Industry experts gathered to discuss how to tackle the challenges of remediating, upgrading and maintaining the UK’s social housing stock, at a recent roundtable hosted by Building, Housing Today and JLA

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The state of social housing in the UK is a critical concern that demands collective attention.

It is undeniable that the sector is facing an uphill battle, with key issues including building safety, net zero, damp and mould, and the regulatory compliance required under the Social Housing Regulation Act 2023 all at the forefront of the agenda.

Housing Today and Building magazine, in collaboration with critical asset install and service company JLA, gathered a panel of experts from across the industry to discuss how to develop effective solutions to the challenges surrounding the upgrading and maintenance of social housing stock.

The panellists, chaired by Building and Housing Today’s head of content, Carl Brown, delved into several key areas including the policy landscape, digital and technological innovations, financial considerations and resident engagement.


Source: Wilde Fry

Setting the scene

Brown kicked off the session by asking the assembled experts to explain the issues that organisations in the social housing sector face and some of the key ways of tackling these.

“The challenges that were happening across the sector 10 years ago, 20 years ago and 30 years ago are still a challenge today,” said Katy Lowe, UK head of asset management audit at SNG. “The biggest challenge we are facing is the age of our stock – stock that hasn’t been maintained to the appropriate levels in the past.”

Lowe went on to add that this was part of the challenge when it came to deciding between whether stock should be disposed of via the housing association’s divestment programme or looked at as part of a retrofit and regeneration initiative.

Jane Harrison, finance director of Soho Housing Association, agreed with these points, adding that the challenges were similar regardless of organisation size.

She said: “The challenges are very similar – even though we are much smaller. Stock condition and adequacy of data is imperative, and that is a challenge. On top of that, finding people to do the work, access to properties to do the work and then finding ways to pay for it are all challenges.”


Source: Wilde Fry

Top: Matthew Grenier of HACT, Lucy Cripwell of JLA, Katy Lowe of SNG, Darren Hooker of Capsticks

Bottom: Jonathan Cox of Anthony Collins Solicitors, Jane Harrison of Soho Housing Association, James Prestwich of the Chartered Institute of Housing, Helen Buchan of JLA

On the latter point, Jonathan Cox, partner for social housing at Anthony Collins Solicitors, concurred, saying money and access to money were clearly among the big challenges.

“I’ve been in social housing for more than 20 years and it is still the case that where new social housing is going to come from is intangible,” Cox said. “We need to find ways to incentivise contractors where everyone gets some element of funding coming in. Another thing we should be looking at is changing the rent model [to] where rents can go up if the standard of stock is improved, as it can reduce energy and other costs and that should be reflected.”

Aaron Butler, business development director for key and national accounts at JLA, said the largest challenge faced by JLA, which provides commercial laundry equipment and mould compliance solutions, is the increased support social housing providers have required since the Social Housing Regulation Act 2023 came into effect.

He said: “We are the ones on the front line when the services aren’t directly deployed by the housing association. The requirement for a rapid and clear path to compliance has definitely increased, and we certainly have felt the pressure for increased demand of services associated with both commercial laundry requirements and the JLA sanitisers for mould remediation.”


Source: Wilde Fry

Anna Clarke, director of policy and public affairs at the Housing Forum, added that a lot of these challenges dated back to the 2016 rent cuts.

“It blew a big hole in plans for housing associations – they cut long-term investment plans, not day-to-day services, so that has lead to maintenance issues now. The use of accommodation with higher levels of overcrowding has also had an impact. More people means more showers, using more of the accommodation. It undoubtedly leads to more damp, and more wear and tear.” 

Improving data quality

“There are some outliers, but across the sector the quantity of the data is concerning,” said Matthew Grenier, business development director at HACT. “Lots of providers don’t know how many homes they have. And it’s not only the quantity of data that is not there; the quality isn’t there either.”

Hony Premlal, chair of Women in Social Housing, agreed the sector’s challenges around data were hindering organisations.

She said: “The quality of data and systems just is not there. There are issues around cloning, there are issues with validation, and in honesty I haven’t seen one good system. There is so much unknown. 

“We try to make plans about net zero or consumer standards and the amount of resource we need to do that, but there’s a challenge when we don’t really have the full picture.”

Both Grenier and Premlal said there were very granular issues with the quality of data. Premlal cited the example of contacts being out of date or phone number fields being filled with email addresses and left uncorrected. 

Grenier added that the new regulatory framework should definitely help with data quality when it comes to the condition of stock. “You are going to have to know how many homes have damp and mould. It’s taken a stick to drive [organisations] to do it rather than the carrot, which is you can understand exactly the position your organisation and stock is in and innovate.”


Hony Premlal of Women in Social Housing, Aaron Butler of JLA, Anna Clarke of the Housing Forum, and Chris Paul of Trowers & Hamlins

How do you engage the community?

Lucy Cripwell, research and development chemist at JLA, pointed out the importance of engaging with communities when new approaches or technologies are being used to remediate maintenance issues.

She said: “If we are talking about product development in terms of looking for alternative methods for disinfection or other issues, there may be solutions that are unfamiliar for residents. In that case, I think it is important for us to provide residents with education around the benefits of using the new type of equipment.”

Cripwell’s colleague Helen Buchan, head of product at JLA, agreed, citing an example. 

She said: “We have been treating properties with sanitisers in Buxton, and tenant engagement and satisfaction measures were central to this. It’s important we are listening to the residents and acting on the concerns. 


Source: Wilde Fry

HACT’s Matthew Grenier, Lucy Cripwell of JLA, SNG’s Katy Lowe, Chris Paul of Trowers & Hamlins, Building’s Jordan Marshall, Anna Clarke of the Housing Forum, JLA’s Helen Buchan and Jonathan Cox of Anthony Collins Solicitors

“I think a lot of the solutions lie within the residents. We need to try and find a way to work with them and find solutions that will work together and we can move forward with it. Those tenant satisfaction measures are key.”

She added that finding solutions for clients that were sustainable, efficient and minimally invasive was key to achieving this. 

Financial and regulatory considerations

“On the funding side, it’s one thing that there isn’t enough funding but it’s another that there isn’t any stability of funding. If housing associations could have long-term certainty, that would help solve a lot of these challenges,” said Darren Hooker, partner and head of social housing governance at Capsticks.

“On the regulatory side, speaking to clients, they are questioning how they can balance the competing priorities. How do all these measure take precedence? Do they need to be taking more risk to push their consumer grade up? Working out those priorities will also be key to the long-term condition of stock.”

When it comes to finance, regulation and policy, James Prestwich, director of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said that one of the key things the sector needed was maturity.

“There is a real cliché that all politicians are trotting out ‘there is no money’, which shows you need the political will to get things done. There needs to be a mature approach,” he said.

“We as a sector need to be able to marshal our thoughts and have a mature debate. We need to lay out how we get there and how we set out a route map for this sector. It seems quite weird we don’t have a national housing strategy across everything, as big key issues for us as a sector go beyond the sector.”

He added that residents should be treated with “enough respect” to admit that maintenance and upgrade interventions are not cost-neutral.

On this point, Chris Paul, partner and head of sustainability and energy at Trowers & Hamlins, added there were a number of approaches that could be leveraged – citing the specific example of maintenance and retrofit in the pursuit of net zero and energy efficiency. 

“Energy and sustainability is increasingly involved in everything we do. An example of a potential solution is warm rents – a new government gives a chance of such a policy being introduced. If you can’t do that, you might be looking at requiring tenants to pay more for having increased efficiency – and that might be the way forward.”

Round the table

Chair: Carl Brown, head of content, Building

Helen Buchan, head of product, JLA

Aaron Butler, business development director for key and national accounts, JLA

Anna Clarke, director of policy and public affairs, Housing Forum

Jonathan Cox, social housing partner, Anthony Collins Solicitors

Lucy Cripwell, research and development chemist, JLA

Matthew Grenier, business development director, HACT 

Jane Harrison, finance director, Soho Housing Association 

Darren Hooker, partner and head of social housing governance, Capsticks

Katy Lowe, UK head of asset management audit, SNG

Chris Paul, partner and head of sustainability and energy, Trowers & Hamlins

Hony Premlal, chair, Women in Social Housing (WISH)

James Prestwich, director of policy and external affairs, Chartered Institute of Housing