Last month, specialist housing and support provider – Advance – learned that they had been re-graded as G1, V1 by the Regulator or Social Housing – the best possible outcome for providers. Chief Executive, Julie Layton reflects on the journey the organisation has been on over the past four years and how the regulatory review has helped shaped the organisation’s approach to business and service improvement.
“Running any organisation in the current climate is a challenge. But combining housing with support post-pandemic when many social care operators are struggling and the spotlight has fallen on social housing has been especially tough. Despite this I am thrilled that our recent In-Depth Assessment resulted in a G1 and V1 rating from the Social Housing Regulator.
“Four years ago, the team and I at Advance were disappointed to receive a downgrade of our governance to G2, and I immediately set about making the changes required to overcome the setback. We knew we had a great service, but we needed to better demonstrate that we had a really good understanding of what we do well and how we do it. Working together with our Chair, Marie Li Mow Ching and Janet Collier, the Chair of Audit and Risk, I set up a Governance Improvement Group to drive through the change.
“We weren’t looking for transformation, but wanted to really get under the skin of all aspects of our performance. Knowing your housing stock, being fully confident about fire safety measures, and having complete clarity around rent setting were all areas where other providers had fallen down and where we knew we needed to be completely water-tight.
“We didn’t just gather the data. We drilled down into it to make sure we knew what was happening and where we needed to improve. Most critically, we championed the importance of really listening to our customers. This has always been a priority for us at Advance and, while we’re large enough to be able to invest in systems that give us the data and assurance that we need, we remain agile enough to provide a quick and personal response when customers give us the feedback we need to drive improvement.
“By the time our next annual Stability Check came round, we had already returned to a G1 grading, but we were keen to press on with our improvement journey. A robust action plan with regular reporting to the Board resulted in far greater Board level attention to process, governance and quality improvements. We focused on the Board having full oversight of finance and Customer Service.
“When the regulator returned in 2022 to perform an In-Depth Assessment, we were ready. Our Housing Association already had a robust Strategic Plan, Business Plan, Risk Register and regular stress testing in place. Instead of having to react, we found ourselves well prepared to assemble the twenty or so documents the Regulator asked for and were able to approach the assessment as an opportunity for positive engagement. Of course, I had some anxieties, I’m only human! But we knew what we had and where to find it. The speed and clarity with which we provided the information gave the Regulator confidence and meant that the process was smooth and straightforward. It helped that our Chair, Marie Li Mow Ching, has had plenty of experience of these type of assessments.
“Overall, our experience of the assessment proved to be a good one with a great outcome for Advance. The judgement provides reassurance to the Board, our customers and partners about what we already know; that our organisation is well governed and financially viable. Motivated by a strong sense of duty and customer service, I’m delighted that the hard work we have put in to making sure we are able to demonstrate our commitment to excellence has paid off.
“What tips would I give to an organisation preparing for an assessment? See it as an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths. Have everything ready and ask yourself the questions they will ask. The rest will be straightforward.”
Advance provides homes – including supported and independent living, and shared ownership homes – and support services to people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. It currently supports more than 5000 people to live full and independent lives across the UK.