Part 5: Maintaining social housing

Using information to improve social housing services.

In this Part, we discuss how effectively Housing New Zealand uses information to:

Summary of our findings

Housing New Zealand collects and uses information to manage repairs and plan maintenance of all its houses. It is building its capability and capacity to analyse information about its houses so it can plan for future maintenance needs. Housing New Zealand has improved its approach to managing maintenance contractors and their performance over time.

However, Housing New Zealand could improve its understanding of the future maintenance needs of its houses with more detailed and up-to-date information about their condition. This affects Housing New Zealand's ability to effectively and efficiently plan the maintenance of its houses. At a local level, tenancy managers, maintenance contractors, and maintenance staff fill gaps in information about the condition of houses.

There are several opportunities for Housing New Zealand to use information more effectively to capture maintenance needs. Housing New Zealand's regular and as-required visits to its houses provide an opportunity to update information on their condition. It could also analyse maintenance data in more detail to better plan and carry out maintenance of its houses.

Housing New Zealand could develop its ability to inform its tenants about the progress and status of maintenance jobs. This requires better communication between tenants, tenancy managers, maintenance teams, and maintenance contractors.

Housing New Zealand operates a large maintenance programme

In 2016/17, Housing New Zealand invested about $480 million into maintaining and upgrading its properties. This is about $8,000 for each property and about 2.4 million maintenance jobs.

Housing New Zealand has a maintenance and renewal investment programme that sets out its plan for maintenance, upgrades, and retrofitting of properties in the next 10 years. Responsive maintenance is also done when something in the house breaks down or is not working. Maintenance costs increase as Housing New Zealand's houses age.

Housing New Zealand's planned maintenance programmes each year are co-ordinated at a national level. One of the most significant programmes is its Warm and Dry programme, which ensures that there is a fixed heating source in the living area, thermal curtains, carpet where appropriate, and mechanical ventilation for the bathroom.

Currently, Housing New Zealand spends 60% of its maintenance budget on planned maintenance programmes and 40% on as-required repairs. Housing New Zealand's aim is to increase its spending on planned maintenance programmes to 69% of its maintenance budget in 2017/18.

Other planned maintenance programmes include external painting and reroofing. Housing New Zealand tells regional offices how many houses each programme will cover, and the local asset manager identifies which houses should be selected for the programme.

Housing New Zealand's maintenance planning could be improved by a more detailed understanding of the condition of its houses

Housing New Zealand uses a model-based assessment to know the condition of each of its houses. This includes information about the main components of the house (for example, roof or type of cladding and its age) and physical surveys of a sample of houses.

In 2015, Housing New Zealand surveyed 400 properties (1% of its houses). In 2016/17, Housing New Zealand surveyed 1600 properties (3% of its houses). Another survey of 1600 houses is planned for 2017/18.

There does not seem to be an overall plan for Housing New Zealand to survey all of its houses, although work to improve the assessment model is continuing.

Because Housing New Zealand used different methods to assess the condition of its houses before 2015, it has been difficult to look at trends in the condition of its houses.

Housing New Zealand uses the information it has from its property condition assessments to prepare plans for its planned programmes of maintenance for the following year.

Having more detailed knowledge of the actual condition of its houses provides an opportunity to more effectively plan its maintenance for the short term as well as the longer term. Planned maintenance programmes could be more effectively targeted and there would be a stronger longer-term view if condition information about its houses was more detailed, accurate, and up to date. For example, Housing New Zealand might know a roof is 25 years old but not know when it needs to be replaced.

Housing New Zealand relies on maintenance contractors to provide it with information about what maintenance work a house needs. Maintenance staff told us that knowing more detailed information about the condition of houses would give them more confidence in agreeing to work specified by maintenance contractors.

At a local level, tenancy managers, maintenance contractors, and maintenance staff fill gaps in information about the condition of specific houses. Some of this information is kept in manual spreadsheets or not formally documented. This presents an ongoing risk to the effectiveness and efficiency of Housing New Zealand's maintenance planning.

Opportunities to use information better to maintain houses

There are several opportunities for Housing New Zealand to use information better so it could more efficiently maintain its houses.

Regular inspections to record information on housing condition

Each year, there is a minimum of two inspections of each Housing New Zealand house. Annual house inspections by tenancy managers provide an opportunity to identify any maintenance issues and for tenants to raise any concerns about the condition of the house they are living in.

Housing New Zealand also carries out annual health and safety checks of each of its houses. Qualified maintenance contractors carry out this work. If the maintenance contractors identify any issues, maintenance jobs are commissioned.

There are opportunities for Housing New Zealand to use the inspections, other as-required visits (including by maintenance contractors), and information from tenants to improve its information on the condition of its houses.

Analysis of maintenance information

Housing New Zealand collects and holds a large amount of information about the maintenance jobs on its houses. Housing New Zealand could use this information to better inform its house maintenance, monitoring, and planning, as well as improving its understanding of the overall condition of its houses.

Housing New Zealand could use maintenance information to compare actual with estimated maintenance costs or identify where a building contractor's performance might need to be reviewed. More detailed analysis of maintenance data would also allow Housing New Zealand to prepare a more planned and co-ordinated approach to maintaining each house.

Housing New Zealand has recognised the need to improve the way it uses and analyses its information about the condition of its houses and has improved its capability and capacity to do so.

Most calls from people to the contact centre are for maintenance issues. For example, in December 2016, 42% of calls were about maintenance issues, and a high proportion of these calls were for maintenance rework (23% of the maintenance calls in December 2016). There is an opportunity to analyse this information to improve contract management and maintenance planning.

Using information for efficient co-ordination of planned work

Housing New Zealand could use information more effectively to co-ordinate planned work.

Many of Housing New Zealand's planned programmes are organised by the type of maintenance job, such as roofing or external painting. However, there are opportunities for Housing New Zealand to reduce costs by co-ordinating the different types of planned programmes.

For example, if a house were reroofed and painted at the same time, only one set of scaffolding would be needed. There would also be less effect on the tenant living in the house. Housing New Zealand is starting to look at co-ordinating these planned programmes where possible.

Communicating and sharing information between Housing New Zealand asset management, asset maintenance staff, and maintenance contractors about the type and scale of planned programmes in a geographical area is crucial. This would improve decision-making for responsive maintenance, and allow better co-ordination of planned maintenance work.

This would also enable local Housing New Zealand staff to work with maintenance contractors to plan maintenance work. It would also prevent examples we were told of where planned maintenance work on houses was started shortly after responsive maintenance work had been done. Housing New Zealand is looking to continually improve the use and sharing of this sort of information.

Use of information for quality assurance of maintenance work

We identified opportunities for better quality assurance information on the maintenance work on Housing New Zealand's houses.

Housing New Zealand has improved its approach to managing maintenance contractors by using regional performance-based contracts for maintenance work. These have been in place since July 2014. In our view, the quality assurance of the work carried out under these contracts could be strengthened further.

Housing New Zealand has a quality assurance process that involves maintenance contractors checking a proportion of their own work and a quality assessment team from Housing New Zealand checking a proportion of the completed maintenance jobs. Housing New Zealand does limited quality assurance work on the 2.4 million maintenance jobs done each year.

Housing New Zealand strongly relies on the maintenance contractors' own quality assurance processes. For example, in December 2016, maintenance contractors checked about 18% of the maintenance jobs and Housing New Zealand quality assessors checked about 5%. There is some overlap of Housing New Zealand quality assessors checking some of the jobs that maintenance contractors checked.

In December 2016, there was a difference in issues identified, with Housing New Zealand quality assessors identifying a higher proportion of jobs with issues than contractors. We consider that Housing New Zealand could usefully review the reasons for these differences.

There is an opportunity to use the quality assurance information and maintenance information together to help monitor contractor performance as well as help ensure that the quality assurance process is targeted effectively.

Using information better to improve customer service

Social housing standard

Neither the Ministry nor Housing New Zealand provides a "social housing standard" to inform people in social housing about the condition and quality they can expect from a house.

There is an opportunity for the Ministry to work with Housing New Zealand to set quality standards for its houses and to communicate these to its tenants. A lack of clarity about what people can expect from a Housing New Zealand house can lead to them feeling unsure about what maintenance to expect.

Using information about tenants to inform housing maintenance and asset management decisions

Housing New Zealand currently uses some information about its tenants in decisions about maintenance and the management of its houses. For example, Housing New Zealand replaced gas heating with electric heating because information from tenants showed it was more cost-effective.

Housing New Zealand also told us that it has maintenance programmes based on information about tenants and their needs, such as the Warm and Dry programme, a smoke alarm programme, and a driveway safety programme.

In our view, Housing New Zealand could do more, such as systematically using information about different cohorts of tenants or the characteristics of tenants to inform and prioritise decision-making for maintenance work or to support asset management decisions. This is an opportunity for Housing New Zealand, particularly with the large number of tenants and houses it has.

Improving responsiveness to maintenance matters

Housing New Zealand needs to improve its responsiveness to maintenance matters. Only 40% of social service organisations and advocacy groups surveyed said that Housing New Zealand used information from people living in social housing to make effective decisions about the maintenance of its houses.

Survey respondents and frontline staff told us that tenants find it hard to get in contact with Housing New Zealand about maintenance issues because of waiting times. Housing New Zealand can also be slow to respond to changing needs and requests.

Respondents also raised issues about the timely completion of jobs and the poor condition of houses for some tenants. Tenants can feel that their houses will not get any maintenance upgrades, such as interior painting, unless they move out or something needs to be repaired. Tenancy managers also raised this issue with us.

In our view, Housing New Zealand could keep tenants better informed about the progress and status of planned maintenance and when they might expect the work. Tenants do not always know the status of the maintenance job or whether it has been deferred. It can take a lot of effort to get up-to-date information.

Effective and efficient communication between Housing New Zealand and maintenance contractors can improve the timeliness of maintenance jobs. It is also essential for keeping Housing New Zealand informed of progress once work has started. Although we were told that communication from maintenance contractors is getting better, feedback from Housing New Zealand staff suggests that this could be improved further.

Stronger project management of the more complex maintenance jobs would improve their overall timeliness and help ensure that better information about the status of the job is available. Providing the right level of information to maintenance contractors that accurately describes the work needed would also help Housing New Zealand to improve.

Timeliness of completion of jobs

In our survey of advocacy groups and organisations that work with Housing New Zealand tenants, respondents raised issues about how long it takes to complete maintenance jobs.

There was some opportunity for Housing New Zealand to reduce the time it takes for maintenance jobs to be finalised. It could review the fixed time frames for the different stages of commissioning and carrying out maintenance. There is also an opportunity to review the process for smaller jobs to reduce the time taken to complete them.

Housing New Zealand staff also told us about the need for maintenance requests to be recorded accurately so that maintenance contractors can do the work effectively and efficiently. It is unclear whether issues with information quality are monitored and used to improve the effectiveness of maintenance work.

Recommendation 4
We recommend that Housing New Zealand Corporation better inform its tenants about the likely timing and progress of maintenance work and what they can expect in terms of housing quality.
Recommendation 5
We recommend that Housing New Zealand Corporation expand on the extent of its information on the condition of its houses, further analyse the maintenance information, and better co-ordinate planned and as-required maintenance work.