The results of the Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) first COVID-19 monthly survey of housing providers are in.
The survey shows that although there are some small issues and concerns, the sector is generally “coping well” with operational challenges.
The first survey – producing a 93% response rate – comprised housing associations with 1,000 or more homes, local authority social landlords, and providers with fewer than 1,000 homes with a high proportion of supported accommodation.
Published today, and covering the period to 17 April, the report found the sector is “generally reporting that, despite the impact of coronavirus, it is still managing to maintain adequate levels of service delivery in the areas surveyed”.
This includes in-care and support settings, where providers are reporting safe staffing levels and delivery essential services.
However, in care settings some providers expressed concern about their ability to maintain safe staffing levels when an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs within the setting itself.
“These concerns relate to staff absences caused by both self-isolation requirements and by stress and anxiety,” the RSH report said.
The report also notes common challenges facing many providers, including the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), supply chain resilience, and gaining access to properties and homes.
The report found that there is rising concern that tenants may not be reporting emergency repairs because they are unsure of what constitutes such a repair or because they don’t want to permit access to their home.
The report said, too, that contractors were in some cases protecting their own staff by only carrying out emergency work.
In other cases, the report said, some associations are experiencing difficulty obtaining materials due to supply chain issues.
On gas servicing, the responses showed “initially there were different interpretations of official guidance”, with some landlords suspending programmes for a short period prior to the 16 April HSE guidance.
It added: “Survey comments have confirmed that where this was the case, providers are now clear on the expectations and have resumed servicing programmes in line with those guidelines.”
On PPE, providers said they had enough to meet their short-term needs, though they expressed concern about potential lack of supply in the future – through either a lack of availability or rising prices.
The report also noted that some providers are finding it difficult to complete safety checks, again, due to tenants’ concerns about people entering their homes or because they are shielding.
“Most have found their own solutions, but we have been in touch with a small number to discuss the challenges,” the report said.
The RSH report details some of the steps providers are taking to manage the challenges they are facing, including:
- Redeploying staff to high-priority actions, or to support vulnerable tenants both in and out of formal care settings
- Identifying new contractors and suppliers
- Partnering with agencies including the NHS and other regulators to ensure essential services are delivered
The report said many providers had also increased contact with tenants by phone and text, particularly vulnerable tenants, and that tenants were responding positively to these efforts.
Commenting on the report RSH chief executive Fiona MacGregor said: “Ensuring safe staffing levels and completing emergency repairs and vital safety checks are fundamental to tenant safety.
“The coronavirus outbreak makes this even more important as everyone spends more time at home and vulnerable households have to self-isolate, at the same time as presenting significant operational challenges for housing associations and local authorities.
“We are pleased to see from our first cross-sector survey that social housing providers are generally coping well in maintaining essential operations in the face of the impacts of the virus and finding solutions to their most pressing challenges.
“This is testament to the hard work and agility of providers and their staff in prioritising tenant safety at this time.”
RSH survey background
The regulator initially announced plans to survey associations on how they were coping with coronavirus at the end of March.
The questionnaire was published on 7 April, with five key multiple choice questions around emergency repairs, gas and fire safety compliance; asbestos, electrical, legionella and lift safety checks; and care and support staffing levels.