Learning lessons from Eastfields: one year on

It is a year since conditions on the Eastfields estate in Merton made national news. Under my leadership, I want to be upfront about the challenges we face as a social landlord and transparent in our communications. In that spirit, I wanted to provide an update on the work we have undertaken on the estate, reflect on the changes made and how we are striving to make a difference in our communities nationally.

We apologised unreservedly for the homes that had fallen into disrepair at Eastfields, published a lessons learned report and carried out a significant programme of work to improve the conditions of the homes. This includes:

  • Full replacement of kitchens and bathrooms in 30 homes
  • An upgrade to the roof system to prevent leaks
  • Opening a new office on site and knocking on the door of every resident on the estate

Ultimately, every Clarion resident on the Eastfields estate will be provided with a brand new home. Our regeneration programme is one of the of the most ambitious in London and we were delighted the London Borough of Merton reaffirmed their support in September last year and granted planning permission for Phase 1 of the work in April. To get started on site will take a little while yet as hundreds of families have to be moved to vacate the homes to be demolished.

 

Regeneration always takes time and I understand why the pace of change can often seem slow to local people. I am determined that where homes have come to the end of their lives, we make the case for regeneration and bring local communities and politicians with us. But we also need to make sure that homes waiting for demolition are also safe to live in whilst occupied. We didn’t get that balance right at Eastfields and over the last year we have tried very hard to rectify that. There is still work to do but we have made a significant step in the right direction.

Support from national government is also part of the solution for successful regeneration. As it stands, there is no financial support on offer in cases where the time is right to knock down old homes and build new ones to take their place. That means the burden falls entirely on charitable social landlords like Clarion. We will not shy away from regeneration projects that deliver new social housing, but we need partnership with government to accelerate progress.

Maintaining and investing in our homes

I am acutely aware that the spotlight remains on our sector with respect to the maintenance and quality of our homes. Our mission is to provide affordable homes to those that need them most, but this can only be realised if our residents live in comfort and safety. The vast majority of our homes are in good condition, but we recognise that with 125,000 properties across the country – the picture is not uniform. We carry out over 1,200 repairs a day, mostly through our own directly employed workforce. Merton is one of only two locations where we outsource the work. Inevitably when you operate at scale occasionally things will go wrong. To my mind it is how we recover those situations and what we learn from the experience that is most important.

In recent weeks we have received two severe maladministration findings from the Ombudsman, and we expect to receive others. All relate to events pre pandemic where we failed to provide the service we should have. These were complex cases, but they were also isolated. Last week we received the results of our resident satisfaction survey for the quarter to 31 March 2022. This is an independently conducted survey involving over 7,000 residents who have had a recent transaction with Clarion. Our results were 83.4% satisfaction with the service. Which is the highest score we have ever received. But I am not complacent. I know that Clarion has still got much to learn and we can improve further. We are investing in technology so we can have immediate access to satisfaction scores as we complete work and provide support. This gives us the ability to be much more fleet of foot in picking up on issues and resolving them.

Our teams invested £135 million in maintenance and repairs over the last 12 months, we have a new app for our repairs service that allows real time updates on appointments and we’re piloting new Resident Liaison Officers (RLOs) who take ownership of some of the complex cases where we have fallen short in the past.

There is no quick fix. The UK has some of the oldest housing stock in the world – which is why regeneration matters so much. Our residents are also more likely to be living below the poverty line and to suffer disproportionately from rising inflation and the cost of living crisis. In turn, that means they are more likely to feel compelled to turn off their heating to save money and that increases the risk of damp and mould taking a grip.

We do everything in our power to help through our charitable foundation and our Clarion Futures Guidance team made more than 20,000 interventions to support residents struggling with their bills. And we’re taking a lead on the retrofitting of homes to improve their energy efficiency over the long-term. But as Martin Lewis said recently – we have reached the stage where only government has the power to make interventions that will ease the financial pressure on millions of people over the coming months.

As Chief Executive of Clarion Housing Group, I will never shirk our responsibility to provide and maintain good quality homes. We will do everything in our power to deliver for our existing residents and to continue to build the affordable homes needed tomorrow. We will not get every decision right, but as a charitable organisation, I know my colleagues are driven to provide the best service possible.

Clare Miller, Chief Executive of Clarion Housing Group