The digital platform NHG has developed, WorkWise, allows residents to interact with us, as and when they like. Becoming more digital and automating repetitive tasks releases resources, allowing associations to provide better, more personalised services.
The pandemic has accelerated these digital ambitions and we anticipate exploring more automation in future. As this shift in engagement takes place, some residents will be less able to move with us. We must adapt and maintain our relationship with residents through new communication channels, developing these in collaboration with our residents to minimise the risk of failure, in addition to the service provided by our patch-based housing officers.
5. ESG and sustainable funding
Over the past few decades, total investment in social/affordable housing has decreased. Nearly 4.5 million social homes were built in the 35 years following the end of World War II, compared with the fewer than 500,000 affordable homes expected across the various 2016-2026 Affordable Homes Programmes.
Registered providers are well versed in sourcing finance, including accessing the capital markets and private placements. However, we must continue to innovate to attract new investors, remain competitive and increase sustainability. More recently, investors have been seeking to partner with those who can demonstrate that their money has a positive social impact.
In the social housing sector, associations must balance their need for funding against their ability to demonstrate these credentials. Approaches include the ‘Sustainability Reporting Standard for Social Housing’ for environmental, social and governance (ESG), through which signed-up associations will voluntarily report their delivery against criteria including affordability, fire safety and net zero-carbon targets, among others.
6. Valuations and impairment
For associations committed to developing more affordable new homes and those developing properties for sale, there is greater uncertainty over a number of variables related to construction, including costs to completion, social distancing on sites impacting delivery timetables, the carrying value of the stock itself, and future sales values.
Both Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to the uncertainty around valuations and impairment, which usually crystallises at each financial year-end. Again, scenario-testing different valuation shifts and impairment charges in the business plan should help mitigate the impact.
Risk management remains a key focus for 2021. Housing associations are attractive partners for investors seeking long-term returns as their liquidity requirements are complementary to our revenue streams.
Provided social housing providers can demonstrate our capability, competence and clarity around our future plans, particularly around the number of homes we are able to build and how we provide support to our existing tenant base, we should be able to mitigate these risks effectively.
Maame-Yaa Bempah, financial services director, Notting Hill Genesis