The RST looked at the following to assist with their review of retirement living re-lets:
The initial research included looking at various documents, paperwork and websites in order to familiarise ourselves with retirement living re-lets and associated policies and procedures.
Benchmarking using websites of other housing associations (Anchor, Metropolitan, Hanover Housing, Sutton Affinity, Raglan Housing (now Stonewater) and Derby Homes) and by making phone calls, the RST identified the following:
- Raglan properties all have lifts, stair lifts and wheelchair access; rents are approx. £123.44 per week (inc service charges)
- Anchor Housing; no problems letting properties, only two schemes in Derby, purpose built
- Derby Homes; direct offers for retirement, reserve properties for transfers for own tenants. Always have over 60’s properties available.
- All other landlords state over 55’s
- Liversage Trust have long waiting lists for properties, this is thought to be because they are a well-known and old Derby Charity. Their current rent is also £68.90 per week.
- Anchor Housing allow potential customers to stay in guest rooms to get a feel for the scheme and the local area
- Hanover Housing offer properties with heating & water included in rent; ease for residents, less to worry about, more appropriate as residents age or have difficulties, addresses potential fuel poverty
- Anchor housing have recently sold off 37 older properties in order to reinvest in newer developments
- Generally speaking, social rents are more expensive than private rental when service charges are taken into account
The RST carried out interviews with staff members working in both the Lettings Team, and the Retirement Living Team, based at head office. The RST had an insight into how properties are re-let and were able to pose further questions.
The RST also carried out visits to two different schemes, including; Haslemere Court and Appleby & Bradbourne Court. The team visited a total of 6 properties; 5 voids and 1 let property. Whilst carrying out site visits the RST completed observation forms for each property visited.
The RST also carried out a text survey with existing retirement living residents. They asked, ‘would you recommend Derwent Living retirement properties to friends and family?’
2018 responses were received with 92% responding yes.
- Based on the consultation results, Derwent Living is seen as a very positive landlord.
- Benchmarking has shown that there is more choice with focus on services and facilities, but accommodation itself needs to be more appealing.
- From site visits, kerb appeal is important but interior of flats needs to match expectations of today’s retirees.
- Where there are hard to let properties, a change of approach and flexibility may be needed. A rigid approach may not work for all schemes.
- Overall, the process for re-letting properties is fit for purpose, but there is a need for tighter control and monitoring to address where long term voids occur and the reasons why.
- Having one member of staff responsible for letting retirement properties, within Lettings Team, will be beneficial for consistency.
- Ongoing communication and consultation with retirement living residents is importance; they are aware of their needs and their views are relevant in helping make improvements.
The RST make the following recommendations:
- Check voids are set up for wheelchair/ mobility usage – doors opening right way etc.
- Derwent Living staff to sign off voids as ready to let, rather than contractors, or carry out joint inspections.
- Ensure voids are adapted to allow level access in bathrooms e.g. raised shower trays removed and replaced.
- Voids should be advertised in the locality. Target audience should be within a short radius.
- Responsible Lettings Officer to visit and gain sufficient knowledge of all schemes and become SME (Subject Matter Expert) in order to effectively advise potential customers.
- On the printed scheme leaflets, photography should be scheme specific relating to facilities, locality etc and with up to date photographs, otherwise can be misleading. Units of measurement on proximity to local facilities should be consistent, ie not miles and km, should be miles and yards. Printed materials should be proof read for mistakes.
- Review lettable standard for hard to let schemes to increase appeal, e.g. redecoration, deep clean, carpet in properties, 2 weeks rent in advance rather than 4 weeks (for very hard to let properties and areas).
- Review retirement page on website and change age eligibility to 55 from 60.
- For existing residents completion of a transfer form should be sufficient when moving between retirement properties, rather than completing lengthy pre-assessment forms which may put people off.
- Review waiting list on 6 month basis rather than annually, to keep lists manageable and ensure information is accurate.
- ETO complete exit survey on pre-termination inspection to increase number of returns.
- Consider introducing scheme as per Anchor, where potential tenants are invited to stay in guest rooms for a ‘taster night’.
- Look at viability of offering properties with utilities included, especially new builds, consider cost implications in conjunction PfP energy supply.
- Review car parking at schemes to see if they could be reduced to make space for scooter housings, due to the increasing number of scooter users. Lack of scooter housings may invalidate insurance.