NHC launches live chat services across website

Can’t find what you are looking for on the NHC website? Would you rather talk to a member of staff right away instead of sending an email? The Consortium is happy to help with that.

As of today, a live chat option is available across the NHC website. Wherever you see the ‘Chat to us now’ box in the bottom right of your browser just click and type and a member of staff with be able to help you with whatever you need.

The live chat option is powered by IMsupporting Live Chat Support and Solutions.

Member Spotlight: Rochdale Boroughwide Housing

Across the North, NHC members are breaking new ground, delivering innovation and excellence, and transforming communities. Central to our role as a membership body is our ability to share your stories and connect members around themes, projects and ideas. It is this connectivity that is the lifeblood  of the NHC’s role as “the voice of housing in the North”.

Starting with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, we are launching our new series, “Member Spotlight”. We are keen to come out and spend time (usually a day) in your organisation looking in more detail at the work you do, why you do it and the impact it has. We will then write a short briefing paper and share it with the wider NHC membership. Hopefully sharing the work you are doing will bring other members with similar interests together and then snowball into even bigger and brighter ideas!

If you are interested in taking part in our Member Spotlight programme please email david.hetherington@northern-consortium.org.uk for more details.


Rochdale Boroughwide Housing: Bringing Mutuality Home


Rochdale has a long history of innovation.  The famous Rochdale Pioneers were among the first to share the benefits of co-operative working, from which grew the Co-operative Group in the North of England and as far back as 1844 they established The Rochdale Principles; a set of guiding principles giving co-operative members the right to participate in the decision making processes of their organisation and encourage the organisation to work for the benefit of the wider community.

In the 21st century, Rochdale is still flying the flag for mutuality. In 2011 Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) became one of only a handful of mutual housing associations in the UK and the first to include employees as well as tenants in their membership.

Starting life as an ALMO, RBH began their journey of reinvention back in 2009.  By 2010 they had managed to agree to a stock transfer in principle with the Council and gained wide cross-party support. It took a further 12 months for government approval but finally, in 2012 RBH became the first mutual housing association in England owned and run by employees and tenants.

After the initial drive to involve existing tenants and employees in 2011, RBH invited new tenants to become members when they signed their new tenancy agreements. Realising that moving house is a busy time, the association decided membership discussions should take place at a separate visit when tenants had settled into their new home.

Making full use of those 4,500 minds to help them tackle the complex issues thrown up by the new legislation, RBH established focus groups to look at specific feedback and questions. Surveys are sent out to members and employee and tenant representatives meet regularly with the Board. Everyone is aware of the need to respond quickly and engagement has been extraordinarily positive.

Members’ views are represented to the Board of Directors by the Representative Body made up of tenants, representatives from tenant management organisations, employees, council members and representatives from external stakeholders. The Representative Body, separate from the Board, is responsible for setting the framework for accountability, appointing and removing non-executive directors, monitoring progress, providing input into future strategy and, of course, communicating with members. This model, with its focus on accountability, gives the Representative Body real influence. Furthermore, , RBH have placed an emphasis on creating a Board with all the skills and experience necessary to make the big decisions.

So what are the benefits of being a mutual?  According to RBH Chief Executive, Gareth Swarbrick, being a mutual allows the organisation a certain flexibility in the way it adapts itself for the future where changes are made from the bottom up rather than the top down.  This is something Gareth thinks is particularly valuable as the organisation faces dramatic changes in the sector and grapples with the challenges of rent reductions and Right To Buy where the whole organisation – employees, tenants and the Board – will be involved in finding the necessary savings and deciding the future direction of the company.

Gareth believes that this level of regular, open consultation means expectations are raised. It makes the executive team accountable, to respond to the positive, constructive challenge of the governance structure.  The Association’s transition into a mutual has altered relationships throughout the entire organisation. A clear constitution has been put in place to help guide the process but this young association is still working on fully understanding the nature of these changes. There is no single formula for consultation.  Instead, they use a variety of channels to engage with members depending on the nature and objectives of the subject matter but they have recognised that there is a need for constant dialogue to ensure that members understand how their ideas have impacted on outcomes.

The leadership team at RBH admit that it has taken time to embed the new culture and there will always be more progress to be made. But ultimately, they believe that the mutual model will take away the possibly paternalistic attitude of a Board imposing their views and that a culture of formal engagement, striving for a consensus, will counteract build positive, supportive relationships

This new collaborative partnership model demands accountability – the board have to be provided with evidence that adequate consultation has taken place and that members have been provided with enough information to make an informed decision.

The passion felt by the Representatives for this new way of working is self-evident. They are keen to stress that the atmosphere is more open and ‘non-hierarchical’ and that people do feel they can express their views freely – like a ‘critical friend’.

In recent months, the organisation has looked at ways to increase member involvement through a ‘Member Benefits Scheme’. Initial thoughts brought up the idea of a rewards scheme for paying rent on time. However, this was rejected by the tenants’ Representative Body who felt that this was simply part of their contract with RBH. Instead, they suggested that Member Benefits should focus on recognising where people have participated above and beyond their contractual obligations. The message from tenants was that the new Member Benefits Scheme, as it takes shape, should reflect the core values of RBH in recognising voluntary activity and helping to build stronger communities.

“The values of mutuality make the challenges worth overcoming…”

Edward Carpenter, Governance Manager

There have been lessons learned along the way.  It is true that decision making with additional layers of scrutiny could elongate the process as with any organisation, there is a constant pipeline of issues so it can be difficult to manage the process. Are there enough meetings or too many? What level of consultation should take place?  These are questions that Governance Manger, Edward Carpenter, wrestles, balancing the needs of the business with the wishes of the membership. It is a challenge that he relishes; “I am truly excited when I think of the potential that our model has for RBH as a society and as a community…”  and it is clear that his commitment is matched by the members of the Representative Body. RBH concede that ‘democratic apathy’ can be a potential risk but over time they hope to demonstrate the benefits of membership and excite more interest.

Looking to the future, RBH is harnessing the power of its membership to navigate the choppy waters ahead and stand ready to consolidate the success of the past four years. In doing so, they remain wedded to their core values:  creating and sustaining better communities.

The NHC is keen to hear from members who are considering mutual routes and who may be interested in learning more about the benefits of this approach.

The Consortium would like to thank Gareth and his team, the Representative Body and everyone at RBH who gave up their time to host the NHC and share the RBH way. We really enjoyed our visit and left inspired.

Get your tenants online in an easy and affordable way with the NHC

Isn’t it shocking that 60% of the world still doesn’t have internet access* and 10.5 million people in one of the leading world economies – the UK – do not possess the skills and knowledge to be able to use a computer?

These sobering statistics help to explain one of the main issues of 2016 facing all social housing landlords. With the roll-out of Universal Credit, the social housing sector meets a great challenge – namely ensuring recipients know how to claim it to enable those that rely on benefits to pay their rent. This has the potential to impact on the main revenue stream of all our members, but the NHC has a solution.

We have put an offer in place to allow tenants to get the training, hardware and broadband access they need to be able to get online, address some of the barriers and to access a wide range of products and services.

With partners Silver Training and Happus, the Northern Housing Consortium has put together a joined up package for digital inclusion that accesses a mock Universal Credit application form for staff and residents to practice on. We believe this service will help our members in an affordable way to make sure both staff and residents are ready for Universal Credit and that they as landlords are maximising the opportunity to safeguard their revenues streams and tackle financial and digital inclusion.

The package includes various training courses and services to meet your organisation and customer needs. These include:

  • Equipment and Broadband
  • Beginner Group courses
  • Digital Marketing course for SMEs and younger tenants (PIVOT)
  • Digital Champion Workshop for staff
  • Channel Shift group course (any age group)
  • 1:1 home training for those that can’t get out and about and support with the Universal Credit application
  • Engagement and Marketing Support

Please follow this link for more information on the digital training opportunities that we offer:

We know from our members that the main obstacle for landlords is getting the message out to tenants and we have created a simple solution for this – an automatic telephone registration line for tenants to book courses.

This scheme solves many of the issues that members are facing over the coming year and relieves the pressure of delivering an affordable solution to ease the burden that Universal Credit and forced Rent Cuts are putting on social landlords nationally.

Take up of this scheme is starting to gain momentum so to make sure your tenants and staff are ready for the challenges of 2016 contact the Northern Housing Consortium on 0191 515 1000 and set up a meeting to discuss your requirements.
You can also email us at solutions@consortiumoprocurement.org.uk



Technology Enabled Care Services – Chubb Community Care – Winter Offer

Technology Enabled Care Services – Chubb Community Care – Winter Offer

With the cold weather and dark evenings now upon us, one of the greatest dangers to the elderly and vulnerable is insufficient heating of their property.  If this continues over a period of days or even hours, hypothermia can set in within a surprisingly short time.

To assist with protecting our vulnerable communities, Chubb Community Care, via the NHC Technology Enabled Care Services Framework, have introduced a limited time offer which expires on 31 January 2016.

Buy 10 CareUnity® units and 10 low temperature detectors and receive one of each free.  NHC members will receive these at framework pricing which is discounted from Chubb’s list price.  Place your order today quoting ‘NHCWINTEROFFER’.

Chubb Community Care offer an extensive range of peripherals for the CareUnity to meet your needs. Should you require alternative peripheral to the Low Temperature Detector, please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Please contact solutions@consortiumprocurement.org.uk

Northern Housing Summit

The Summit arrives in Manchester at the start of 2016 – a challenging, tumultuous, some would say opportunistic time for Housing in the North.  Set against the developing backdrop of the Northern Powerhouse, the Summit will provide an opportunity for delegates to reflect on the fundamental questions facing the North and the housing sector.

Northern Powerhouse

Speakers to include:

  • James Wharton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Northern Powerhouse)  (invited)
  • Jonn Elledge, New Statesman


Growth and delivery

In these sessions we’ll be looking at how to unlock investment and delivery into our Northern cities and places, the role housing plays in supporting a vibrant powerhouse, and exploring the progress of Manchester Place, the housing delivery agency for Manchester. Our speakers will also be looking at what the future holds for social housing, and the Housing Finance Institute’s plans for delivery. Delegates will be updated on progress from the Commission for Housing in the North, which seeks to promote growing, vibrant and high quality housing markets across the North. We’ll also explore the role of housing in supporting customers into work.

Speakers on this theme include:

  • James Wharton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Northern Powerhouse) – invited
  • Naz Parker, HCA
  • Deborah McLaughlin, Manchester Place
  • Paul Marsh, UKTI
  • Naz Parker, HCA
  • Natalie Elphicke, Housing Finance Institute
  • Housing the Powerhouse, speaker tbc.


Wider public sector reform

Our public sector reform theme will explore what the sector can do differently to increase efficiency, and how the future looks for social housing. Is local government set to capitalise on the opportunities of devolution and decentralisation? We’ll also discuss how housing and health services can work together in joint ventures.

Speakers on this theme include:

  • Mark Lloyd, LGA (invited)
  • Cath Green, First Choice Homes Oldham
  • Jane Forrester, Greater Manchester Combined Authority
  • Peter Molyneux, Chair, South West London and St George’s NHS Trust
  • Neil Reveley, Executive Director, People Services, Sunderland City Council
  • Louise Giles, Director of Development and Learning, Lancashire Care NHS Trust
  • David Kirkby, Bright Blue
  • Barbara Spicer, Plus Dane (invited)

The Summit also seeks to challenge all of us across the North and asks three fundamental questions: are we as effective as we can be – do we really meet our aspirations or do we hide behind excuses and don’t change until we’re pushed? Are we supporting dependency rather than unleashing aspiration? And finally, does the North need a disruptive influence? And if so, are we ready for it?

For more information and to book, please visit our Events page.


January 2016

Across the North of England the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 has been characterised by Storm Desmond, Storm Eva and unnamed but continuous rainfall this week across the North East. For me, the rain and storms have caused minor inconvenience but for some communities it has resulted in devastating losses – homes in Cumbria have been flooded multiple times, in parts of Greater Manchester and Lancashire and Yorkshire homes were hit on Boxing day forcing many families to move out into temporary accommodation, community facilities have been affected.

I know NHC members will have been working tirelessly over the Christmas and New Year period to do what they can to ameliorate the conditions their customers were facing. Obviously there will be freak weather events which will impact in unforeseen manners but for me I was left with a sense of the need to focus on resilience.

The government has committed to build more homes, but we must do all we can to ensure all new homes are sustainable and resilient. The Housing Bill reading late on Tuesday night saw an amendment tabled by Alec Cunningham the Labour MP for Stockton North calling for a statutory duty to give due consideration to resilience. He argued:

“A failure to address the issue, however, and choosing to push ahead with non-resilient development is likely to increase costs in the economy, not to mention ruining people’s homes and livelihoods at the same time as threatening critical national infrastructure”

He also made the point that retro-fitting resilience, or indeed dealing with the after effects of non-resilient developments are not without impact and I believe may indeed bring additional costs. Pre-emptive investment to protect communities and save money has its merits. Which brings me onto my second consideration of resilience – how we build resilience in our communities.

The messages from NHC members responding to the floods and the impacts on their communities spoke of the fragility of some households circumstances. Whilst families may be coping with low income wages, zero hour contracts, cuts in welfare what they lack is a safety net. Just as government will make spending cuts knowing that there may be consequential impacts but fervently hope not, so too do low income families – our members report that too many of the households affected by the floods did not have contents insurance – on a sunny day moving into a new home perhaps the prospects of the devastating impacts of floods were not on a tenants mind, perhaps customers didn’t know these schemes existed and were not prohibitively expensive.

We know from our own tenants contents product that initial claims submitted in relation to Storm Desmond range from a few hundred pounds to several thousand – imagine the stress of trying to replace several thousand pounds worth of belongings. Resilience can bring reassurance. Thinking about how we can work with our members to support and grow resilient communities providing opportunities to build self- reliance and community peer support is one of the ways in which we can reduce the devastating and potentially costly impact of trying to retro fit resilient solutions.

Finally the theme of housing continued into the New Year with the Prime Minister’s New Year’s message as the government become a direct commissioner of new homes. We are interested in the outcomes of this approach – particularly as it focuses on SME developers who were previously such a vital component of the delivery chain. We will be looking at what learning we can take from the five pilots as part of my final thoughts in this blog – how can we build a resilient North.

For me it comes down to strong partnerships, I blogged previously about my fears that the way in which Local Authorities and Registered Providers were being treated with respect to new policy could lead to a rift developing. The recent round of member engagement sessions we held before Christmas has reassured me – I was delighted when RP members fed back to me the great benefit and insight they took from participating in sessions with Local Authority colleagues and vice versa and that the Consortium is uniquely placed to facilitate these relationships. It is through our shared endeavours that we can truly build the capacity to bring greater resilience across the North.

We haven’t yet used the word resilience in talking about the Commission for Housing in the North but on reflection it’s a strong persuasive argument – the Commission has taken evidence regarding how to unlock investment in the North, how to scale up innovative schemes such as rent to buy, how we can bring together housing & health to develop housing and service hubs for people living with dementia. We talk rightly so about supporting a vibrant Northern Powerhouse and at the heart of that sits a resilient thriving housing offer and we’re proud to support our members to deliver this. I wish you all a healthy, happy and resilient 2016.

Support your Customers with our TCI (Simple) Scheme

After the UK has experienced its ‘wettest December in a century’ – as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss has described it – with different parts of the country being hit by three consecutive storms and more than 16,000 houses in England being flooded, the question about how to deal with the aftermath of this potentially devastating phenomenon efficiently rises over again.

Our partners, Marsh Ltd have processed 41 claims for the period from 7th December 2015 until 7th January 2016 due to heavy rain and storm conditions.

We know from members that what makes the situation particularly difficult for tenants is the fact that a lot of people don’t have contents insurances.

Consortium Procurement operates a widely accessed Tenants’ Contents Insurance (SIMPLE) scheme which is currently being used by 74 of our members who between them have 50,927 tenants on cover. We help our members by providing their tenants with a fair, affordable and non-discriminatory insurance scheme for their home contents.

Some of the most useful benefits of this framework according to our members are:

• New for old cover
• Nil excess
• No compulsory security requirements
• No bank account required
• Flexible payment options
• 24 hour claims helpline

Based on previous experience and communication with our members, we recognise that renting comes with responsibilities and many tenants overlook contents insurances, perhaps not realising these are available, which could make dealing with natural disasters extremely hard or even impossible. That is why it is important your tenants have the right level of protection for their belongings.

If you would like to find out more about this scheme please email us at XXX@consortiumprocurement.org.uk or call us on 0191 566 1000.

We would be happy to come and meet with your staff and of course any tenant representative groups to provide an overview of the scheme.

Entrepreneur Benefits from Micro-Loan

A young entrepreneur from Tynedale in Northumberland has taken her first steps into running her own cleaning business thanks to a loan funded by her landlord. Charlotte Dunn, 27, already had some experience in the cleaning industry but wanted to be her own boss. She needed a small amount of capital upfront to afford a small stock of cleaning products, a uniform – and the cost of marketing her new business.


So Charlotte approached Isos Housing, which has been working with community lender Five Lamps to help those with a business idea to get started. Her business is starting out on a part time basis initially, with Charlotte’s working hours centred around her young family.She has some experience of how a small business functions, having helped her self- employed husband with his books and accounting records.

So Vince Rogers from Five Lamps helped Charlotte to complete a professional Business Plan. Vince said: “Although Charlotte had not been self-employed previously, she had a good understanding of her market from her previous employment experience. “She is well organised and worked really enthusiastically on her Business Plan, and I could see she’d done a good amount of research and had secured some expressions of interest from potential clients. After we’d discussed her pricing structure, we drew up a realistic cash flow, based around a sensible number of hours worked per week.”

Now, after gaining approval for her loan from the Five Lamps ‘loan panel’ Charlotte has now got the funds she needs to start her business. She said: “I found the loan process very quick and easy and communications were great. Vince always responded quickly, so I could get the support I needed, and now the loan has allowed me to get on with growing my business.”

Richard Mitchell, community investment manager for Isos Housing, said: “Regular employment and a reliable income are crucial priorities for all our residents. “Whether it’s getting a job, or setting up in business like Charlotte, it’s a crucial step to building a successful life and achieving your dreams.”

LGA Report on Unused Planning Permissions

The first week of January saw the publication by the Local Government Association (LGA) of a study into unbuilt planning permissions in England and Wales.  The results of the study, carried out by Glenigan, showed that unimplemented residential permissions have grown significantly over the past few years and those that are completed, are taking longer.

The number of planning permissions that as yet remain unbuilt now stands at 475, 647.  The NHC would welcome your views on how this issue is affecting our local authority members in the north of England and what, if any, steps you are taking to address the issue of permissions not being built out before they expire.

To submit your views, please contact Justine McGrady on justine.mcgrady@northern-consortium.org.uk.

Disused grassland transformed into affordable housing for rent

Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT) has worked collaboratively with a local church and community to transform a disused and unsightly area of grassland into a new housing development.

KHT, part of the First Ark Group, has developed 14 new properties available at affordable rent on St George’s Road, Huyton on waste land adjacent to St George’s Church. The £1.5m development, which was built in conjunction with MCI Developments and an HCA grant, comprises 10 one-bedroom apartments and 4 mews style family homes all built to an energy efficient specification with eco tech boilers, triple glazing and secure off road parking. They also enjoy ‘secured by design’ status, meaning the Merseyside Police have deemed the development a safe place to live.

As well as being highly energy efficient, these are the first one bed apartments that KHT have built in the area that are self-contained with no communal area, saving tenants money on service charges and providing a higher degree of privacy.


KHT say the development, close to local shops and other amenities, is in response to high demand in the area for smaller properties. New builds in the area have tended to be larger homes for sale, so this provides badly needed accommodation for smaller families, couples and young professionals who are not yet in a position to buy.

The land for the development was acquired from the Diocese and the proceeds will be used to carry out a programme of refurbishment of the church. Parishioners and local residents were extremely patient while the build took place and the church clerk and his wife even tracked the build, took photographs and regularly updated parishioners on progress, making the story into a book which is kept inside the church. Church members are said to be pleased to see this former empty land used to build attractive homes.

Bob Taylor, CEO of the First Ark Group, said: “KHT’s aim is to provide local communities with quality, affordable homes with support services that help keep money in resident’s pockets. We feel the development at St George’s Road not only benefits smaller families and young professionals who are looking for property to rent near to local amenities, but it also has a positive impact on the local community.

“St George’s Church has been extremely supportive throughout the build process and we’re delighted that the funds from the acquirement of the land will go back into making the community a better place to live and work.”