Landlord plans own universal credit pilot 23 September 2014 | By Jess McCabe Coastline Housing is…

Landlord plans own universal credit pilot

Coastline Housing is planning its own pilot of universal credit in an attempt to assess the ‘real impact’ of the flagship benefit reform.

The 4,000-home south west association is set to become the first landlord to pay to test universal credit under more realistic conditions than the official pilot schemes run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), in order to model the true cost of direct payment.

Under universal credit, various benefits including housing benefit will be rolled into one monthly payment. Generally this will be paid to the claimant, whereas social housing tenants have previously had housing benefit paid directly to their landlord.

The £12.8bn scheme is due to be rolled out nationwide by October 2017, but officially 10 pilot schemes are already up and running, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Warrington, Wigan, Hammersmith, Rugby, Inverness, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton. The government also ran six demonstration projects with social landlords, and found 95% of rent was collected from 4,719 tenants.

But Coastline is working with the DWP to test universal credit on around 200 tenants that will be selected to reflect the proportion of working age benefit claimants in the Cornwall-based landlord’s stock.

It will go to its board to seek final approval in January, with the aim of beginning the test run in April 2015. The landlord has been told it won’t be affected by universal credit until 2016 ‘at the earliest’.

As of April 2013, around 56.1% of Coastline’s tenants were on full housing benefit and about 24% received partial housing benefit.

Louise Beard, director of housing and care at Coastline, said: ‘Many of the demonstration projects picked their customers and had resources pumped in, whereas our team are keen to establish the very real impact with current resources.’

She added: ‘We want a real picture of what will happen under the introduction of universal credit direct payment when it comes into Cornwall.’

The DWP said that it is continuing to develop its work with social landlords to prepare for the start of universal credit, but did not respond to direct questions about whether Coastline is the only new pilot underway.

Coastline is also one of 10 social landlords to take part in Inside Housing’s welfare reform focus group, tracking the impact of changes such as universal credit on the sector. The next set of data on how the focus group is progressing will be published on 3 October.

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Gender gap widens as housing chiefs’ pay soars 18 September 2014 | By Jess McCabe With risk…

Gender gap widens as housing chiefs’ pay soars

With risk comes reward. The chief executives of Britain’s 100 biggest housing associations are diversifying into a range of commercial activities – and their pay packets reflect this. Jess McCabe reports

Mountain climbers

For the full results of our survey click here or see the interactive table at the bottom of this page

For use in 19 September 2014

The pay of housing chief executives is reaching new heights. Salaries are up. Bonuses are up. Even car allowances are up.

Every year, Inside Housing’s survey of chief executive salaries reveals how much the leaders of the biggest 100 housing associations in the UK are paid. And this year we have found that average salaries for the top job have climbed by more than 3% – well above inflation.

Basic pay for chief executives has risen for the third year in a row, reaching an average of £161,313 in the 2013/14 financial year – up £4,827 on 2012/13.

Chief executives earned an average £173,321 in 2013/14, including bonuses and car allowance – up £6,413 on 2012/13.

Why? As well as having a total of 2.3 million homes under management, housing associations say they are changing – and their chief executives have to be better equipped than ever to manage them.

Whether organisations are merging, building more homes or getting into market sale, private rent and other commercial activities, more is being demanded of chief executives. And, like a mountain climber, as they reach for higher summits, they are taking on more risk.

Mark Glinwood, managing director of recruitment consultancy Capital Insight, has sat on the remuneration subcommittees on the boards of housing associations – which are typically tasked with setting pay and conditions for the top executives.

For use in 19 September 2014

He says: ‘Some of these roles at the top level, in terms of what they’re asking [of chief executives has been] increasing quite significantly over the last three to four years.’

The pay rises allow housing providers to keep pace with the market, and recognise their chief executives are filling bigger and more complex roles.

He predicts further rises next year: ‘These organisations will have also gone through pay restraints over the last two to three years.’

Yet housing chiefs are well paid in comparison with their public sector peers: most in our survey are paid more than the prime minister (£142,500).

And, Mr Glinwood notes, some chief executives are doing well in comparison with parts of the generally better-paid private sector.

But with tenants struggling through welfare reform and when housing professionals in general may have seen lower increases in wages, and as the Homes and Communities Agency is demanding that housing providers show value for money, how high can salaries climb?

Peak performance: who is the highest paid?

David Cowans of Places for people at the New Economic Landscape’ session at the CIH conference

David Cowans: Tops the list as highest paid CEO again

David Cowans is once again the highest-paid chief executive in housing in terms of total pay.

The commander-in-chief at Places for People, also the biggest association in the top 100, Mr Cowans takes home £432,928 in total.

This is a relatively modest 1.35% increase on his 2012/13 pay. But Mr Cowans is paid £100,000 more than the next highest-paid chief executive, Anchor’s Jane Ashcroft.

His salary is also more than four times that of the lowest-paid chief executive working for a top 100 housing association, Linda Adair Whittaker of NPT Homes, who takes home £104,000.

Chris Phillips, chair of Places for People, explains that the high pay reflects the demands of the job of leading the 144,000-home housing association.

‘Places for People has continued to diversify, grow and increase revenue over the last year,’ he says. ‘With government grant in sharp decline, the group is now involved in a vast range of activities, ranging from care and support through to maintenance and construction, leisure and financial services, all contributing to helping individuals and communities realise their aspirations.

‘David’s leadership has played a major role in the success of our business model, helping to generate significant investment for new homes as well as local communities.

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He has also met the demanding performance criteria set by the board covering financial, social involvement, value for money, environmental and place-building targets.’

It is worth adding that Mr Cowans’ pay per home managed by the landlord is at the bottom of the scale. At £3 for each of the association’s 144,000 homes, he is, by that measure, one of the joint-lowest paid in the top 100, far below top earners Sinéad Butters, chief executive of the Aspire Group, who earns £17.04 per home and Richmond Housing Partnership’s David Done, who earns £16.69 per home.

Ms Adair Whittaker, the lowest-paid chief executive in our ranking, is by contrast paid £11 for each of the association’s 9,785 homes.

High altitude: who are the biggest climbers?

For use in 19 September 2014

At first glance, some chief executives seem to have gained much bigger salaries this year. But closer examination reveals a more complex picture. David Ashmore, the outgoing chief executive of GreenSquare Group, had the highest increase in total salary this year, at more than 21% from £134,000 to £162,000. But the 11,520-home association explains that this is largely made up of a £25,000 one-off bonus.

Mr Ashmore retired in July 2013. In addition, the organisation explains, his pay of £127,187 in 2012/13 was artificially depressed after he took a period of unpaid leave during that financial year.

Likewise, Metropolitan, which paid chief executive Brian Johnson 11.25% more, told Inside Housing: ‘The increase shown is based on the fact that Brian was not eligible for a bonus in the year 2012/13 because he joined part-way through the financial year.’

For all the other housing chiefs in the top 10 in terms of total salary increase (box, right), salary increases made up at least part of their bigger pay cheques, reflecting either changes in the job, or high performance against their targets.

For example, Geeta Nanda, chief executive of Thames Valley Housing, took home £166,874, or 10% more year on year. The chair of Thames Valley Housing, David Clayton-Smith, says the association has had a successful year, delivering on key targets and objectives, including securing £200m equity investment to expand Fizzy [Living], its private rented sector operation.

When making these decisions, Mr Glinwood from Capital Insight says, boards are increasingly measuring up the pay awards for their chief executives in terms of fairness and what’s happening to pay in the rest of the organisation.

‘People have started to ask these fairness, equity [questions],’ he says.

‘If we are all in this together, that does need to be reflected in increases to all our staff.’

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This is a discussion he has seen take place on remuneration committees, he says, where the emotional component of setting pay does factor in as well as the technical questions of the going rate for a chief executive, and their performance against set target.

Taking the whole of the top 100 housing associations, the average pay increase is 3.85% – more than the rate of inflation: the Consumer Price Index rose 1.8% in the year to April 2014.

It is also more than double the average housing staff pay increase of 1.44% in the same period, a survey of 60 associations published earlier this month by Capita has shown.

Not every housing chief has progressed rapidly up the pay scale. Nine housing associations paid their chief executives less in 2013/14 than in the previous financial year. David Montague, chief executive of 70,600-home association L&Q, had a 6.34% decrease in total pay. However, digging into the data, his basic salary went up from £206,000 to £211,150 and the reduction is down to a less generous bonus payment.

Former chief executive of Housing & Care 21 Pushpa Raguvaran’s basic salary and bonus also decreased, but that does not include a £174,000 ‘contractual notice payment’.

Ms Raguvaran resigned from the housing association in August 2013.

Gender bias: who is the highest-paid woman?

CE, Anchor

Jane Ashcroft: Second highest paid CEO

Only 22 of the top 100 chief executives are women. Their average basic salary was £163,389, lower than the average male chief executive, at £158,111.

And their average bonus, £2,968, was also lower than the average performance-related pay taken home by their male peers, which was £6,321.

Yet some women chief executives are among the best paid in the sector, whether by total take-home pay, pay per million pounds of turnover or pay per home.

Jane Ashcroft at Anchor is the second-highest paid housing chief executive – although the association says this is, in part, because it runs hundreds of care homes, and because of the size and complexity of the organisation.

Ms Manning from Capita says the broad trend is probably a result of female chief executives leading smaller organisations in jobs that command less pay.

This is still affecting the pool of candidates when a large housing association recruits for a new leader.

‘There are more men that have been chief executive longer, with more experience, that are getting that job,’ she says.

But Ms Manning adds that she has seen more female chief executives at smaller organisations, around the 5,000-home mark and falling outside the scope of our survey, who are gaining experience.

She expects these to start to rise up the ranks: ‘It’s going to change. I’m confident.

‘There are some fantastic female chief executives out there.’

Bonuses of contention: who receives the biggest performance-related payment?

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David Cowans from Places for People also received the biggest bonus of the top 100 at £112,236.

The board of a housing association is responsible for setting the pay and bonuses of chief executives. Some boards vigorously defend the use of bonuses as a way to keep their chief executives on the ball.

Neil Goulden, chair of the board at Affinity Sutton, explains the association has a deliberate tactic to place ‘a significant proportion of the reward package of its chief executive and senior managers at risk.’

‘In other words,’ he says, ‘if the organisation doesn’t deliver excellent results, then this part of their remuneration isn’t paid.’ Affinity Sutton gave its chief executive, Keith Exford, a £36,255 bonus – one of the highest in the top 100.

Mr Goulden says: ‘Affinity Sutton delivered outstanding results in 2013/14, including achieving a record surplus for reinvestment in our homes and communities, delivering more than 800 new homes as part of our plan to build 10,000 new homes over 10 years, meeting a customer satisfaction target of 80% and seeing employee commitment reach record levels.

‘Given this level of success across a wide range of measures under Keith Exford’s leadership, the remuneration committee believes the approach of linking bonuses to targets represents excellent value for money.

‘Indeed our reward policy is to pay all staff members a bonus depending on whether the business meets its targets with a specific focus on financial performance and customer satisfaction.’

Steve White, the outgoing chief executive of 50,000-home Hyde Group, also receives one of the larger bonuses. Julie Hollyman, chair of Hyde’s board, explains that bonuses are set by the remuneration and appointments (R&A) subcommittee of the board.

‘The payment of a £31,750 bonus to Steve reflects the group’s excellent performance and achievements against predetermined, specific and very challenging organisational and personal objectives during the 2013/14 year,’ she says. ‘The R&A committee agreed this year’s bonus payments to Steve White and the other Hyde Group executives in May 2014 after the objectives had been achieved. The timing of Steve’s leaving did not, in any way, influence the level of bonus awarded to him.’

For use in 19 September 2014

By contrast, David Ashmore’s £25,000 ‘ex gratia payment’ was received because he retired as chief executive of GreenSquare during the year, the association says.

Although the proportion of chief executives who received a bonus remained static – at one-third – the average for those that received one in 2013/14 was £16,737, up slightly on the previous year’s £16,047. The total bonus pool was up 5.7% from £516,576 in 2012/13 to £546,056 in 2013/14.

Pension pot holes: who can look forward to the most comfortable retirement?

 

On average, housing associations contributed £18,612 to their chief executive’s pension pots, either by contributing to their pension scheme or giving a payment in lieu for those chief executives who manage their own pension. This is a rise on last year’s average of £17,663, which is no surprise because pensions are calculated as a percentage of basic salary.

More than two-thirds of chief executives are on final salary, defined benefit pensions. Employment consultants say that, when their whole payment package is taken into account, this makes them among the best paid in the public sector – and even better paid than many private sector peers.

However, times are changing. Seven chief executives are switching either in April 2013 or April 2014, from a final salary scheme to defined contribution pensions. These pension pots do not guarantee a pension at the end. This is a sign of a sector-wide cost savings to reduce associations’ mounting pension liabilities that affect not just chief executives but all the employees of those organisations.

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In some cases this has led to seemingly dramatic rises in the amount housing associations are contributing to their chief executives’ pensions. Ms Ashcroft at Anchor’s pension contribution rose from about 20% to about 30% of her basic salary.

Pamela Chesters, chair of Anchor’s board, explains: ‘The increase on last year reflects the fact that Jane moved from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution scheme. While this happened some years ago this is the first year it has been recognised in her remuneration package.’

Sue Manning, director of human resources and rewards at consultancy Capita, points out the housing sector is just going through the same transition as the private sector to direct contribution pensions, which cost employers less.

However, she warns, that as the transition takes place, some executives may be reluctant to move jobs, if it means swapping a final salary for a defined contribution package.

‘They’re not going to pay out as much as final pay schemes are going to,’ she says. ‘If you are not careful, pensions can to a certain extent become a reason people won’t move jobs.’

Methodology

Every year, Inside Housing compiles its listing of chief executive pay by sending a detailed survey to around 120 of the biggest housing associations in the UK measured by homes owned and managed. We ask for details of basic salary, bonuses, car allowance and pensions, as well as some questions about turnover for the financial year which help us roughly compare the pay of the chief executive against the organisation’s financial performance.

The top 100 is then chosen based on the 100 housing associations with the most stock.

Detailed checks are carried out before publication, including sending back the information we plan to print to every housing association to allow them to make any corrections.

Where a chief executive has changed jobs midway through the financial year we have printed annualised details of the outgoing chief executives, except in the case of Matthew Harrison, who took over as chief executive of Great Places Housing Group less than two weeks into the 2013-14 financial year.

We work out a chief executive’s total pay by adding together their basic salary, any bonus received plus any car allowance.

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EXCLUSIVE: Housing chief executives’ pay rises above inflation 18 September 2014 | By Jess…

EXCLUSIVE: Housing chief executives’ pay rises above inflation

Chief executives of the biggest housing associations in the UK received an inflation-busting 3.85% pay rise on average in the 2013-14 financial year, Inside Housing can reveal.

CE, Anchor

Bucking the trend: Jane Ashcroft was the highest paid female chief executive and the second highest paid overall

But the pay of the 22 female chief executives in the biggest 100 associations rose only 0.96% in the last year, widening the pay gap among housing leaders.

Male chief executives saw their average take-home pay rise 3.98%.

The average chief executive is now paid £173,321, including their basic salary, bonus and car allowance, compared to £166,890 in the previous financial year.

Not all female chief executives are low earners – Anchor’s Jane Ashcroft is the highest paid female chief executive, and the second highest paid chief executive overall, taking home £322,316. But on average female chief executives received £162,823 in 2013/14 – more than £10,000 below the average assocaition chief executive pay overall.

James Tickell, a director at housing consultancy Campbell Tickell, said: ‘I don’t think it’s coincidence – I suspect there’s something quite deep in there about the psychology of boards.’

However Susan Manning, human resources director in the property and infrastructure business at consultancy Capita, said that female chief executives are clustered around the smaller-sized housing providers, and the picture will change as they advance in their careers. ‘There are more men that have been chief executives longer, with more experience, that are getting that job,’ she said.

Within the average for all housing providers, seven chief executives had pay rises of more than 10%.

The biggest single percentage increase was David Ashmore, the outgoing chief executive of GreenSquare Group, at 21.27% – although the organisation says this is an anomaly, because Mr Ashmore’s pay was lower in 2012/13 due to taking unpaid leave, and boosted in 2013/14 by a one-off retirement bonus of £25,000.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: ‘A chief executive must be able to predict the issues that could affect their organisation before they happen. Such leaders are in demand across all Britain’s sectors, both public and private.

‘It’s imperative that housing associations – which provide high quality homes and services for millions of people – can attract and retain such talent.’

One recruitment consultant who didn’t want to be named defended salary increases for chief executives as reasonable after a number of years of pay freezes as a result of austerity measures, or overcoming difficulties getting their organisation back on track.

Of Martin Armstrong, chief executive of the Wheatley Group, who had a pay rise of just under 10%, for example, he said: ‘He was underpaid for a long time. He was right at the bottom of the cohort and he’s done an amazing job.’ The Wheatley Group declined to comment.

Instead, the recruitment consultant said attention should be paid to chief executives being paid ‘large sums’ to run relatively simple organisations.

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I’m in the middle of a massive project for Inside Housing, about how much the chief executives…

I’m in the middle of a massive project for Inside Housing, about how much the chief executives of housing associations are paid. The main feature will be out in September, but we got good story from the numbers already, in the form of a massive payout to the departing chief executive of Housing & Care 21.

Actually my colleague wrote this story, but he was kind enough to share bylines as the scoop came from my research.

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whydidntshejustleave: Journalism.co.uk has run a nice news story about the project – check it out…

whydidntshejustleave:

Journalism.co.uk has run a nice news story about the project – check it out here!

American nonprofit news wire Women’s eNews and Jess McCabe, features editor at Inside Housing, have successfully crowdfunded a project about domestic violence in the UK, raising over $3,500 (£2,100).

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Thank you and welcome to this project

Thank you and welcome to this project:

whydidntshejustleave:

For the next six months, I will be gradually piecing together a story that has barely been told in the mainstream media.

It is a story that touches so many of us, and yet one that we as a society talk surprisingly little about.

You might have heard the statistic that one in four British…

The start of something…

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House of style: fashion in housing

For our People special issue, I wrote a feature which is a little lighter than our usual Inside Housing fare. It has some housing people on Twitter incandescent with rage – what do you think? Is workplace outfitting too frivolous a topic?

(I also made the typical journalist’s mistake of become part of the story – to see a full analysis of my fashion mistakes and tattoos  - not just for prisoners! – see here.)

House of style

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

Notting Hill Housing chief executive Kate Davies has started a fashion blog for workplace attire. Jess McCabe joins the office catwalk

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

Preparing to meet Kate Davies, chief executive of Notting Hill Housing, I am uncharacteristically worried about what I’m wearing. In the end, I plump for a grey and blue dress that Inside Housing sub-editor Rebecca Christou describes as ‘the good dress’.

The reason for this sudden onset of fashion nerves is that Ms Davies, in addition to heading 30,000-home, north London landlord Notting Hill for 10 years, has a sideline – as a fashion blogger.

For the past two months, the chief executive has been blogging every morning about her adventures in making her own clothes and the fashion choices of powerful women.

She has also been grabbing members of her own staff, taking photos of them, and writing ‘street style’ commentaries on their choices of colour, fabric and, well, the cut of their jib.

Some of these posts have delved into such questions of workplace-appropriate clothing as ‘What is the best look for a job interview?’ and ‘Is it OK for men to wear shorts to the office?’ (The answer is yes, although when Ms Davies on her blog deconstructs the outfits of her colleague Andy Lord, who works in asset management, she points out that a tucked-in shirt and belt might smarten up the short-trousers look.)

Housing professionals are already well aware of some of these questions – help with outfitting yourself for a job interview is part of many a landlord-led programme to help tenants find work.

But the ‘What should I wear for work today?’ question is one that people working in housing ask themselves too. And, depending on whether you are a housing officer going to see tenants, in the development team going out on a muddy site, or off to meet financiers, the answer is going to be very different.

So, where better to come and find the answers than Notting Hill’s modern, spacious offices in King’s Cross?

Ms Davies, who is wearing a blue wrap dress, meets me in her office, which is an explosion of colour. The walls are covered in Rothko prints, paintings and a retro poster asking for people to donate clothes for homeless people, dating back from when Notting Hill used to run its own charity shops.

But soon we are on the move, as Ms Davies walks us through the Notting Hill offices for a quick-fire version of the fashion analyses that she does on her blog (see below). At first I’m a bit nervous about pulling out people for a style check, but Ms Davies says, for her blog at least, ‘most people are even flattered’ to be asked.

As might be expected, she has a lot of opinions on the topic of appropriate workplace attire, which is becoming increasingly difficult to judge. Notting Hill, in common with lots of modern workplaces, doesn’t have a formal dress code.

‘I think we have some words like “appropriate”,’ Ms Davies says.

‘We don’t want to have a totally conventional attitude to this, you don’t have to be a bloke in a pinstripe suit to work in the housing sector. We reject that. But on the other hand, we don’t believe entirely that everything goes.’

Some of this flexibility is important to ensure that social landlords attract and retain staff from a broad range of diverse backgrounds.

‘You can be yourself, you can express yourself. The housing world has got lots of room for creativity, it’s got lots of room for people from different cultural backgrounds, from different religions and so on,’ she says.

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

 

‘I like to come into work and feel great and ready to go, and vibrant colours help me. The only time I see tenants is when they’re in reception – they do look at you.’
Ann Aberdeen, payments officer, Notting Hill Housing

‘You’ve clearly put a nice outfit together – you’ve got bracelets, a necklace, really nice colours.’
Kate’s verdict

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

 

‘In our team, we often have to go out on site – and everyone on site is a man. I would never dream of wearing this. On site, I definitely androgynise myself. Especially if you want people to take you seriously.’
Emily Manero, client project manager, Notting Hill Housing

‘Emily does fingernails a lot – her nail art pictures have been picked up internationally on Twitter.’
Kate’s verdict

 

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

 

‘You just need to be down to earth. If I go and see my GP, they really dress down. They don’t feel they need to have that imposing and professional air that they used to. We also need to dress down, so we can appeal to our customers and people can feel comfortable with you. And they can talk to you on that level.’
Adebola Adeniran, housing officer, Notting Hill Housing

‘You look really nice, really stylish. It’s a double-denim look.’
Kate’s verdict

 

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

‘I don’t always walk around in a suit and a tie, but I do if I’m meeting tenants – that’s what they’d expect from a director. I think when they’ve got a day-to-day relationship with a housing officer, it’s completely different. For our customers to be relaxed day to day with our housing officers, I think wearing a suit would not make them feel that comfortable.’
Mark Vaughan, director, Notting Hill Housing

‘When Mark started growing a beard, I thought it was a bit much. But now it’s highly fashionable. He was fashion forward -a couple of years ago.’
Kate’s verdict

The downside is that there are still rules – but they are unspoken, meaning it can be easy to misjudge what is ‘appropriate’ for work and accidentally go astray. Ms Davies recalls a meeting with three senior women some time ago.

‘They were all a bit on the plump side, and they all had cleavages on show on a hot day,’ she says. ‘It was very distracting. I found listening to these three, in the context that there were three cleavages on show, was quite distracting.’

Especially when interviewing for a new job, Ms Davies says: ‘The ideal is to glide in and not make your clothes an issue at all. Like diving into the water without a splash – the Tom Daley approach.’ But at the same time, you want to stand out from the other candidates.

Even if you think clothes are superficial, people are still judging.

‘If someone is dressed inappropriately, it’s usually part of an inappropriate attitude to work,’ Ms Davies notes. ‘So it’s a bigger thing. It needs bringing up in context.’ And, of course, the flipside to that is that dressing in certain ways can project messages which can help your career glide along, or even assist in doing the day job.

Approachable image
It is true for chief executives, too.

Ms Davies says: ‘If I’m having a meeting with tenants, approachability is more important than authority. But when I’m going to raise £300m [from investors], I want to look more authoritative than approachable. There are ways to achieve that through clothes.’ She keeps a cardigan and a more formal jacket on hand.

When I suggest that this is true in different roles throughout housing, such as a frontline housing role, Ms Davies agrees.

‘You don’t want to be in a three-piece suit, brogues and red braces. But equally, you don’t want to go looking scruffy, like you don’t give a sh*t, because that tells tenants you don’t care about them.’

Kate Davies analyses our features editor’s look

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

In walked a smiley young woman, flat shoes, clear tights, Prada glasses, tattoos. Natural, reddish-brown hair and sparkly eyes, no make-up. As a journalist, Jess needs to gain the trust of a wide range of people very quickly. Her warm and friendly manner helps, but what she wears helps build an image of someone who is approachable.

Pic for use in House of style, 22 August 2014

The navy tailored collar on the upper part of her dress, and the grey marl of the bodice and skirt, both reference work clothes, and give her sufficient authority to hold her own with those she interviews. The dress is pleated and semi-tailored but in a soft fabric which clings a little. Jess wears nude tights, and navy round-toed shoes with elasticated straps. If Jess wants to increaseher authority she could wear a jacket and maybe a more ‘grown-up’ shoe – navy or tan leather would go with everything.

Jess has amazing, naturally reddish brown, curly hair, which she keeps tied up. Why not let it out and celebrate it? I would like to see Jess’s natural beauty emphasised through a more colourful wardrobe. She would look amazing in reddish browns with a coral blouse, or mustard with cream or teal, or a pea green jumper with jeans. She might try some patterns too, and gold jewellery would enhance her natural sparkle.

Visit Kate Davies’s fashion blog at fabrickated.com

Dressing well in housing

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

Tom Murtha, chair of HACT

‘When I started, we all wore jeans and long hair, and it seemed to be less important. But I found if I dressed well – in a smart suit and tie – I appeared to gain more respect and, eventually, more senior positions.

‘Obviously it’s not the most important method of judging someone, but it my case it seemed to help.

‘I hope I have never judged someone by their clothes or appearance, but I would always advise someone to dress smartly and be well presented. It also depends on what job you are doing. Anything that has an external profile and involves representing the organisation requires, in my view, a certain professionalism, and being well dressed is part of this.’

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

Geeta Nanda, chief executive, Thames Valley Housing

‘I don’t think you need to have a set style to enhance your career, but you do need to know what is acceptable in different situations and dress appropriately.

‘My advice would be dress comfortably, think about how you will be perceived in your work environment and don’t worry about adding a bit of individuality in your style – you will be remembered for it. Think about what makes you feel good and what you get complimented on.’

House of style, Fashion, Kate Davies, Notting Hill Housing, Fabrickated

Mike Wilkins, chief executive, Ducane Housing Association

‘If you are brilliant at your job, nobody really cares what you wear. But it pays to give the right subliminal messages. Dressing sloppily or investing inordinately in sketchy Primark kit may be fine, but what subtle message does it send about you?

‘Go for good styling on a budget if necessary. Good-quality clothes (second hand) always look good, particularly if you can source something 1960s. I know a colleague who only wears Biba, however, she is the boss of her organisation.

Similarly for blokes, a mod look can work. A retro look will really work well.’

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Latest at Inside Housing: Housing association reviews contracts as council cuts bite

08/08/2014 | By Jess McCabe

Budget cuts prompt Aspire Housing to consider terminating services

Aspire Housing is reviewing all its contracts with local authorities, as councils in the Staffordshire area implement cuts to housing and care services.

Wayne Hughes, managing director of 9,000-home Aspire, based in Stafford, said it is examining the conditions under which it can end existing contracts and ‘taking a close look’ at those for which it is invited to tender.

The review has been prompted by cuts to Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council’s budgets.

Newcastle-under-Lyme had to make cuts equivalent to £75 per person in 2014/15 from the 2010/11 budget level, and expects to have to make another cut of about 10% in 2015/16. Staffordshire County Council cut £6m from its £11m Supporting People budget in January.

Aspire provides services on behalf of the two councils, among them sheltered housing projects, floating support, debt advice and a tele-care service that offers alarms to vulnerable residents in contracts.

The contracts are worth several hundred thousand pounds.

Until now, if council funding was insufficient to pay for services, Aspire topped this up from its own reserves. However, Mr Hughes said Aspire is now less likely to adopt that approach.

‘In the past, in all honesty, I think we have signed almost anything in an overwhelming desire to deliver services. [Now] we can’t provide the service at that level [of funding]. If the value exceeds the cost, then why are we doing it?

‘All opportunities are evaluated against the absolute need to produce a quantifiable social and/or commercial return.’

Aspire is also ‘taking a closer look’ at how it can exit contracts before signing up.

The association did not bid again for the contract to provide Newcastle-under-Lyme’s housing advice service, which it had run since 2009.

The council advertised the contract in the spring at between £1.5m and £1.6m, but council minutes show that it had to increase the funding available to secure a winning bid of £1.8m by Midland Heart in May.

Aspire declined to disclose the value of the previous contract.

A spokesperson for Staffordshire County Council said: ‘It would seem sensible for any organisation to ensure it had a sustainable, financial model in place.’

A spokesperson for Newcastle-under-Lyme council said that, despite some resistance from housing providers, the ‘outcome-based approach’ normally enabled ‘creative’ responses to cuts.

Jake Eliot, policy leader for health, care and support at the National Housing Federation, said many landlords faced ‘tough decisions’.

‘In the competitive tendering environment, with local authorities passing on significant cuts to services, it is more important than ever for independent providers to understand their costs and prices, and to be clear and confident about what they need to provide high-quality, safe and effective services,’ he said.

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Home straits Downsizing with the bedroom tax 17 July 2014 The price for underoccupying a…

Home straits

Downsizing with the bedroom tax

Ilo of sardine in tin

The price for underoccupying a home is high for many vulnerable people. Jess McCabe visits Stoke-on-Trent to find out how landlords are attempting to help

‘It was a shock to the system,’ says Shaun Bostock. ‘It’s bad enough losing someone.’

In the middle of a jobs club in a church hall in Stoke-on-Trent, as half a dozen locals receive computer lessons and careers advice, the mild-mannered 49-year-old’s voice starts to quiver. After 18 years of caring for his sick mother full-time, she died.

After a bereavement, social housing tenants are given a year’s grace period before the bedroom tax is imposed, or three months under universal credit. But, to Mr Bostock, it was a worry looming on the horizon. He felt he was about to lose the home they had shared for 21 years as well.

‘We lived in a bungalow in Keele. When she died, the bedroom tax came into [effect],’ he says.

Forced out
His dead mother’s bedroom was reclassified as a ‘spare’ room.

‘I already had massive debts to deal with,’ Mr Bostock explains – as he had repeatedly taken out loans to fill the gap between their income and expenditure. Paying the bedroom tax – housing benefit is reduced by 14 per cent for one spare room – was beyond his means.

‘I volunteer here and come to the job club to build up my confidence because I’m not good on computers. I haven’t worked in a long, long time,’ he adds. One day, he hopes to get a paid job as a carer.

‘When I cared for my mum, I was saving the country a small fortune. It didn’t seem fair,’ he says.

Despite his tragic circumstances, Mr Bostock is actually one of the lucky ones. Thanks to the intervention of his landlord, Aspire Housing, he has managed to downsize into a one-bedroom flat in Newcastle-under-Lyme, before the bedroom tax would have applied.

In 2012, as the housing association prepared for the start of the welfare reforms, Inside Housing accompanied Aspire income manager Paul Malkin as he knocked on doors and gave tenants like Mr Bostock the bad news: they were deemed to have a spare bedroom, and were about to be hit by the bedroom tax.

This was one of the social landlord’s strategies to prepare for the start of welfare reforms, which came into force in April 2013: finding out exactly who was living in its 8,500 homes and gearing up to help tenants avoid getting into financial trouble.

Now, Inside Housing has returned to see how Aspire is helping tenants to downsize to homes they will not be underoccupying, and so avoid the bedroom tax either by transferring to another property as Mr Bostock has done, or taking part in a mutual exchange.

Down sizing 
As the bedroom tax came in, social landlords warned that it would take decades to downsize all their underoccupying tenants. So has Aspire managed to use downsizing to head off the threat of welfare reform, both to its own balance sheet and its tenants’ well-being?

Aspire has certainly managed to reduce the number of underoccupying tenants.

When Inside Housing first visited Newcaste-under-Lyme in November 2012, the landlord estimated that about 750 of its 1,500 underoccupying tenants were about to be affected by the tax. When we returned in May 2014, it had 689.

GAIL_AUSTIN

Solution: Gail Austin outside her new bungalow

Of these, nearly 60 per cent are fully up to date on their rent payments. Only eight tenants are in such a serious situation that they have racked up more than £1,000 in arrears, including bedroom tax. With rents of around £80 a week, that would take several months of non-payment.

‘We haven’t evicted anybody yet solely for bedroom tax, it’s been bedroom tax plus other things. So looking into eviction is a very last resort for us – kicking people out is not the kind of business we’re in,’ says Wayne Hughes, managing director of Aspire Housing.

But what can home exchanges do to help people in this situation? Across the country, more social tenants are interested in mutual exchanges, reports Circle Housing, a 66,000-home housing association which also runs House Exchange, a nationwide online service for social housing tenants wanting to exchange homes with other tenants.

Kim Doran, house exchange manager at Circle, says: ‘Since the introduction of the under-occupation penalty in April 2013, we’ve seen a 29 per cent increase in visits to the site, a 36 per cent increase in registrations and a 52 per cent increase in successful downsizing exchanges.’

Still, for Aspire the number of tenants who have escaped the bedroom tax by transferring or taking part in a mutual exchange is still relatively low: only 81 underoccupying tenants who are under 60 years old have transferred. In March – the most recent month for which Aspire provided data – out of 58 mutual exchanges, half of those who swapped homes had previously been underoccupying.

Aspire’s Mr Hughes sees transferring as only one part of the puzzle.

‘We are taking the view here that our best response to welfare reform is to help our customers off benefit and into work,’ he says.

The landlord has managed to increase the number of successful transfers since it changed its qualification policy. Normally, tenants can’t transfer if they are in arrears. But to stop people getting into deeper financial difficulties, Aspire lifted this condition in April 2013, and allowed tenants affected by the bedroom tax to transfer even if they are in arrears.

‘They’ve got to show they’re making an effort still [by] paying some of it,’ adds Mr Malkin, explaining how Aspire adjusted its policy to stop tenants getting in even worse financial situations.

Open options
Gail Austin, who describes herself as ‘37 going on 90’, is one of the tenants who has benefited from the switch in policy.

Walking up to Ms Austin’s bungalow in a quiet cul-de-sac, the smell is of freshly cut grass. The small cluster of homes all have guard rails by the door – an indication that they have been adapted for disabled tenants just like Ms Austen, who was struggling to cope in her cold, three-bedroom house before the bedroom tax.

Around the back of the warden-controlled development, the small home looks out on to a shared green space, and some visiting ducks.

Ms Austin has a serious lung condition – her living room features a nebuliser and pill boxes, as well as dozens of pictures of her children and grandchildren.

But, she says, ‘I feel much better in myself now.’

For Ms Austin, the introduction of the bedroom tax was actually a good thing. Mr Malkin discovered her case as a result of the landlord’s efforts to head off revenue loss from the policy, having noted her high level of arrears. She had applied for an exchange about two years before, but the application was not successful.

Having looked into her case, Aspire realised Ms Austin’s previous house was unsuitable for someone with her medical condition and arranged the transfer, suspending the rules on moving tenants who are in arrears.

But ultimately, once Mr Malkin got involved, an examination of her records uncovered the fact she had been overpaying on her rent for some time. Newcastle-under-Lyme Council duly reimbursed her more than £3,000, wiping out the arrears and leaving her some extra cash to install carpet and furnishings in her new bungalow.

So efforts to downsize tenants can pay off. In these cases, tenants are more or less happily relocated, rent is coming in and Aspire’s bottom line is protected. The results can be mixed – for Ms Austin, the policy was the spark for a transfer she needed for health reasons and the high-level intervention of Aspire’s team erased her arrears problem. For Mr Bostock, however, the effects of being forced to move still linger.

‘There ought to be a more sensitive way of doing it,’ he says.

In numbers: House swaps

8
Aspire tenants are more than £1,000 in arrears

392
Aspire tenants on the list for a transfer in May 2014

25.5%
on the transfer list are underoccupying

81
underoccupying tenants under the age of 60 have transferred to another Aspire home since April 2012

50%
of the mutual exchanges completed by Aspire tenants in May involved those who were underoccupying

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Fuel cell pilot hopes to slash tenant energy use 11/07/2014 | By Jess McCabe Landlords trialling…

Fuel cell pilot hopes to slash tenant energy use

Fuel cell

Five landlords are installing new central heating systems powered by fuel cells in a pilot project designed to kick start the innovative technology in the social housing sector.

Your Housing, Rykneld Homes, Housing 21 and South Essex Homes are all involved in a pilot of the hydrogen fuel cell technology, which produces electricity from natural gas using a chemical process rather than burning it, with heat and water as by-products.

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council is also trialling the system in a care home.

The pilot will spark fresh hope that the technology can be used by social landlords as a more eco-friendly alternative to gas boilers. It is also cheaper for tenants in the long-run.

It has been six years since the first experimental fuel cell was installed in housing, by Black Country Housing. But that installation failed to spark a wave of take up in social housing of a technology more commonly associated with replacing car engines.

The pilot starts this month and is being run by energy company Spark. It involves a fuel cell technology called Bluegen.

Spark said installing a fuel cell in one home costs £20,000, and it can provide electricity to four homes. Each social landlord is installing two units.

By comparison, external wall insulation costs between £9,000 and £26,000. Rykneld said its fuel cell heating system, installed in sheltered housing as part of the pilot, cost £75,000, but was cheaper than replacing the scheme’s aging gas boilers.

Richard Baines, director of sustainable development at Black Country Housing, said that the technology is still ‘ferociously expensive’ to install compared with a conventional boiler, because it is still at a developmental stage.

However, he added that social landlords should be piloting the technology, ‘because nobody else is going to do it’.

Fuel cells are not eligible for support under the energy company obligation, the main source of funding used by social landlords to pay for green improvements.

Rykneld Homes received a grant to cover half of the £75,000 cost from the National Grid. Fuel cells are also eligible for a subsidy of £13.24p per kilowatt hour under the feed-in tariff.

Neil Wilmer, project manager for energy at Your Housing, which installed a fuel cell in a scheme in Preston, said: ‘It is hoped that the technology will enable us to further reduce the scheme’s energy consumption and protect residents from future rising energy costs.’

Fuel cell technology explained

  • A fuel cell uses a chemical reaction to produce electricity. This differs from a conventional boiler or combustion engine, which burns fuel such as oil or natural gas to produce energy
  • Each fuel cell has a positive and a negative electrode, an electrolyte that carries particles from one electrode to another and a catalyst that speeds the reaction
  • The main fuel is hydrogen – but the cells in this pilot start with natural gas from the mains, first breaking down the methane into its particles to produce hydrogen
  • The by-products of that reaction are water and heat. If powered by pure hydrogen, it would be free of polluting greenhouse gas emissions
  • Most fuel cells are currently used in cars to replace gas or diesel engines
  • Fuel cell developers hope the technology will be used to power everything from mobile phones to cars and ships, from factories to people’s homes

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