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Comments and opinions19 June 2024

Why we are transforming Clarion

Clare Miller, writing exclusively for Housing Today, explains why the 125,000-home provider needs to change.
Clare Miller, CEO of Clarion Housing Group

“We want to better support our existing residents, maintain our financial sustainability and build as many new affordable homes as we can.”

Clare Miller, Chief Executive of Clarion Housing Group

As the chief executive of the largest housing association in the country, I am acutely aware that the term “housing crisis”, a phrase used so often, it is losing its impact.

I am encouraged to see the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities committee of MPs recently reaffirm the urgent need for government investment to allow us to build at scale.

This can’t come soon enough, and I wanted to write for Housing Today to bring to life the human impact of what is more of a housing emergency and to set out the major changes Clarion is making to our service.

We want to better support our existing residents, maintain our financial sustainability and build as many new affordable homes as we can. This task has never been so challenging.

As a registered charity, we must balance several competing priorities to secure the best possible outcome for our residents.

This includes providing a free and on-demand repairs service, making long term investments in ageing housing stock, regenerating, replacing and retrofitting homes to meet net-zero targets. I think it’s also worth restating our fundamental objective, which is to provide homes for people who cannot afford to live in the private sector.

Last year, the average two-bed Clarion social home in Islington cost £620.38 to rent. In the private rental sector, the average cost was £2,128. That means the typical Clarion resident in Islington paid £18,000 less in rent over a year than a neighbour in a PRS home.

In the past, it felt as though governments understood that housing associations had to make trade-offs to support help families find secure and subsidised accommodation. The current combination of reduced financial support and significantly increased regulation is making the situation harder than at any point in my career.

My concern is for the people living in our homes and for the long-term future of social housing.

In the past, housing associations were judged on our ability to provide a safe, secure home that was repaired in a timely manner.

Many housing associations did far more than this, but we also had the support of local government, funded to carry out its statutory services.

Now with local government under severe pressure, we are finding that many of the things we once relied upon are being cut back, with devastating consequences for our neighbourhoods.

At the same time, prescriptive regulation from central government is costing us millions of pounds per annum. The forced decoupling of rents from inflation imposed in recent years has cost us £120million alone.

Faced with these challenges, we are changing how we work at Clarion. We appointed Newton Europe to analyse every aspect of our organisation and advise us on an efficient and effective change transformation programme. I want to be the best social landlord in the country, and this change is designed to deliver an improved experience for everyone who lives in our homes.

We have already committed to some important changes. We have introduced new diagnostic tools for colleagues who work in our contact centre, meaning conversations over the phone might be longer – but we’ll optimise our chances of securing a lasting fix first time round.

We have a project dedicated to the speed of turning round void properties, as we’re determined to make properties available more quickly. We’ll retain a national call centre, but there will be a named and visible lead member of staff for all our communities. This is about delivering a local service, while retaining the benefits of our size and scale.

There is much more work to do. We will restructure some parts of Clarion to put more resources in key priority areas, but it will demand significant savings elsewhere in the group.

This isn’t at all easy in the external climate I have summarised, but it’s necessary for us to adapt and challenge conventional thinking.

Clarion is 125 years old next year. It was in 1900 that William Sutton bequeathed his legacy to provide homes for workers in populous places. It is a tragic failure of our society in 2024 that we now have 135,000 children living in temporary accommodation in the UK.

Social housing provides an anchor for children and families, by definition, temporary accommodation cannot do the same. Without the stability of knowing where your home is, people feel they are not in control of their lives. For those who do have social housing tenancies, 1 in 5 are now living in overcrowded properties. Sharing beds, sleeping on sofas, and feeling cramped at home is no way to build a life in 21st century Britain.

It’s widely recognised that the chronic shortage of social and affordable homes is behind the twin problems of temporary accommodation and overcrowding. Less commented on is the fact that the UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe; nearly four in five homes lived in today were built before 1980. These poorly insulated homes mean an increased risk of condensation, damp and mould and a guarantee of higher energy bills.

The headwinds facing our sector are strong and I hope that the government pays attention when we warn of the impact on our residents. But we’re not just agents of central government and I am determined we don’t see the housing crisis as inevitable or inescapable. Clarion’s own transformation will show we are willing to change, because we are motivated to do the best we can for all 360,000 people who live in our homes.

This piece first appeared on the Housing Today website on 10 May 2024.