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Affordability and Security - James Place

Posted on 01 July 2022

James Place, Income Strategist for Accent Housing looks at the housing sector's responsibility in ensuring homes and services are sustainable whilst fulfilling the customers' needs. 

In our sector, we have a huge responsibility to ensure our homes and services are sustainable. This means our activities, processes and actions must meet the needs of today, without compromising the needs of tomorrow, at the same time as creating a balance between our environment, our society and our economy.

Our social purpose to provide quality and affordable homes and services comes not only from developing new homes, which meet the needs of current and future generations, but also from investing in, and maintaining, the millions of older homes in our sector. Our own development plans will see us building many more new homes in the future, with over 500 already being constructed on site within the CPCA region, but also a significant investment programme in our existing homes to ensure they continue to offer the standard of quality our customers have the right to expect.

But we are not just about bricks and mortar, with our social purpose also comes the responsibility of making sure we play our role in the wellbeing of every one of our customers and each of their communities.

Here at Accent, we are firmly focussed on these priorities, and we understand the role our homes and services play in our customers’ lives. I firmly believe our homes and our services are the anchor people need to thrive in the other areas of their lives.

Our rent and service charges are regulated, meaning they are fair and, most importantly, affordable. The income generated from the number of homes we let at social rent, about 90% of our portfolio, pays for the services we provide, the investment needed to make our existing homes sustainable, and to build our new homes and communities for our customers of the future. When I talk about sustainable, many of our homes will utilise MMC technology, and around 80% will achieve an EPC A rating, making them much more affordable for our customers to heat. With the ability to adapt to meet new technology and future needs, these can, potentially, become our customers’ forever homes.

Over the last few years, I have personally seen the economic impacts on our residents, which have taught us to adapt the way we collect our income. In 2019, we embraced a successful approach of supporting customers to overcome their financial hardships with tenancy support. We do not do this alone, we work with our national and local partners who are specialised in debt, welfare support and energy advice, and much more.

We make the most of every opportunity to support our customers through troubled times, whatever form those troubles take. All too often, we can see the impact the loss of a home has, not just on who lives there, but also on the surrounding community. We work as hard as we can to avoid that outcome. Our process is to continually engage, advise and support in whatever way we can, with whatever means we have available, to try and turn that situation around so that no home is lost, and no customer feels the despair of that situation.

Through collaboration with the customer and a network of support, we have prevented a significant number of people and their families from losing their home. The pandemic presented us with many challenges, one of which was an avalanche of new debt, often not the fault of the resident. The furlough scheme and job losses meant people had less income than ever before, and the situation affected many more people than ever before. In my opinion, the temporary changes to the legal process were a ‘game changer.’ It made the whole sector revaluate its approach to recovering income, including all of us at Accent, and we continue to have zero evictions in the Cambridge and Peterborough areas. Our role is to play a part in a person’s success, and this is the approach we take when we engage customers in arrears. I am proud to say that, despite the challenges, our arrears have reduced and so too have the number of customers leaving their Accent home due to affordability.  

The cost-of-living crisis will continue to squeeze the budgets and now not just of those with the smallest incomes. Affordable rents help to mitigate the crisis, but we can, and do, much more for our residents so they can stay in their home. Last year, in partnership with the National Housing Federation and the Trussell Trust, we launched the More Than Homes campaign to raise £1 million for the Trussell Trust from across the UK housing sector. This year, as we hit the highest levels of inflation in over 40 years, we are committing a sizable amount of money to support those in financial hardship – not because we need to as part of our charitable and social commitments, but because everyone at Accent believes in our purpose of existing to build better futures.       

Whenever an Accent resident finds themselves facing financial hardship, we will do our very best to support them through their worries and enable them to stay in their home and within the community they love.

Read more about sustainability and what HCP partners are doing HCP - Sustainability