executive Director for Housing & Asset Management at Civica, looks at how changing consumer behaviour and increasingly diverse communities mean housing providers will have to work even harder to meet tenant demands.