The English regulator has published the 10th and final report summarising the surveys returned by housing associations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations.
The ‘coronavirus operational response surveys’ (CORS) were launched in April 2020 to ensure the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) had up-to-date information on key risks facing providers.
A year on, the RSH has concluded that the operational position across the sector is now “stable in the essential services that CORS measures”. Because of this, and the broader improving position nationally, it has decided to withdraw the survey.
Reflecting on responses over the 10 months of submissions, the RSH said that operational impacts were most severe in the early stages of the pandemic. At this stage, for example, only 37 per cent of providers were able to complete all gas and safety checks without backlogs.
It said: “Providers addressed the challenges with a range of mitigating actions and even in the most difficult early stages, the majority of providers were able to continue without material backlogs in essential safety checks and were able to ensure staffing remained at a safe level in care settings.”
During the rest of 2020, providers’ performance “continued to recover” as the first wave of COVID-19 infections receded. Since August 2020 the delivery of services has remained “broadly stable”, it said.
However, the RSH cautioned that the pandemic has had a “fundamental impact on most areas of providers’ operations”. It added: “Many providers have started to address some of these wider impacts and transition to more normal ways of working, enabled in part by the successful rollout of the national vaccination programme.”
At the same time – according to findings in the latest RSH Quarterly Survey and Global Accounts publications – capital investment programmes have been “curtailed somewhat”, during the 2021 financial year, with some level of catch up maintenance and repairs spend planned from 2021/22.
For the final CORS survey, covering the period from 1 February to 31 March 2021, the majority of providers reported completing “all or most” safety checks. A previous dip seen in January concerning the completion of gas safety checks has recovered, the report noted.
Across the sector, reported gas safety compliance continues to be “broadly back to pre-coronavirus levels”, the report said, with a number of providers reporting decreasing backlogs around health and safety checks since the last CORS return.
Meanwhile it noted: “Almost all providers reported they had no material backlog in emergency repairs.”
Providers that had previously reported moving to emergency-only repairs during the national lockdown have also started undertaking repairs again, and there is “some evidence” of an increased number of routine repairs being reported by tenants, it added.
For care and support providers, staffing was reported to be at normal levels, and while some continued to record staffing pressures, others credited the vaccine roll-out with lower levels of staff absence.
The CORS publication comes shortly after the regulator released the findings of its value for money report for the financial year to 31 March 2020. The report found that English housing associations’ reinvestment in existing and new social housing is at its highest ever level, despite a decline in overall operating surplus.