Agenda item

Accent Housing

To receive a verbal update from Robert Mills on Accent’s Maintenance Record.


The Committee received a presentation from Rob Mills, Director of Customer Experience (South), of Accent Housing updating the Committee in respect of their ongoing issues with their repair service affecting their Surrey Heath properties.


Accent’s new maintenance contractor, Axis Europe, had now been appointed for approximately 12 months. Out of the 1216 repair cases which were handed back to Accent from its previous maintenance contractor, CHS, 1204 cases had been completed with 12 which were still outstanding.


Despite this the COVID-19 pandemic had severely disrupted Accent’s Repair Service; and in March the housing supplier had to pause the taking-on of new maintenance cases and only fully mobilized its repair service in September. This had caused a new backlog of repairs, which were being managed by weekly review meetings, work with Axis Europe to take-on 6 additional maintenance operatives as well as sub-contractors, the provision of additional administrative support to help Axis manage its workload.


Since last presenting to the Committee, Axis had made the Accent Customer Liaison Officer role a permanent position and continued its new emphasis on monitoring satisfaction ratings which were being collected from residents via a free text service. The positive improvements were exemplified by the overall average customer satisfaction ratings which had improved from 3.84 out of 5 in February 2020 to 4.23 out of 5 in the Autumn of 2020.


Even though Accent’s programme of long-term planned works was much smaller than normal in order to prioritise the repairs works backlog, Accent’s planned capital works totaled at a £1.5million capital investment with some of the works deferred to 2021/22. It was planned that all replacements which were deemed to be a priority were to be completed by March.


As a result of the pandemic many of Accent’s tenants had been badly financially hit. This was illustrated by a severe upturn in the amount of Accent tenants which were on universal credit. Whilst the number of Accent tenants within Surrey Heath on Universal Credit was 96 in February 2020, this number had increased to 670 Accent tenants in December 2020. As a result of economic hardship Accent tenants had also built up larger levels of debt and many had gone into rent arrears. This issue was being proactively tackled by Accent’s Income Team in their South Office who were implementing a new rent arrears policy and were aiming to establish a collaborative approach with residents when dealing with arrears.


Arising from Members’ comments and questions the following points were noted:


·         There was a greater positivity around Accent’s maintenance service and Members had noticed a significant reduction in the amount of negative correspondence from Accent residents.

·         Accent were ready for the combined negative impacts of the pandemic and Brexit. Accent had been internally modelling the impact of an economic downturn on their future rental income and the amount of their residents in rent arrears. Accent had also ready noticed struggles in obtaining materials needed for maintenance work as a result of Brexit.

·         Within Surrey Heath Accent currently had a backlog of 1800 maintenance cases. This was in contrast to a normal run-rate of 600-800 outstanding cases.

·         The amount of Accent residents claiming Universal Credit was in line with the 300% increase in Universal Credit applications for Surrey Heath as a whole; and it was reiterated that Accent worked with residents to tackle rent arrears and that eviction was only a last-resort. Accent also worked with organisations such as Citizens Advice Surrey Heath, Step Change, local foodbanks and BESOM in order to refer and signpost residents which were facing hardship.

·         Accent had a relative level of financial resilience due to recent bonds which the company had sold and loan facilities which it could easily access.

·         Accent were already in conversation with the Council in respect of a parcel of Council-owned land on Sullivan Road which could lead to expansion of its current site on Sullivan Road.

The Committee thanked Rob and Holly for their presentation and answers; and agreed that it would be positive if Accent presented to the Committee again half way through the 2021/22 municipal year.