A shared future
A new charter for shared ownership has the potential to transform the tenure and the experience of customers, says Paul Richards, executive director of customer services at Orbit.
With a portfolio of more than 4,400 units, shared ownership has long been an important product for Orbit as we continue our commitment to provide a flexible housing journey. In recent years we have seen an unprecedented demand for the product outstripping supply 10:1. In the last financial year, we achieved a record 55 per cent increase in shared ownership sales.
All the signs are there that shared ownership, as the title of our joint report with the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) suggests, is well on its way to becoming the fourth mainstream tenure. For a start it is (and will be) a key route onto the housing ladder for many aspiring homeowners, unable to purchase with conventional means. Government has recognised its importance, supporting the delivery of 135,000 shared ownership homes by 2021 to the tune of £4.1bn. There is an estimated market capacity for 60,000 shared ownership homes per year and the recent surge in new mortgage providers entering the market bodes well for the future of the product.
So, with a much more favourable operating and policy environment in place (yes we know that there are still some wider issues which need to be addressed, but this is for another day), and the anticipated growth of the tenure in the coming years, the ball is now firmly in our court to up the game when it comes to providing a first-rate product and customer experience. A2Dominion’s Steve Michaux summarised it neatly in our report Shared Ownership 2.0 that “if we explain it [shared ownership] properly, are consistent in our terms, invest in it better and promote it more effectively, we can go a long way to resolving some of the issues holding shared ownership back.” The charter was born out of this sentiment, garnering support from both housing providers and sector stakeholders right from the start.
So why has Orbit signed-up to the charter? We see the charter as a way of focusing hearts and minds throughout the organisation to providing an excellent product and highest standard of customer service of which we can be proud of. Its emphasis on outcomes rather than processes allows it to be aligned and tailored to an organisation’s unique culture and way of operating. It provides a neat framework to improve service delivery and judge performance against.
Take the area of data as an example. While using data to understand local markets to great effects, being fortunate to have in-house (market) research expertise and capacity, there is more we could be doing to inform our shared ownership offer. This might include the development of predictive models of future staircasing behaviour and similar to target marketing, communication, and support.
Perhaps the greatest challenge the charter poses to organisations is the provision of a ‘consistent and seamless’ customer experience. Like many of our peers in the sector, we are particularly good at the front-end in terms of sales and marketing, but then provide a broadbrush general needs service. However, as owners they expect to be treated as such. Simple things, such as tailored and relevant communications should be standard. We further need to ensure that accessible and transparent information is available from the outset, with sales and marketing teams well-versed in all aspects of the product, from the lease through to repairs obligation and rent/service charge setting so as to avoid any confusion or surprises at a later stage. (Orbit is currently reviewing th our buyer and leasehold guide.)
As the charter is setting us on a journey of learning and continuous improvement, I very much hope that other housing providers will do the same and sign-up to show their commitment to a common set of standards, which taken together has the potential to both transform the product and customer’s experience.
Paul Richards is executive director of customer services at Orbit.
- Find out more or sign up to the shared ownership charter here