Building better services tailored to customer needs through the Housing Operations Transformation Programme

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council's Housing Operations Transformation Programme aimed to deliver a restructure and re-modelling of the Housing Operations Service across five of the six services withing the department.

There are five key aims :

  1. Improve customer satisfaction.
  2. Deliver a streamlined operating model to improve the way we deliver our landlord service functions, providing much simpler access to the right person/team to resolve customer issues.  
  3. Modernise the service, using improved technology to carry out the day to day housing work.
  4. Deliver a more agile working environment lending to a more community/neighbourhood focused approach to delivery.
  5. Deliver efficiencies in both operational processes and financial costs

The challenge

Historical customer satisfaction survey results and anecdotal evidence from both customers and staff indicated that the current operating model was not delivering the most customer focused service to our tenants or leaseholders.  
There was inefficiency and duplication in both operational service delivery and processes through lack of ownership, accountability and ease of accessibility. 

There were also financial implications following the government imposed 1% rent reductions resulting in a net reduction of approx. £500,000 of our rental income for each of the four years from 2016-2020. In real terms the reduction was significantly more than this, given that the business plan assumed average rent increases of 6%, year on year in order to meet target rents. 

Due to the uncertainty in the two years leading up the council’s ALMO being liquidated and the housing service returning to the council, strategic service reviews were put on hold and there was a need for action as soon as possible once the housing service had been re-integrated. 

Many staff members have been employees in the service for many years, some having worked in the team for their entire career.  As a result there was among some staff members a reluctance to change.

The solution

A service restructure was instigated in November 2017 affecting 105 staff across the five teams who were impacted by the proposed changes. We consulted with staff over the statutory 90 day period. We adopted a personalised approach, giving staff the opportunity for one to one meetings whenever they wished, as well as more consultation sessions. We also set up a dedicated area on our intranet, accessible only to staff affected. We used this area to provide updates and we published a dynamic ‘FAQ’ section, which we updated when we received new queries from staff members.  We also published council vacancies in this area, as potential redeployment opportunities.    

The two areas subject to the consultation were:

  1. new staffing structures (including new teams and jobs)
  2. job descriptions.

Throughout the consultations, staff were reassured that they would be fully supported through the changes, and positive benefits to our customers and the community as a result of the programme were clearly communicated.    

Importantly staff were encouraged to provide feedback on the proposed changes - their views were very important to the process, given their hands-on experience of delivering the service and working with customers on a day to day basis.     
Staff were encouraged to see things from the customer perspective, rather than basing their ideas on future service delivery on ‘how things already are’, or the structures and service delivery arrangements already in place.  

Staff were also encouraged to consider the business transformation programme as an opportunity for their own professional development – the new structures created new management positions and opportunities to staff to move into different teams.  
Many ideas were provided by staff and where possible they led directly to changes to the proposed structures and job descriptions. Final structure charts and job descriptions were confirmed shortly after the consultation period having considered and responded to all feedback received.   

All suitable vacancies arising in the council from the start of the consultation period were suspended, to facilitate deployment opportunities for housing staff affected by the programme.  

The impact

There were a number of outcomes/impacts following the conclusion, summarized below:

No services to customers have been removed - tasks have been absorbed into other teams and/or roles, where they can be delivered in a more effective and community-focused way

Five existing staff have been promoted to more senior positions.

  1. 23 new posts have been successfully recruited – through a combination of existing staff moving to a new role, or bringing in fresh ideas through the recruitment of external candidates
  2. Total number of establishment posts in the new finalised structures increased from the proposed 89 to 91 as a direct result of the staff consultation
  3. 14 voluntary redundancies and one compulsory redundancy confirmed - much lower than the original 26 staff who were placed at risk at the start of the programme. All staff were offered career counselling, with an opportunity to be deployed into vacant roles across the council – a total of 56 staff members took this up.  
  4. A projected financial efficiency saving of £164k in staffing costs – this will be achieved year on year.  
  5. To date there has been no decrease in customer satisfaction, despite the changes to service delivery arrangements which have already taken place.

How is the approach being sustained?

  • The overarching principles of the programme, to put the customer first by building the service around the needs of the customer, will be embedded further, across all council teams, as part of the delivery of the council’s new Customer Service Strategy, launched this year.
  • Now that the first stage of the Business Transformation has been completed successfully the service and process reviews are now in progress.  New policies and procedures are being developed to reflect the change in approach to service delivery.
  • New suite of performance metrics being monitored.  Longer term service review and improvement plans to be developed.
  • Mystery shopping to be rolled out in two tranches to capture feedback on current service compared to future service.   

Lessons learned

Owing to the vast scale of this programme it was immensely challenging to manage the personalised approach to the consultation which we delivered.     

Our key learning point was that we would engage staff earlier in the process in the future and prior to rolling out the full consultation.