Tenant feedback drives increased investment and plans to improve housing services

Photo of council tower block in Blackbird Leys Published: Friday, 17th December 2021

Tenant feedback is at the heart of Oxford City Council’s plans for increased investment and improvements to council housing services in the wake of the pandemic.

The council’s draft budget includes £51m in planned maintenance, refurbishments and improvements to estates in the next four years. Like other social landlords, the council carries out periodic surveys of tenants and leaseholders on how satisfied they are with the services they receive. These are usually referred to as STAR surveys, and the results of the 2021 STAR survey have been used to guide this investment and drive improvements to services.

An £8.7m investment programme to improve the energy efficiency of council homes and reduce carbon is already underway. The council’s housing company, Oxford City Housing Ltd (OCHL), will also continue the ongoing delivery of a new generation of high quality, design-led and low carbon council homes.

STAR survey and key results

All 7,664 council tenants and leaseholders were invited to take part in the STAR survey by post or online, with phone calls also made to 925 tenants. A total of 1,579 tenants (23% of tenants) and 84 leaseholders (12% of leaseholders) replied.

Across all social landlords, the biggest driver for tenant satisfaction is the day to day repairs service, which was put on hold for a prolonged period when lockdown restrictions were in force. This led to significant backlogs of non-essential repairs and planned improvements.

The results of the 2021 STAR survey must be viewed against the backdrop of the pandemic and Local Government Association (LGA) polling showing increased dissatisfaction with council services nationwide. While these factors cloud the picture somewhat, the survey results provide a sound evidence base and a starting point for improvement in a post-lockdown world. The most positive feedback from tenants is as follows:

  • 85% are satisfied with the council’s customer service
  • 81% believe their rent is value for money
  • 80% feel safe and secure in their home
  • 76% are satisfied with the council as a landlord
  • 76% are satisfied with the repairs service
  • 76% are satisfied with being kept informed about things that may affect them

The STAR survey compares favourably with LGA polling on nearly all metrics, most notably value for money – with 81% of Oxford council tenants agreeing that they get value for money, against 43% nationally. Oxford also scores higher than the national average on how the council runs things, being kept well informed, trust and acting on concerns.

However, the overall trend is downwards when compared to pre-pandemic levels and work is already underway to address this. The most significant areas where this is needed are:

  • overall satisfaction with the council as a landlord
  • overall satisfaction with the quality of the home
  • tenants’ views are listened to and acted upon
  • satisfaction with the outcome of an antisocial behaviour complaint

The survey provided an option for tenants and leaseholders to comment on service areas and areas for improvement. These have been shared with relevant teams responsible for specific services, who have been working on a whole council basis to put in place a range of initiatives and action plans to help drive improvement.

Repairs

A range of measures have been or are being put in place by ODS to improve satisfaction with repairs. These include better communication with tenants over appointments and progress, as well as improvements to IT allowing ODS and tenants to book follow up calls and report, view and track progress with cases,

ODS will take a proactive approach to follow up previous reports of damp or mould and employ more dynamic matching of staff availability with demand for repairs. This may involve the use of smart sensors for remote monitoring of humidity and temperature in tenants’ homes.

ODS is also implementing customer care training for all staff centred on communication, behaviours and delivering a right first time service.

£51m investment in improvements

The English Housing Survey reports that 13% of all social housing in England does not meet the Decent Homes standard, but this is not the case in Oxford. The council has maintained the standard throughout its stock.

Nonetheless, the STAR survey highlighted that many tenants and leaseholders are not satisfied with the condition of their home. The increased investment is targeted to accelerate the replacement of key parts of buildings and homes – doors and windows, re-roofing, structural repairs, lifts and door phone entry systems, cyclical repairs and decoration, fencing and internal communal area improvements.

On top of this, the council has commissioned a full stock condition survey to assess what work is needed over and above Decent Homes in future. The council will also continue to invest £1.1m a year in improving blocks of flats and parking through the Great Estates programme.

Other service improvements

As well as these works, the council intends to invest in improving other services – including engaging more effectively with tenants and leaseholders. Many of them have little real contact with the council apart from the repairs service. In order to find out what is important to people and deliver the changes they want, in 2022 and 2023 housing staff will be arranging home visits to hear their views.

Better engagement work will involve new building and fire safety requirements. This includes personal emergency evacuation plans for tower blocks, as well as working with anyone who might need a fire safety risk assessment suitable for their particular needs.

People who experience antisocial behaviour are rarely satisfied with the way their cases are handled because they would often like a more punitive outcome than the behaviour stopping. The council will provide better support for victims of antisocial behaviour and work with perpetrators to engage with services that can help prevent a recurrence of their behaviour. 

To support the delivery of new council homes by OCHL, the council will also recruit new staff in tenancy management, allocations and the furnished tenancy scheme for new tenants.

An external review of how the council delivers its services to tenants as a landlord has been commissioned to inform its thinking.

Comment

“Overall, tenants and leaseholders are satisfied or very satisfied with the customer service they receive. More than four fifths of tenants perceive the rent they pay to be good value for money, and we’re pleased about that because Oxford needs more affordable housing.

“Societally, the six years since our last STAR survey have been disruptive and polarising, with the pandemic in particular casting a deep shadow over the last two years. This is bound to have an impact on how happy people are with their lives and, by extension, their homes.

“But this is not an excuse. Whatever the reason, tenant satisfaction is down across the board and we hear what you’re saying. The STAR survey sent us a clear message that you want us to listen more and change the way we deliver services in line with your feedback.

“This is something we are keen to do. We want to improve. And we now have a sound evidence base and a starting point to make those improvements from. Our housing team is working with ODS and other relevant service teams to identify and deliver the necessary improvement plans.

“Crucially, these will be underpinned by £51m of planned maintenance, refurbishments and estate improvements and a further £8.7m in improving energy efficiency in existing council homes over the next four years, along with a new generation of high quality council homes by OCHL.”

Councillor Diko Walcott, cabinet member for affordable housing, housing security and housing the homeless