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Housing in 2013: 'A testing experience running to wafer thin margins'

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Housing in 2013: 'A testing experience running to wafer thin margins'

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Bill Payments, Universal Credit

Housing in 2013: 'A testing experience running to wafer thin margins' Housing in 2013: 'A testing experience running to wafer thin margins'

Alistair McIntosh, chief executive of the Housing Quality Network, looks ahead to the challenges housing providers are likely to face in 2013.

Every year we say the end is nigh for associations. You know what, 2012 was yet another boom year. Well done to the boards that got us through all this. Surpluses went up. There were only one or two casualties. But compared to other sectors it was plain sailing for housing associations. Councils slashed and burned. The high street shut down. How well will associations do in 2013? We are about to find out.

Everyone is ready for welfare reform they say. Is that possible? I liken it to going to a football match. You are in your seat, the Bovril is warming the cockles and the programme is open on your lap. The whistle blasts. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Landlords have done a lot of work on welfare reform. They know who will be affected and when. But what will tenants actually do when the grim reality hits them? You just can’t tell how people will cope with pressure in sport or real life. Too few landlords can shuffle tenants around to cheaper homes. The speed of decision making will be akin to managing a crisis or war. Threats like this can explain why landlords want smaller boards with better business skills. A bit like the COBRA meetings our government has in times of trouble.

Cuts to benefit will starve associations of cash. It is a testing experience running to wafer thin margins. Ask your friends in councils and ALMOs. Everything is up for the chop. One council director ruled out the move to fixed term tenancies just because he did not have the staff to review these tenancies. Look at other sectors. The Financial Times has banned all travel to save cash. I suppose their journalists can use the internet like the rest of us. What costs will your association ditch? Will you switch to housing better off people? Leadership in the relaxed world of 2012 will bear no relation to what is about to come.

The normal advice at times like these is to stick close to your customers. Associations used to do this by putting tenants onto their boards. Indeed the promise of tenants on the board clinched stock transfers. This could be a thing of the past.

These days some associations are getting rid of tenant board members. It seems to me that residents know a lot more about managing to tight budgets than the rest of us. Let’s face it they are about to get a crash course in this at the hands of Iain Duncan Smith. Some of them might have something to say that is worth hearing. Can an association with 15,000 residents really say none of them are up to the job of sitting on the board? Either the folk doing the recruiting need to move on or I do.

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