A bigger voice for customers is well overdue

Paul Richards, Group Customer Service Director at Orbit.

The Government’s new seven step Charter for social housing residents sets out a range of standards to be expected from landlords and housing providers. Orbit agrees fundamentally with the direction being set and, as someone who is passionate about our customers and customer service, I am particularly determined that, as a sector, we put the voice of the customer at the heart of our work.

Delivering excellent customer service – which includes regular engagement with our customers and improving the services we provide them – remains the ongoing priority for us.

The pandemic, as challenging as it has been, has helped to crystalize what was already apparent: it became increasingly clear that customers knew their communities best, and they were best placed to highlight where help was needed or where services could be improved. We saw many inspiring examples of communities springing into action to help one another, using some of the tools and frameworks that we could provide them.

We want our customers to play a bigger role in the key decision making that affects their communities, and to contribute opinions and ideas on our services as we look to improve and develop them. Orbit’s work to tackle child poverty was born out of research we did with young people living in an Orbit home and led to a number of low-cost practical improvements we could make as a landlord. The pandemic and its economic impact will bring great challenges and now, more than ever, we need to listen to our customers to understand where our investment and focus can make the biggest impact on their lives.

They absolutely have a right to transparency and to understand how we, as the landlord, are managing their homes and communities for them. We want to enhance our customers’ experience at every point of contact and to make it as easy as possible for them to communicate with us, in person or online. 

Safety is intrinsically linked to our service, and it’s why we value our rigorous approach to governance so highly. Maintaining these standards and ratings with the Social Housing Regulator is crucial both now, and in the future. We also know we must drive forward a low carbon agenda and reduce our impact on the environment.

As always, all of this will create some significant challenges ahead. Maintaining excellent standards of customer service comes at a time when the Government also wants housing providers to play a bigger role helping them to tackle the chronic housing shortage and to build more homes. We are keen to match their ambitions and over the next five years Orbit has set a significant target for investment into our existing stock to ensure these homes remain at a good quality, sustainable standard high standard, and in the build of new homes.

However, whilst we always reinvest our profits, the Government must recognise that the finances of the sector are not infinite.  Enhancing safety and services across our offer, higher safety standards and the drive to zero carbon will all need investment at a time when we are also under constant pressure to maintain affordability for customers, both in terms of rent and linked areas such as service charges and heating costs.

So, whilst we fully support and sign up to the direction of travel and ambitions outlined, we also call for full engagement in the discussion on how we can fund these ambitions, whilst maintaining affordability.