Part 1: Introduction

Using information to improve social housing services.

In this Part, we discuss:

Why we did our audit

Housing New Zealand Corporation (Housing New Zealand) manages about 63,000 properties. Its housing portfolio, valued at $25.2 billion at 30 June 2017, is one of the Crown's largest asset portfolios. Housing New Zealand provides homes to about 180,000 people.1

Increasing numbers of tenants in social housing have needs requiring social support, including financial hardship, mental illness, disability, and addiction issues. It is important that people who are eligible for social housing are placed in the right house, in the right location, and at the right time for as long as they need it.

We decided to do this audit to assess whether Housing New Zealand was using information effectively to meet the needs of its tenants. It is Housing New Zealand's responsibility to provide houses that are well maintained, that are suitably located, and that meet the needs of people living in them.

Who and what we audited

In 2014, the then Government introduced the Social Housing Reform Programme, which implemented substantial changes to the way social housing is managed. The programme allowed community housing providers to also provide social housing.

Community housing providers include organisations such as Māori organisations, not-for-profit companies, charitable trusts, and incorporated societies. In June 2017, registered community housing providers provided 4720 social housing places. The intention of the Social Housing Reform Programme was that, over time, Housing New Zealand would have a smaller role in providing social housing.

Housing New Zealand provides about 95% of social housing. However, the Social Housing Reform Programme has significantly changed its role. The Ministry of Social Development (the Ministry) now assesses people's eligibility for social housing. The Ministry also manages the social housing register.

Figure 1 shows the responsibilities of Housing New Zealand and the Ministry in providing social housing.

Figure 1
Responsibilities of the Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand for social housing

The Ministry's responsibilitiesHousing New Zealand's responsibilities
Setting purchasing intentions and purchasing social housing places. Preparing vacant houses for people to live in.
Assessing people applying for social housing. Getting a list of people who might be suitable for the property from the Ministry.
Managing the social housing register. Selecting a suitable person from the list provided by the Ministry and arranging for them to sign a tenancy agreement.
Updating Housing New Zealand if a tenant's circumstances change because it might affect eligibility for social housing. Updating the Ministry if a tenant's circumstances change because it might affect eligibility for social housing.
Providing Housing New Zealand with a list from the social housing register of people applying for social housing when a house becomes available. Collecting the rent.
Assessing how much rent people in social housing pay. Regularly inspecting the property, including identifying health and safety issues.
Doing tenancy reviews. Responding to maintenance requests from people in social housing.
Managing tenancy issues and connecting with support agencies as appropriate.
Managing the portfolio of assets, including programmed maintenance, redeveloping existing houses, building new houses, and selling houses.

Other organisations have important roles to play in social housing. The Community Housing Regulatory Authority, which approves, registers, and monitors community housing providers, is part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The Treasury has oversight of Housing New Zealand and provides advice and guidance to the Government on the Social Housing Reform Programme and its initiatives. The Treasury's Transactions Unit managed the transfer of some social housing to community housing providers.

Our performance audit assessed how well Housing New Zealand is using information to make decisions about tenancy management, asset maintenance, and investment in its houses. We expected Housing New Zealand to use information to make well-informed decisions to support the current and future needs of its tenants.

Specifically, our audit looked at whether Housing New Zealand is:

  • using information to effectively meet the needs of people when placing them in a house;
  • meeting people's ongoing needs once they are housed;
  • using information effectively to maintain social housing;
  • using information effectively to support social housing management and investment decisions; and
  • effectively sharing information about its tenants and their needs with the Ministry.

What we did not audit

We did not audit:

  • the effectiveness of the information systems Housing New Zealand has to manage its information because we wanted to focus on how it uses information to support decision-making;
  • policy decisions, including the Social Housing Reform Programme; and
  • the performance of other social housing providers, including community housing providers.

How we carried out our audit

To carry out our audit, we:

  • reviewed more than 150 documents;
  • interviewed about 100 people from Housing New Zealand, the Ministry, the Treasury, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, including frontline staff and national office staff from Housing New Zealand and the Ministry – tenancy managers, placement staff, operational managers, general managers, and case managers housing – and staff from the inter-agency teams from both organisations;
  • did fieldwork in Dunedin, Auckland, Wellington, and Porirua;
  • observed systems and processes used by staff from both Housing New Zealand and the Ministry; and
  • sent out a survey to social service organisations and advocacy groups who work with Housing New Zealand's tenants in Dunedin, Auckland, and Porirua. They included a wide range of groups, including those that work with people with mental health issues, with older people, and with families, including those that work specifically with Pasifika and Māori families. We sent the survey to 21 groups and received 18 responses.

Structure of this report

In Part 2, we provide an overview of social housing.

In Part 3, we consider how Housing New Zealand uses information for placing people in houses and the information needed for ongoing tenancy management.

In Part 4, we look at how Housing New Zealand could improve its services to its tenants by using its own information better, sharing information, and collaborating better with the Ministry.

In Part 5, we look at how well Housing New Zealand understands the condition of its houses and how it uses information to make decisions on the maintenance of its houses.

In Part 6, we consider how effectively Housing New Zealand uses information to make investment decisions, such as buying and selling houses, and redeveloping and refurbishing its existing houses.

1: Housing New Zealand also manages several other activities, such as the Kiwisaver HomeStart grant, Welcome Home Loans, and the First Home Ownership Scheme.