This week we welcomed board members and shareholders to our headquarters to share our annual review and accounts for the last financial year.
It was also an opportunity to share highlights, including our progress on building new homes to meet local need; investment in community amenities; and collaboration with key partners including Bridgend County Borough Council and Bridgend College on issues such as climate change.
As a growing organisation, it was the first time for us to report in greater detail about our carbon footprint and work towards becoming carbon neutral, as well as insights about how we are embedding customer and stakeholder engagement in every area of our work.
Board Chair Anthony Whittaker and Chief Executive Joanne Oak took the opportunity to answer questions from shareholders and provide reassurance on a number of themes, including a commitment to invest in our sheltered schemes; working with customers to make more services available online following the launch of online repairs reporting; and efforts to support customers deal with the cost of living crisis.
“It was a pleasure to present a positive annual report and a detailed set of accounts which shows the efforts being made across the whole of Valleys to Coast to deliver quality, effective and efficient services for customers,” said the Chair. “We were grateful to hear reflections from our shareholders, including positive comments about wildflowers that have brightened up our Wildmill estate over the summer.
“We noted that whilst the organisation is stepping up to the challenges of providing services in the midst of a difficult economic climate, there is also a great deal of ambition and investment in our homes and communities, as well as the wider regeneration of the Bridgend region.”
No, there are no plans at this time to transfer sheltered accommodation to another housing association. In fact we are looking at sources of investment to invest in our sheltered housing. We are investing through our planned maintenance programme towards the upgrade of the communal electric in a number of schemes and are awaiting an outcome of an application for Housing with Care Funding for the installation of mobility scooter storage and assistive technology in Merfield House.
We conducted some research with customers that showed that the main service people wanted was the ability to log repairs online. Viewing rent accounts was a relatively low priority. We have now made repairs reporting available and will continue to develop online services based on customer research and consultation. In the near future this might include functionality to rearrange scheduled appointments online and viewing the progress of submitted requests. As we did previously, we will ask people in our communities to test our website before publishing new developments to ensure there is a positive user experience.
We have the Money Matters team who take tenant self referrals and referrals from the teams. Money Matters provide an income maximisation service to ensure people are claiming what they are entitled to. During the financial year 2021/2022 the team put £1,477,548.29 back into the pockets of our customers. They also signpost to the Citizens Advice Bureau for debt advice.
This year we have a hardship fund and we are currently door knocking our customers to discuss rent affordability and people’s plans for October.
We are also bringing together key people to look at data and intelligence around the impact of cost of living so that we can work with partners to identify how we can collectively support the communities of Bridgend.
We undertake comprehensive surveys of every home every five years from which we develop our programme of improvements. We commit a substantial financial investment of repairs and improvements each year – £12million during 2021/22 – and also apply for external funding. In 2022/23 we secured £2.1million from Welsh Government’s Transitional Accommodation Grant and £1.5million from their Optimised Retrofit Programme. We’re now working on the next five year programme of works and will be procuring agreements with SME local companies to deliver the works whilst also delivering a substantial amount of our repairs and maintenance works through our own trades team.
The aspiration of 1000 homes is a really challenging one but we are working very hard to increase the supply of new homes into Bridgend. This year we plan to complete over 70 new homes and have nearly 200 in our pipeline. We are ensuring that the homes are in the right place and to the highest of standards which will provide customers with safe, happy and affordable to run homes. We work collaboratively with the Local Authority to ensure that the supply of new homes matches the supply requirements whilst also being in the right location to provide customers with great homes.
We have recently recruited a Sustainability Manager who will work with colleagues across the organisation and a very broad range of external stakeholders to help us to develop and implement a plan of action. We will focus our attention on supporting our customers to reduce their carbon emissions whilst improving the homes and reducing the carbon our business activities emit. We’ll also be seeking to reduce waste, improve biodiversity and be agile to deal with future national targets.
The Renting Homes Wales Act comes into force on December 1, 2022. We have been working closely with teams most impacted by the changes and we have developed a draft occupation contract, provided extensive training and developed working practices to allow us to be compliant with the new legislation within the required timescale. However, it’s worth noting that this is the biggest change to housing practice in a generation and some of the deadlines are very challenging. We are currently awaiting further updates from the Welsh Government before we can finalise the written contracts and roll out training to the wider organisation. We are confident that after a lot of hard work we are in a good place to meet the requirements of the Act.