Gavin Cansfield, chief executive
As a locally based housing association, we know we have an important role as an employer and a provider of homes during this difficult time tackling covid-19. The safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, customers and communities is our absolute priority.
At settle we have quickly launched our business continuity plans and focused on continuing to deliver essential housing services to keep residents safe, especially those who are most vulnerable.
It is really heartening to see the social purpose of our organisation coming to the fore in all of what we are doing. One of the great things about working at settle is the way everyone supports colleagues and residents. I am really grateful, but not surprised, that this continues during these times.
Supporting residents long-term
We have been doing all we can to make it clear to customers that settle will support them if they are experiencing any problems or difficulties paying rent. Our priority is to keep residents in their homes, not just during this period but for the long term. We always provide the additional help residents might need, including support with managing finances or getting into employment – we will continue to do that as we respond to covid-19. In this light, the government’s three-month ban on evictions feels right.
In common with most other housing providers, we have closed our offices to visitors and focused on telephone, digital and face-to-face service delivery being coordinated by colleagues working from home. To limit people going into their homes, we have asked residents to only report essential or emergency repairs to us for the time being, and for any customer who is self-isolating, to inform us prior to any expected visit from one of our team. As well as emergency repairs, we will also continue to carry out essential safety work such as gas servicing.
Our priority at settle is clear: we are asking all stakeholders or neighbours to let us know of residents of any age who need additional support from settle as their landlord during this time and we will do all we can to help.
At settle we are really focused on ensuring we all have the support we need to allow colleagues to continue to work, while also meeting responsibilities to our families. In addition to the key measures I mentioned above, we are also doing the following:
- Working from home: Our significant investment in IT systems to allow remote working means we have been able to move to working from home within 24 hours for the vast majority of people – including customer service centre colleagues.
- Flexible working: Colleagues are trusted to get the job done. There are core customers service hours that colleagues continue to honour, and beyond this, the focus is very much on what works for each team and team member in order to continue to deliver a good service. We all need to balance work and family commitments at this challenging time – especially for those with children now the schools are closed.
- Caring for colleagues: We have been clear with colleagues that if they need to take time off work due to coronavirus, they will receive full pay and our usual sick leave procedures will be relaxed during this time. I do not want to see any colleague holding back from self-isolating due to fears of not receiving their usual full pay.
- Older and vulnerable residents: settle has identified 2,000 residents over the age of 70 in 1,600 homes or who are in a high-risk category due to covid-19. We are working with each person to see what support they have in place now and anything more we can do, with things like help shopping for medicines and food.
- Donating to the local food bank: The settle flexible benefit was introduced in November 2019. It makes £400 available to every colleague to support our well-being, perhaps for a fitness membership or family pass to zoos or museums. I have been heartened by colleagues requesting to use their settle flexible benefit this year to support the fight against covid-19. So we are coordinating these payments to make a corporate foodbank donation, likely to be several hundreds of pounds.
- Holidays: We are still encouraging colleagues to take time off where possible. There is no sense in us all being exhausted and services suffering. Where people have had to cancel holiday bookings, we will make sure they can carry over more than the usual five days into the following year.
- Giving back days: Everyone at settle has two of these days a year to support local charities. We can all see voluntary groups doing amazing work to support vulnerable residents in our local communities. Where they feel safe, happy and comfortable to do so, settle colleagues can use their giving something back days to support these groups in the response to covid-19.
The situation around coronavirus is evolving rapidly. As each week goes by we will be reassessing how we are approaching the situation and making sure we continue to support our residents and communities in the best possible way.
Article first published in Inside Housing