The NHMF, CIH member Chris Moquet and M3 hosted a study tour by Danish housing officials. Four managers from Glostrup Boligselskab Housing Association in Copenhagen came to see how UK housing organisations have implemented digital solutions as part of their everyday procedures. They have embarked upon a two year project which seeks to deliver a more efficient and enhanced level of customer service. They are exploring the feasibility of providing repair reporting and housing management services online potentially for a group of five housing providers. While over here they met representatives from Bracknell Forest Homes, Red Kite Community Housing, Southern Housing Group, Brighton & Hove County Council and the Breyer Group.
The group was particularly interested in online repair reporting, using M3Central, both during normal working hours and when the call centre was closed. They were also interested in ways for customers to help themselves to other services via the web site. An important element of the trip was to see behind the scenes in order to understand how requests make their way from the web to the right person, and to understand how requests are actioned.
Bracknell Forest discussed maintenance operations and compared notes on their different approaches. Southern outlined their strategy to sell properties which are geographically apart from the core areas of operation or in local authority areas where partnerships are less productive and showed how this has improved the maintenance service. Red Kite explained its decision to invest heavily in digital systems and its policy of increasing its online service still further in the future as part of a policy of continuous customer service improvement.
The Breyer Group talked from the contractor’s perspective explaining the advantages for both parties of operating under an annual maximum price term maintenance contract.
Interesting differences between the two countries emerged. For example, the Danish team have very few properties with gas heating systems, and routinely remove them from such properties when they become vacant. The majority of homes benefit from district heating systems.
Historically housing associations in Denmark are the main instrument for providing social housing. There are around 760 housing associations which own about 8,000 estates. The associations are self-governing units. The housing associations vary enormously in size, ranging from those with over 30,000 units to those with fewer than ten.
An investment project is usually financed in three parts: 91% of the capital is borrowed by the housing association from banks; the municipality pays 7% in the form of an interest-free loan for base capital, and guarantees part of the mortgage; the remaining 2% is covered by tenants’ deposits.
In Denmark, rents are not reduced when mortgage loans are redeemed. Instead, the proceeds go to the National Building Fund which is used by housing associations for renovation work and more recently also to finance new construction.
Denmark has one of the world’s best ICT infrastructures; the social housing sector has a great opportunity to learn from the experience in the UK in its adoption of digital technology.