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The Clarion Index 2018

Foreword

Welcome to the
Clarion Index 2018.


At Clarion we house over 360,000 people in England making us the largest housing association in the country. But being the biggest association is not our primary aim; offering the highest possible level of service to residents is. To help us understand our residents and what is important to them, each summer we ask a random sample of our residents for 20 minutes of their time to talk about their lives, views and experiences. We pay close attention to what they say and their responses feed in to almost every area of our business.

So how are Clarion residents doing this year? The picture that we see is mixed – many residents are happy with their neighbourhood and with us as a landlord. They are comfortable having our staff or their neighbours come in to their homes, they can rely on their friends and family if they need to and they feel in control of their lives. However when we look more closely, we see that some groups - particularly younger residents - are struggling to make ends meet despite being in paid work.

Almost half don’t have the money for any little luxuries, many are worried about money, and energy costs concern them in particular. As in previous years, those with a long standing health problem or disability continue to report finding it more difficult to access our services, are less satisfied with their neighbourhood, are more likely to have used a food bank and are more worried about money issues than other residents.

A shrinking, but still troubling, handful of residents have had to go without food this year because they couldn’t afford it. Particularly shocking to me was the finding that 20% of our younger residents (18- 24) went without food in the past year. This is an area for us to give some real attention to and the Clarion Futures focus on young people and their particular needs will be crucial to tackling this worrying issue.

As well as understanding how residents are managing financially we ask about their health and wellbeing because this helps us to understand where additional support may be needed and shows us where interventions are working.

Over the past couple of years residents have become less active and significantly fewer residents are walking as a form of exercise. The known links between physical exercise and positive mental health outcomes is well-documented so it is important that we consider walkability and healthy transport options in the design of our new developments. Clarion has an active role in the Healthy New Towns Network, a ground-breaking collaboration between NHS England, Public Health England, Housing Developers and Housing Associations that builds on the work of the Healthy New Towns programme to share learning and best-practice in healthy place-making and establishing a shared vision for creating healthy neighbourhoods. How things are changing for residents and where policy decisions have an impact on their lives are important for us to understand. We know that Universal Credit is one of the biggest changes residents who receive benefits are set to face in the coming years.

Awareness of Universal Credit has increased since last year which is encouraging as we continue to push the message out in our day to day contact with residents. But the impact of long waiting times for the first monthly payment is something that households need to be proactively preparing for by putting money aside each week and for those on already low incomes this is likely to be very difficult. I am pleased that staff working across the whole organisation - including housing management, repairs, customer services, communications and The Clarion Futures Money team - are all working to help raise awareness of the changes and the support that Clarion can offer.

It is important that our residents’ views are heard across the whole business and that our services are properly designed around their needs and expectations. This survey is just one of the many Customer Insight research projects that we undertake but it is the most wide-reaching as it touches on every aspect of residents’ lives. Being the largest housing association means our voice can be one of the most influential in the sector, and through doing this survey every year and listening to our residents we are able to make sure our residents’ voices are heard too.



Clare Miller
Clarion Housing Group Chief Executive

Key findings

Community

As a landlord Clarion maintains residents’ homes and delivers housing services but also takes responsibility for the wider environment in which our residents live. We are committed to helping to build strong communities and improving residents’ life chances.

Percentage of residents who are satisfied with their neighbourhood, over time:

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000, 2017:n2000, 2016:n1000 AS only)

Our charitable arm, Clarion Futures, invests £10 million a year to improve the lives of residents and their communities. We provide grants so that residents can run projects to make their neighbourhoods more attractive and create vibrant places to live. Grants are used support a range of sports and arts programmes, play areas and gardens through local community centres.

Every year several questions are asked to ascertain how residents feel about their neighbourhood and help us understand the impact of our interventions. There have been minor changes in some of the results, but all are moving in a positive direction. 84% of residents said they are satisfied with their neighbourhood and 84% feel their neighbourhood is a good place to live, similar to last year. There has been a slight decrease in the number of residents who are worried they might become a victim of a crime (29% in 2017 to 27% in 2018) and also the proportion who think there is a problem with teenagers hanging around where they live (36% in 2017 to 34% in 2018).

When asked if they feel they belong in their neighbourhood, 82% of Clarion residents agreed that they do. This is important because a sense of belonging is understood to be fundamental to wellbeing.

Those aged over 75 are most likely to feel their neighbourhood is a good place to live (91%) and are significantly more likely to report that they belong in their neighbourhood than younger residents (89% compared to 81%). Residents aged between 35 and 44 were least likely to say they their neighbourhood is a good place to live, but even among this group over three quarters agree that it is (78%).

Feelings of belonging may be related to taking an active role in the community – we see that young people, those aged 18-34, are least likely to volunteer once a month or more (6%), and people aged 35 and over are significantly more so (14%). There may be some connection between the limited amount of free time younger residents have available, but this linkage is speculative since there is no significant difference in likelihood of volunteering between those who are working and those who are not or whether they have dependent children.

The oldest residents, those aged 75 and over, were most likely to attend regular organised social groups once a month or more (20%, compared to 15% of residents overall).

Wellbeing

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been monitoring the nation’s well-being for nearly ten years now, in a variety of tried and tested measures, which can be seen on their website. Some of the central questions in the reporting of wellbeing are whether people have someone to rely on if they face a serious problem in their lives, whether they feel lonely, and whether they take part in physical activities.

Do you talk to your neighbours regularly, by age group

Base: All respondents (n2000)

Having someone to rely on in difficult times is considered particularly important as it can help us cope better with life’s challenges and be more resilient. The ONS reports that in the wider UK population 84% of people say that they can rely a lot on someone, with a further 13% saying they have someone they can ‘somewhat’ rely on.

The national ONS study found significant variation by gender, age, and geography with a lower ability to rely on others in men, younger people, and those living in London. For Clarion residents, 75% overall reported that they can rely a lot on family or friends if they face a serious problem; 6% said ‘somewhat’ and a further 11% can rely a little on friends or family.

Mirroring the ONS figures, Clarion found that male residents are significantly less likely than female residents to have someone to rely on alot (69% vs 78%), and those in London are less likely than other regions (70% all London, 77% outside).

However, the variance does not share the same pattern as ONS across age groups - Clarion tenancy holders aged between 35-44 are less likely than other age groups to have someone to rely on. A measure which is related to the absence of a support network is loneliness, which can have a strong negative effect on people’s lives. Generally, loneliness tends to decrease with increasing age. Although this year there was no direct question about whether residents are lonely, a high proportion (78%) of Clarion residents report regularly talking to their neighbours and we see a steady increase in those who do so across our age groups.

Research shows that taking part in regular physical activity is beneficial to both physical and mental health and the Clarion Futures team encourages this through interventions such as installing outdoor gyms and commissioning dance exercise sessions.

How much can you rely on your family or friends if you have a serious problem?

Base: All respondents (n2000)

Percentage of residents who take part in specific activities, or none, over time

Base: All respondents (2018: n2000, 2017: n2000, 2016: n1501)

Last year we saw that inactivity had increased significantly, with two in five (41%) residents saying they did not take part in any regular activity, up from 29% in 2016. This year the low level of activity from 2017 has continued with 42% of residents not taking part in any physical activities.
Recent research published by Sports England shows that inactivity tends to increase with age, so it is surprising that the highest proportion of inactivity in our residents is in the youngest age group (18-24; 53%) and the lowest in the oldest group (75+; 28%). Those aged 75 and over were most likely to engage in regular walking or gardening (47% each). Although our questions are slightly different to Sports England’s so a direct comparison in percentages is not possible, the difference in the pattern is quite striking.
We noted last year that walking as an activity saw the greatest reduction from 56% in 2016 to just 38% in 2017 (-18%); this has continued to decline to only 36% this year.

While walking is of course a free activity - so in theory at least, is unrelated to financial situation - it is dependent on having time to do so, somewhere safe and pleasant to walk and may be weather dependent. This final point is noted as this year’s survey took place at a time when England was experiencing a prolonged heatwave that may have had an impact on this.
Further research will be needed to fully understand why activity has fallen off and particularly why it is lower for younger groups. While the first point complements the Public Health England study from 2017 which showed that fewer than half of adults aged between 40 and 60 take a brisk walk once a month, the second is very different to the Sports England report.

Encouraging physical activity among residents is important in combatting and preventing future health issues. Clarion is playing an active role having been selected by NHS England to work in partnership with other housing associations and developers to create ‘healthy new towns’. This network will prioritise health and wellbeing in the facilities and design of new residential developments and regeneration projects.

Percentage of residents who agree with the statement, “I feel I am in control over what happens in my life”, by key demographics, over time

Base: All respondents 2018: n2000, 2017: n2000

Feeling in control of what happens in your life is a key driver of wellbeing and is associated with better health and longevity. Women are significantly more likely to say they feel in control then men (88% vs 85%) and people in work are more likely to than those who are not (93% vs 83%). Looking across the age groups, those aged between 45 and 65 are less likely to feel in control (84%) than those in both the older and younger age bands (see figure).

The majority (80%) of long-term ill or disabled residents1 agreed that they feel in control of what happens in their life. While this has increased by 3% since last year, the fact that it is significantly lower than for those without a long term illness or disability (92%) remains a concern. Being in control is a significant driver of wellbeing and Clarion is looking at new ways to empower residents, involving them in decisions that affect them and continuing to develop a more “self-serve” model using digital where this is most appropriate.

Landlord
-resident relationship

One of the key findings from the wide-reaching Future Shape of the Sector Commission report was that first and foremost housing associations must reset their relationship with the residents they are currently serving. The need to offer a first class landlord service and gain the trust of existing residents was made clear.

To what extent do you agree with the statement: “I trust and have confidence in my landlord”, over time

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000, 2017:n2000)

In 2013 Affinity Sutton first asked residents how far they trust and have confidence in their landlord and this question has been asked each year since 2016 to Clarion residents. In 2013 just 62% agreed they had trust and confidence in Affinity Sutton, in 2016 – immediately post-merger with Circle Housing – 64% had trust and confidence in Clarion. It is therefore viewed as positive that for the past two years 71% of residents agree that they trust and have confidence in Clarion. It is also encouraging that the percentage of residents who disagree with the statement has fallen significantly since last year (-6%).

As the largest housing association in the country, Clarion is acutely aware that it needs to retain a local focus and deliver services well. Making it easy for residents to access our services is crucial to delivering this high quality service. In 2016, 64%2 of residents said they found it easy to access their landlord’s services and we saw this increase to 70%3 in 2017 following the merger and significant improvements to some of our call centres.

Following that increase, it may be disappointing to see this measure drop back down to 63% but there are known operational reasons for this and next year’s result should see a return to form.

Although the percentage of residents finding it easy to contact Clarion has shrunk, the proportion reporting finding it difficult has not actually increased. In fact, overall it has decreased from 19% last year to 17% this year. It is the residents who say they ‘don’t know’ how easy or difficult they find it that has shown a real increase from 4% to 11% in a year.

It is obviously a concern that one in six residents say they find it difficult to access Clarion services. Teething issues following major changes to our IT systems in the Spring mean it is unsurprising that access for some residents was affected. Staff and resources have been put in place in order to address these issues and there is a confidence that the changes made to the IT systems and contact centres will improve access in the long term.

Percentage of residents who find it easy to access Clarion services by age, over time

Base: All respondents (2018: n2000; 2017:n2000)

Clarion is acutely aware that it needs to retain a local focus and deliver services well.

In previous years, we saw that those in the central age groups (aged 35-64) found it least easy to access Clarion’s services, noting this might be because they are less able to phone during working hours. While we see a similar pattern repeated this year (see graph above), our older age groups have seen the biggest decline in finding it easy to get in touch. This correlates with younger residents being more likely to be online and therefore contact us via email or the website during the period when there were increased wait times for the call centre.

No place like home

Earlier this year we published a piece of joint4 research called ‘No Place Like Home’ about the needs and views of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) residents who live in social housing. One of the most striking results from that research is that nearly a quarter of LGBTQ+ residents (24%) feel uncomfortable having their landlord (e.g. housing officer) in their home, and a fifth (21%) feel uncomfortable with tradespersons coming in.

The research also found that some LGBTQ+ residents feel the need to ‘self-censor’ their homes before visitors arrive in order to conceal their sexual or gender identity, for example they might hide photos of them with their partner to avoid awkward questions.

The question about how comfortable residents feel about visits to their home was asked of the wider Clarion resident population to see how this compared to what the ‘No Place Like Home’ research found. Only 7% of Clarion residents overall felt uncomfortable having a tradesperson enter their home, and only 4% were uncomfortable having a housing officer at home so the difference between the LGBTQ+ group and the wider pool of residents is striking. These findings reinforce the need for housing providers to be more proactive on inclusion and be openly and visibly supportive of LGBTQ+ residents and staff. Clarion is currently spearheading a project together with the University of Surrey to develop a pledge scheme, which will outline a series of commitments for the sector to sign-up to in order to address the issues highlighted by the ‘No Place Like Home’ report.

Household finances

There has been a decline in the number of Clarion residents who say they are worried about money from 47% in 2017, to about two in five (42%) this year.

Proportion of residents worried about money issues, by age

Base: All respondents (n2000)

Worrying about money

While the overall figure has dropped year on year, some groups are more concerned about money than others:

  • People who are not in work are significantly more likely to worry about money (45%) than people who work (38%) and the gap between these two groups has widened this year;
  • Having children living at home means households are significantly more likely to have worries about money (47%) than those without (39%);
  • Those who report a long-standing health issue or disability are also more likely to worry (50%) than those who do not (37%);

  • Working age residents are much more worried about money issues (45%) than the over 65’s (28%);
  • Those in London are more likely to be worried (47%) than those in other regions. This is perhaps unsurprising as despite higher living costs in the Capital, benefit payments such as Job Seekers Allowance are the same as elsewhere in the country.

There is a degree of overlap between several of these groups with some residents featuring in two or more categories (a tenancy holder might be both not working and have children at homes for example) but the findings fit a consistent picture seen throughout the survey results where those most likely to be impacted by welfare reforms are finding things most difficult – working age households needing support with finding work, having children or a disability.

Those most likely to be impacted by welfare reforms are finding things most difficult – working age households needing support with finding work, having children or a disability.

Resident financial experience

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000; 2017:n2000)

Running out of money

At first glance, the financial situation for Clarion residents appears to have stayed quite steady for several years. The proportion of residents who say they tend to have money left at the end of the week or month has remained statistically the same - having dropped from 27% in 2016 to 25% in 2017, it is at 26% for 2018. The percentage of households saving money however does see a slight decline from 49% in 2016 to 47% in 2017 and 46% this year.

The proportion of residents who are struggling to make ends meet, those who tend to run out of money before the end of the week/month or only have enough for the essentials has also stayed around the same at around half of residents. But there has been a slight year on year increase in the number of residents using weekly payment stores (such as Brighthouse), catalogues and doorstep lenders (15% in 2016, 16% in 2017 and now 17% in 2018) which tend to have high interest rates, and offer poor value for money.

Given the very slight movement on employment rates among Clarion residents and the increasingly constrained benefit landscape, this would suggest that residents are budgeting carefully and are managing to do more with less. However, it also shows that around half of our residents would be vulnerable to a change in circumstances like a broken washing machine, or a reduction in working hours which could significantly stretch their budgets.

This combination of results – the apparent static nature of households ability to cover their bills alongside a decrease in savings activity and an increase in the use of high cost credit – highlights the limitation of this measure that asks whether people run out of money before the end of the week or month. The same number of residents may be running out of money or just about managing each year but this question alone cannot uncover the depth of the issue or measure if things have got better or worse within those groups. It will be a task for next year’s survey questions to unpick the detail here.

As with all financial indicators, age and household composition have a significant impact on results. Residents aged between 18 to 24 and 35 to 44 are least likely to have money left at the end of the week/ month (both 21%), significantly less than those aged 25 to 34 (29%) and 65 to 74 (36%). This may be partly driven by many in these groups having children in the home as a quarter of those with children run out of money before the end of the week/month, compared to just 16% of those without children at home.

Universal Credit

No payment is made for the first five weeks after the household puts in their claim. Households therefore need to have saved up enough money to carry them through those first five weeks. Saving such a large sum of money can be very difficult for those on low incomes and requires a good deal of forward planning to avoid hardship5.

There is growing evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for families who receive it6. Work published by other housing associations (such as Halton Housing and Network Homes) have shown that switching from legacy benefits to Universal Credit pushes some households in to financial difficulty and rent arrears.

Last year ‘The Clarion Index 2017’ reported that worryingly only 55% of residents in receipt of benefits7 said they were aware of the introduction of Universal Credit. While this figure has now increased substantially and nearly two thirds of benefit claimants8 are aware, more remains to be done to ensure residents do not end up in arrears or relying on high cost credit to pay their bills9.

We are working with our residents to help them prepare for the arrival of Universal Credit in their areas with a comprehensive campaign; frontline staff, such as our housing managers, tenancy sustainment teams, repairs operatives, contact centre staff, surveyors and guideline teams are being trained to provide information about getting help with the transition.

In response to this we are working with our residents to help them prepare for the arrival of Universal Credit in their areas with a comprehensive campaign; frontline staff, such as our housing managers, tenancy sustainment teams, repairs operatives, contact centre staff, surveyors and guideline teams are being trained to provide information about getting help with the transition.

We know that the move to Universal Credit is a significant life change and proactive support is welcome by residents, e.g. the outgoing calls to new Universal Credit claimants by the Clarion Futures Money Guidance team result in high take up of support.

Only 12% of residents claiming benefits are currently claiming Universal Credit, reflecting the phased introduction the government has used – but this number will grow as full roll out continues and it will increase significantly with managed migration in a few years.

Percentage of residents who have gone without food because they couldn’t afford it in the last year, by age

Base: All respondents (n2000)

Food poverty: Cutting out food, and food bank use

Food poverty is on the rise across the country. Research published this year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that 7% of adults have used a food bank and a similar number have skipped meals due to being short of money.

While there has been a continued but slow decline in the proportion of Clarion residents going without food, from 14% last year to 13% this year, the fact that anyone is going without is a real concern.

While we might imagine that those going without food will be the elderly or parents going without to feed their children this does not appear to be the case here: only 3% of those receiving state pension said they had gone without food whereas 20% of those aged 18-24 had done so.

There is no statistically significant difference between those with or without children at home as there have been in other household finance measures but residents with a disability or long standing health problem were significantly more likely to have gone without food (20%). Although significantly more of those who do not work (16%) went without food, in-work poverty and poverty wages are clearly an issue with 9% of workers still reporting having gone hungry.

Like other areas of financial worry, the age demographic of those who have gone without food is tightly correlated to where welfare reforms have been focussed. Food banks can provide a few days’ worth of emergency food to people in crisis. Care professionals such as health visitors, social workers and housing officers can issue food bank vouchers to those who need them.

Overall 7% of Clarion residents have used a food bank in the last year, but 4% have had to do so more than once which indicates some persistent hardship.

As twice this number say they have gone without food we know that many are going hungry without accessing a food bank. Measuring food bank use may therefore result in the significant under-reporting of the scale of food poverty in this country. While it may be that residents are unaware of food banks in their area, it is also possible that there are none local enough to reach without transport. Access criteria and availability of food banks varies across the country as does the amount of food provided to a household and how often.

Highlighting the seriousness of the impact of the five week waiting period for Universal Credit payments, 18% of our residents on Universal Credit have used a food bank, 13% more than once.

Awareness of our services

Clarion provides residents with a wide range of financial inclusion services; such as access to affordable loans, credit unions and guidance on money management. We want to help residents maximise their income and manage their finances without needing to resort to expensive credit. With the impact of continued welfare reforms and Universal Credit yet to be fully realised, it is vital that residents know where to turn if their finances become stretched.

Only 31% of residents said they knew about Clarion’s money guidance service. This is a disappointing decrease (-15%) from last year. Following a comprehensive communications campaign well over half (53%) of Affinity Sutton residents had been aware of the money guidance service in 2016. Changes to data protection law mean it is now impossible to market these guidance services to residents in the same way and this has clearly resulted in less awareness.

This raises serious concerns and we must find ways to increase awareness in line with the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), especially as we have seen an increase across measures of residents using high cost credit.

Awareness levels of Clarion’s finance and employability services are all down on last year, but residents are most aware of training to get online (26%), affordable loans (25%), access banking services (23%) and online employability training (22%).

One in five (20%) residents said they have accessed free debt advice; this is a new question so it cannot be compared to previous years. While it is reassuring that residents are taking control of their finances by seeking help, it is of concern that such a large proportion found themselves in a position where they could not manage their debt alone.

Employment

The English Housing Survey this year reported that 43% of social rented households are in work and for people of working age the figure is 58%. Clarion figures are broadly in line with these national averages with 42% of our residents in paid work and 52% of those of working age (18-64).

This marks a modest increase on last year’s figures of 40% and 51% respectively. Just 5% of Clarion residents are unemployed and seeking work and this has decreased from 6% last year.

Among those respondents who are not in paid work, 15% said someone else in their household is in paid employment. A fifth of our residents are fully retired from work, 94% of whom claim a state pension, and 89% a private pension (there is clearly overlap here with many residents entitled to claim both).

17% of residents have a disability or long term illness and are not working and 12% are working as a carer or are looking after the home (for example looking after children). None of these findings reflect the negative image of social housing residents portrayed in some areas of the media and by highlighting the contribution of residents to the economy and wider society these statistics can play a key role in tackling stigma.

Employment status by gender

Base: All respondents n2000 (male=730, female = 1269)

Paid employment by region and legacy landlord10

Base: All respondents (n2000)

Paid employment varies quite significantly across the regions Clarion operates in and also by age, gender and household type.

Paid employment

Among those in work, almost two thirds (61%) are full time and a over a third (38%) are part time. Part time work is most common among those with dependent children at home with 55% doing fewer than 30 hours a week – an increase of 8% on last year. Although a very similar proportion of men and women are in paid work (43% and 42%), women are significantly more likely to work part time than men and they are also more likely to be looking after the home and children; less than 1% of male residents do this compared to 9% of women.

A higher proportion of men are retired than female residents and at 29% this is an increase of 3% since 2017. Male residents are also more likely to disabled, or unable to work due to a long term health issue. Women are more likely to be carers.

There has been a small increase in the number of residents beyond retirement age working in paid employment. In 2017 just 6% of those aged 65 to 74 said they were working, now 10% do. The majority of these older workers are part time, working less than 30 hours a week. This finding may reflect the recent increase to retirement age and this will be looked at more closely when planning next year’s survey to ensure the new retirement ages are captured in the data.

Paid employment varies quite significantly across Clarion’s operating regions and as in previous years the lower levels tended to be seen outside of London and the South but the result is not so clear cut this year.

There is a slightly younger customer base in London and fewer retirees but this does not fully explain the differences we see in the graph above.

Energy

Residents are more anxious specifically about their rising energy bills (53%) than they are about money issues generally (42%); we see this difference every year.

Concern is felt across all resident groups, but those not working or in receipt of benefits are significantly more likely to be worried than those in work or not receiving any benefits.

Proportion of residents worried about increasing energy bills, by age

Base: All respondents (2018: n2000, 2017: n2000)

Residents aged over 35 are significantly more likely to be worried than younger residents and those with a disability are significantly more likely to be very worried than those without.

Residents on low incomes disproportionately feel the impact of energy price increases as a greater percentage of their income is taken up by necessities.

This year 16% of Clarion residents said they had gone without heating to save money in the past year which continues year-on-year decreases we have reported previously (2017 = 19%, 2016 = 22%). This does vary by age (a fifth of those aged 35 to 65 said they had done so) but is especially high for residents with health problems and those receiving incapacity benefit or employment support allowance.

Proportion of residents worried about increasing energy bills, by benefits received

Base: All respondents n2000, group size given

As well as monitoring and challenging bills, residents can take control of their energy spend by switching provider: 37% of residents report having switched energy provider and 19% have done so in the past year.

Taking Control

Although residents are concerned about their energy bills, and a significant minority have gone without heating because of financial concerns, new questions in this year’s survey show that residents are trying to take control of their bills. Well over half of Clarion residents (57%) sometimes or always check the calculations in their bills to see if they are correct. Older residents were most like to always check their bills (43% of those aged over 65) – this may be related to the fact that they are also most likely to pay for their energy on receipt of a bill, rather than by pre-payment meter, or fixed direct debit.

A third of residents said they had challenged an energy bill, or complained to their supplier (31%).

When we asked Affinity Sutton residents in 2015, 45% said they were on a gas or electricity prepayment meter. When queried, two thirds said this was their choice as they preferred to pay that way, staying in control of what they spent.

We now see that the most frequently used method of paying for energy is fixed monthly direct debit (34%), then prepayment meter (27%). Both methods show residents trying to take control of their energy spend. While a fixed monthly direct debit will not completely protect households from an unexpectedly high bill coming in, it does mean that residents usually know how much they will be paying and the cost is spread out over the quarter or the year. Although pre-payment meters no longer inflict the punitive tariffs that they gained a poor reputation for, residents using them are still unlikely to have access to preferential deals such as online and dual fuel tariffs, which tend to be cheaper.

This compares favourably with national statistics that show 16% of UK households switched electricity provider and 15% switched gas supplier in 2016.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those with access to the internet were more likely (41%) to have switched energy provider than those without (25%). While it is possible to seek out price comparisons over the phone and by post, we know that doing so online is the quickest and most straightforward way of doing so. Being able to access the best tariffs (and other money saving deals) is one of the drivers for Clarion Futures investing heavily in supporting residents to get online, and be more confident in using the internet.

Digital
inclusion

Being online provides both our residents and our business with some positives – residents can access some of our services online at a time and place that is convenient to them, and this is also more cost effective to us.
For a business for social purpose such as Clarion, these efficiencies mean that more resources can be made available to support residents and build more homes to tackle the housing crisis.

Internet access over time

Base: All respondents (2011-2015:n1000,2016:n1500,2017:n2000;2018:n2000); GB data source ONS

There is also a social value attached to being online with improved wellbeing resulting from the ability to connect with family and friends and better finances by accessing money saving deals. Many jobs are now only advertised online and for most people in receipt of working-age benefits, online will be their only way of managing Universal Credit claims. The Clarion Futures Digital Champions programme provides residents with the skills to use the internet to enhance their lives by saving money, accessing benefits and connecting with other people.

Since 2011, when just 57% of Affinity Sutton residents were online, the yearly increase and subsequent plateau of residents online has tracked the national picture to a large extent. However, in the last three years progress among residents has dipped behind the national digital usage statistics. This may be due to the age profile of our residents. Currently, 90% of UK households have access to the internet according to figures from the Office for National Statistics and this is similar to usage among Clarion’s under 55’s.

Clarion’s digital inclusion team will work to address the barriers to being online to ensure that our residents do not get left behind.

While the proportion of residents online has remained steady since last year, the frequency with which those online use the internet has changed. More than half of residents now say they use the internet several times a day, an increase of 10% on last year. Nearly 90% of residents aged 18-34 use the internet several times a day, compared to less than a quarter of those aged 55 and over (89% vs 23%).

Young residents continue to be the most connected group of residents. We can see in the graph below that the percentage of residents online in each age group varies each year - sometimes just a few percent. Some small changes in percentages can be attributed to chance alone since the sample size produces a +/-2% statistical accuracy.

How often do you use the internet?

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000)
To improve residents’ confidence online, Clarion Futures Digital support a network of tutors and Digital Champions – residents and staff who help other users build their skills at the same time as developing their own.

Larger and consistent changes are monitored each year to look for trends, which may need action. What is clear from the graph below is that the proportion of residents online declines markedly after the age of 55 and the only group where fewer than half are online is the over 75s.

Only one in five (19%) online residents said they were not confident in using services on the internet, but this was significantly higher in residents over 55 (32%). To improve residents’ confidence online, Clarion Futures Digital support a network of tutors and Digital Champions – residents and staff who help other users build their skills at the same time as developing their own.

Reflecting ONS figures for the wider population, there has been a steady rise in the proportion of residents using smartphones to get online: now 78% of our internet users do so with their smartphone20. The increase we see above in people accessing the internet several times a day is likely to be related to this. This shift is also driven by our younger residents: in 2016, 88% of 18-34 year old residents said they accessed the internet on their phone, up to 91% in 2017 and this year it has risen further to 96%.

How do you usually use the internet?

Base: Internet users: n1514

Internet access, by age over time

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000, 2017:n2000, 2016:n1000 AS only)

Communications

We’ve seen already that three quarters of Clarion residents access the internet and a majority usually prefer using their smart phone to get online, but it’s vital for us to provide a variety of channels for communication between Clarion and residents.

Preferred communication channel for finding out your rent balance

Base: All respondents (n2000)

In 2017, 71% of residents were aware that they could access some services online (dependent on their housing association) and 27% had actually done so. Disappointingly, both these figures have decreased this year, to 62% and 21% respectively.

For several years younger residents (most likely to be online) have preferred to report non-urgent issues (like certain repairs) online – at a time and place of their choosing and so their engagement with the landlord online offer is of particular interest. In 2017, 75% of those aged 18 to 34 were aware of Clarion online services, and in 2018 this dropped slightly to 73%; more worryingly, the proportion that had actually used the online services in that age group dropped substantially, from 37% to 27% (base: all aged 18-34).

Some of this may be attributable to the re-branding of the Housing Association and re-naming of some of the web functions with residents being less familiar with the new Clarion identity. However, our digital offer is currently undergoing significant investment and residents’ views, expectations and preferences will be central to the design. While it will never be possible (nor desirable) to move all communications online, tracking residents’ preferences and liaising with them in the development stage means we can effectively target specific activities and resident groups with a user experience that suits them.

Despite three quarters of Clarion residents having access to the internet, there are some transactions with us where they still prefer a phone call. If there is a problem with their rent payment, 64% of residents say they would prefer to be contacted by phone and only 9% would like to receive an email and 8% a text. If they need to make a complaint, residents are even more likely to prefer to use the telephone with 80% of residents citing this as their preference, and only 9% saying email.

Building
new homes

The Future Shape of the Sector report published earlier this year highlighted the unique place Housing Associations have in tackling the housing crisis by being able to build homes in areas of need. As the largest housing association in Europe, with an ambitious target to develop 50,000 new homes across different tenures during the next ten years Clarion is well-placed to make a significant impact. How far existing residents support the objective to build more homes has changed however.

Percentage of residents agreeing with the statement, “There is a need for more homes in my area”, over time

Base: All respondents (2018: n2000, 2017:n2000, 2016:n1000 AS only, 2015:n1004, 2014:n1001, 2013:n1051)

How important to you is it that Clarion Housing builds more homes?

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000, 2017:n2000, 2016:n1000 AS only)

Following a high of 67% last year, 60% of residents agreed that there is a need for more homes in their area. Support varies by operating region with the lowest agreement in the four North and East regions (49% to 60%), and the highest in the three London areas (63% to 67%). As noted in previous years, those living in areas where housing is under the most pressure are feeling the greatest need for new homes.

Fewer than half of residents (46%) said they were aware that Clarion builds new homes for rent and sale, a substantial decrease from last year (57%), despite the growth of the building programme.Two thirds of Clarion residents think it is important that their landlord builds more homes, a decrease from 75% in 2017.

Residents’ opinion on whether new homes should be built on land that has not been built on before (‘greenfield’ sites) is almost equally split. Last year 44% agreed that homes should be built on greenfield sites and 43% disagreed; the overall figures this year are the same.

Households with children living at home continue to be more supportive of building on greenfield sites, with 49% in agreement compared to 42% of those without children at home.

While older residents are more likely to say there is a need for more homes in their local area (see chart below), younger residents are significantly more likely to agree that new homes should be built on greenfield sites.

While it is disappointing to see the overall figures decrease, they do fluctuate year on year, and it is important to note that these views are likely to be affected by residents’ own recent experience and that of their friends and family, as well as the wider picture of the housing crisis across the country. While the Government’s Green Paper focusses on improving the situation of existing tenants, the finding that 60% of current residents support Clarion’s development programme means that for many, the opportunity to have a safe, secure home at a price which is affordable to them is one they would like to see extended to others.

New homes should be built on land that has not been built on before to tackle the housing shortage (% agree)

Base: All respondents (2018:n2000, 2017:n2000)

Percentage of residents who agree that new homes should be built on greenfield sites and there is a need for more homes in my area, by age

Base: All respondents (n2000)

Methodology

Market Research Society registered, Enventure Research was commissioned to undertake this year’s resident survey with randomised customer contact details provided by Clarion.

A similar methodology was used to the surveys of previous years and telephone interviews were carried out with a representative sample of 2,000 residents. Quotas were used for age, gender and region as well as legacy Housing Association. All calls were completed between 11 June and 4 July 2018.

The questionnaire included a number of the same or similar ‘tracking’ questions and also new questions were developed. The design closely replicated the order that similar questions had appeared in previous years to ensure results were comparable and it was timed to be no more than 15 minutes long to prevent incomplete interviews.

To ensure the survey was as inclusive as possible, calls were made at different times of day including evenings and weekends. Where Clarion data from 2017 and 2018 is cited, the source is Enventure Research, where Affinity Sutton resident data from 2012 and 2013 is cited the source is DJS Research Ltd, where figures for 2014- 16 and 2011 are used the source is Qa Research Ltd.

We refer to ‘Clarion Housing’ and ‘Clarion’ throughout this report to apply to the activities of Clarion Housing Group Limited which comprises, Clarion Housing Association Limited, Clarion Futures and Latimer Developments Limited. Please see our website clarionhg.com, for more details.

Please see our website clarionhg.com, for more details.

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