Hackney Council new build repairs: guest post by Ewelina Sorbjan

Image shows a block of flats

Operating manually meant things would disappear in the sheer volume of traffic

Ewelina, former Head of New Build Property Management at Hackney council, talks about dxw’s work to build a new online system for housing repairs, and how it supports the council’s ambitions for social housing.

Hackney’s ambition for housing

Between 2018 and 2020, Hackney is building 2,000 new homes. Our building programme is underpinned by creating one community. Social rented homes are built to the same quality and design as private or shared ownership homes. 

We’re building and selling homes sometimes priced at as much as £1m to private tenants, and using the profits to pay for social rented housing. The latter consistently makes up more than 50% of our housing portfolio. With increasing financial constraints, we don’t rely at all on government grants or subsidies.

Our ambition is to build good quality social homes as a council, rather than relying on partnerships with housing associations. What sets us apart from many others, is that the council also remains the landlord and retains maintenance and management responsibilities. 

Hackney council’s Bridge House and Marian Court

The importance of reputation

We need a good reputation to work with the big building companies and compete in the housing market. New build is notoriously tricky, so putting in place processes to manage defects quickly is important. Complex pieces of kit go into our new homes and they don’t always work. 

All housing services were brought in-house on 1 April 2016, and the new build team was set up under my leadership in April 2017. Before then, housing maintenance was handled by an ALMO and managing defects in new builds often fell between the gaps.  

Good tenancy management needs to happen from day one. When owners and tenants move in, we show them how to use their new home. We have mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems, for example, where fans need to run 24/7 to avoid damp. And we need to be set up to respond to any problems straight away.

Building a new online tool with dxw

In order to achieve this, we decided we needed a new online system to help us. Even after bringing housing services in-house, jobs and issues were getting lost. Operating manually meant things would disappear in translation or the sheer volume of traffic. 

We brought in dxw, to work with us, having worked with them before on our Report a Repair service which enables our existing social housing residents to report non-emergency repairs and book appointment slots online 24/7. Around 55% of residents using the service are now able to book straightforward appointments online. That’s better for them and it also reduces the pressure on our call centre. It was the first of our services to successfully pass the Local Government Digital Service Standard assessment.

We’ve made quick progress on our new builds defects system. It records everything, and is fully transparent and auditable. It will provide a single source of truth, available at any point in time. Removing the scope for error and helping us manage contractor relationships much more effectively. Contractor reminders are also built in.

The system will automatically let residents know by text when their defect has been logged and passed to a contractor to action. It will also send a confirmation text when the contractor has informed us that the issue has been resolved – and offer the option to get in touch if there are any further problems.

A bespoke solution that provides value for residents and the council

There are similar applications available on the market, but we need more than they can offer. We want to be able to easily access and learn from the data. We want to know the window types that are failing, for example, so we can feed that information to the design team in the regeneration department as we continue building homes for our residents.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting the best value for our residents and the most from our resources. We want to successfully close and prevent faults. Sometimes defects are intangible – something fails regularly but intermittently – communal doors close properly sometimes, but not others. The new build repairs system will help us to pin down the issue and get it sorted. It will put us in a much stronger position to hold back money for recurring problems.

A leader in housing

Hackney Council wants to be a leader in local government, and we would like others to follow our approach on housing when they see the results we expect to see – low turnaround for social renters, high customer satisfaction, and good profits on private sales.

We’re looking forward to continuing our work with dxw.

Ewelina Sorbjan

Head of Housing Services at Enfield Council, former Head of New Build Property Management, London Borough of Hackney