Universal Credit Research Update

The first round of surveys for the NHC’s Universal Credit research is now complete and data analysis and report writing is underway. The project is designed to collate intelligence around the on-going issues for participating organisations and their tenants/residents during roll out of Universal Credit.

The next project milestones will be:

  • Publication of Report 1 (May)
  • Round 2 survey distributed (June)
  • Focus Group 1 (mid June)
  • Publication of Report 2 (July)
  • Round 3 survey distributed (September)
  • Focus Group 2 (end of Sept/beginning of Oct)
  • Publication of Report 3 (October)
  • Round 4 survey distributed (December)
  • Potential Focus Group 3 (Beginning of Jan)
  • Publication of Final Report (January)

Evidence collected throughout this project will be used to engage with DWP officials to raise members’ concerns of procedural issues in the early stages of the new regime. It is important therefore, that as many members participate as possible so that we can take a robust evidence base to these discussions. Please watch for announcements in future editions of the NHC eZine of the next round of the survey and submit your evidence here.

If you would like more information on this research or if you would like to discuss how NHC can help you with your research needs, please contact Barry Turnbull, Policy Services Officer on 0191 566 1030 or at barry.turnbull@northern-consortium.org.uk

Regional Policy Network Round-up

The NHC as a membership body, facilitates three regional Policy Networks across the North East, North West and Yorkshire & Humberside. The North East Policy Network has been up and running for many years, and recently has grown and attracted interest from even more members across the north east.  The Yorkshire & Humber and North West Policy Networks are very new, and have met once to date with a second meeting for each scheduled in the next coming months.

The Policy Networks provide NHC members the opportunity to come together on a quarterly basis, at different member venues in each region to network and discuss policy developments and what they mean for each region, challenges and approaches to mitigate their impact on business, tenants and communities, and good practice.

Across the three networks there were shared concerns which included:


Universal Credit (UC) 

  • Huge concerns and challenges around inconsistency of messages from DWP/JCP
  • Organisations need to increase staff time and resources to manage the small number of current cases and time spent on each one. This will not be sustainable going forward as UC is fully implemented.
  • Concerns around the Full Digital Service and how this will be managed by each local JCP office. What about those who can’t access the service for various reasons? What support will be in place for them? Will this delay their claim/payment?
  • Relationship with local DWP Partnership Managers largely positive. However there are issues with the Service Centres – are the messages being communicated to the relevant colleagues there?



  • Members are currently carrying out various impact analyses and modeling different scenarios.
  • Seen as a high business risk across the sector – high rise stock and supported housing poses the greatest risk to businesses.
  • Ways to mitigate the impact of the LHA cap include reviewing allocations and tenancy policies. What do these look like? The introduction of affordability checks and refusing tenants who are unable to afford it will cause problems.
  • The general view is that no-one really understands what the effect of the change will be and that the impact probably won’t be known until it actually happens. Often, tenants will only deal with financial changes when they actually hit, as was the case with the under occupation charge.


1% Rent Reduction 

  • Has had a huge impact on businesses. Many organsiations are experiencing staff cuts and restructures.
  • Many members are carrying out reviews of non-core and core services, looking at costs and benefits.
  • Developments are being stalled until a full review of business plans is carried out


Benefit Cap

  • Identifying tenants who will be impacted is a difficult process as the sector does not collect information on tenant income.
  • Some members are contacting those that were affected by the £26,000 cap and informing them of the up-to-date changes.
  • Some members are visiting households potentially impacted.


This is a summary of some of the discussions that have taken place to date across the networks, for further information on the regional policy networks, please visit http://www.northern-consortium.org.uk/services/policy/working-groups/


















Delivering New Homes – A Future Off-site?

This is the first in a series of briefings, produced by the Northern Housing Consortium, covering off-site manufacturing and modular housing and the role it might play in addressing the shortage of new homes in the UK.

The briefings will cover the many aspects of off-site construction including the financial case, accreditation, sustainability and energy efficiency. This first briefing will give an overview of off-site construction and take a look at its potential impact on social housing.


While the Government has outlined a number of housing related policies and initiatives aimed at increasing home ownership and addressing the affordability crisis, underlying it all is the severe shortage of new homes. For decades, housing supply has failed to keep pace with increased demand due to a longer life expectancy, immigration and a rise in single occupancy households. It is estimated that an increase of two or three times the current supply is needed to close the gap. Or put another way, around 250,000 new homes each year for the next 20 years and the Government has set an ambitious target of 1 million new homes started by 2020. To achieve this target, the Government is focusing on three key areas: building houses on scale and at speed, SMEs, and innovative technology.

Building new homes at the scale and speed needed to meet the nation’s needs is a challenge for a construction industry hit hard by the recent economic downturn.  The sector, which has seen massive consolidation over the last eight years, now has to contend with a significant reduction in skilled labour and a brick shortage. It is clear that tackling the housing shortage is going to require some innovative solutions and off-site manufacture (OSM) could be the key to accelerating the delivery of new homes.

So is off-site manufacture really innovative? Well, no. Pre-fabricated housing has been around for over a century and was used in large numbers in the mid-20th century to quickly replace housing stock destroyed in the Second World War. Since then, it has suffered something of an image problem and developers have tended to stick to more conventional onsite construction for residential developments. Innovation has of course, continued in off-site manufacturing and it has come a long way since the post-war prefabs of the 1950s. New OSM technologies have been used widely for hotels, offices and student accommodation.  Modular off-site construction is commonly used abroad and is the standard form of construction in many countries. Now, the depth of the current housing shortage has forced developers in the UK to take a fresh look at off-site manufacturing.

Politicians and the construction industry alike have expounded the virtues of OSM in recent years. Speaking in 2014, Brandon Lewis MP, Minister for Housing & Planning, insisted that not only would off-site construction methods improve the quality of homes, it would deliver them faster and he urged the sector to embrace modern construction methods. According to government figures, the offsite construction sector currently accounts for around 7% of total construction output in the UK and is worth more than £1.5bn to the economy.

If proof were needed that OSM is moving up the agenda, the institutional investment by Legal & General into large-scale off-site manufacture demonstrates its belief that the market is set to grow. Legal & General Homes are poised to open an off-site manufacturing plant using cross-laminated timber (CLT) in Leeds – the first in the UK. With a capacity of 3,000 units every year, it will also be the largest in the world to use CLT.


What OSM technologies are available?

Volumetric units – 3D modules fully assembled in a factory (the term “modular” is used to describe load-bearing units). The units can arrive onsite with electrics, plumbing, kitchens and bathrooms all fitted.  They can be decorated and even leave the factory with curtains hanging.

Cross-laminated timber – Used by some manufacturers, CLT has outstanding structural performance, zero deflection when moved to sites and requires no plastering.

Panellised systems – This system involves the on-site assembly of flat panel walls, and cassette floors and roofs. Systems range in complexity from simple timber or light steel frames (open), to more complex factory finished units incorporating insulation, lining, doors, windows and services distribution (closed panels). Panellised systems can be used for refurbishing existing properties using a ‘wrap-around’ process and Accord’s OSM business, LoCal Homes, has used this method in a real feat of engineering to refurbish individual flats as part of a block.  This could offer a solution for housing associations in northern regions where the quality of existing stock is often seen as a problem.

Hybrid – A ‘best of both worlds’ approach combining the benefits of modules for highly serviced areas like kitchens and bathrooms with the flexibility associated with panellised construction for other spaces.


CAD/CAM Design & Manufacture

Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software are used to produce highly accurate and precise structures from wood, steel or concrete. 3D modelling enables a fully completed building to be visualised before its construction. This allows for the complete traceability of components making it easy to identify parts for maintenance schedules.

Such precision means that modular units are able to be almost completely airtight. The window voids on Legal & General CLT modules are predicted be to within 0.1mm accuracy which means there is no need for foam or draft excluders. Working to such tight standards requires extra care at the design stage to ensure a high level of accuracy and close collaboration between project management, architects, site contractors and the off-site manufacturer is crucial.

The use of CAD/CAM has also enabled mass customisation which can be achieved at relatively low volumes, giving developers a greater degree of flexibility to meet specific needs.



Speed – The obvious and perhaps most significant benefit to OSM is the shorter build time. The clean, controlled factory environment allows for a much faster build without the inevitable stoppages for bad weather. It also allows for site preparations and foundation work to be carried out simultaneously. From the point at which plans are submitted to the factory, a volumetric build can be ready occupation in around four months and it can take as little as 48 hours site time to be put in place.

Predictability – With a high percentage of the build in a controlled factory environment, overall build costs are largely stable and predictable.

Cost – The factory setting results in consistent build quality and better quality control with fewer defects.  Other cost savings can be made through reduced preliminaries and value engineering.

Quality – Volumetric production in particular offers significant benefits by transferring specialist trades for highly serviced areas such as bathrooms, in factory conditions.  The repetitive processes within the factory ensure every component is manufactured to the same exacting standards and quality control is built in as part of the process, leading to consistent, high quality finished products.

Labour – A reduced on-site labour requirement lessens the effect of labour and skills shortages in the construction industry.

Reduced waste – Off-site manufacture means that there is very little on-site waste to dispose of and it is far easier to re-use or recycle much of the waste generated within the factory. Premier Modular (part of Waco) for example, operates a Company Environmental Management System to recycle or re-use 90-95% of their waste materials. Composite panel cut-offs are broken down and reused, timber is wood chipped and plasterboard is processed to produce fertilizer or even cat litter.

Health & Safety – Health & Safety is much easier to control in a factory environment and with fewer people on-site, the risk of accidents is significantly reduced.

Theft – There is less need for easily removable materials to be kept onsite, therefore reducing the risk of theft.

Less disruption – Off-site manufacture drastically reduces vehicle movements, dust and noise on-site, meaning less disruption for local residents.

Energy efficiency – Off–site manufacture is significantly more efficient to build and is demonstrably more airtight, reducing energy bills for residents – usually built to Code of Sustainability 4, 5 or 6.

Flexibility – Volumetric modules are supported by the four exterior walls, allowing the internal space to be easily adapted in order to meet changing requirements.


How will this impact social housing?

As well as the pressure on housing associations to deliver more affordable new homes, the 1% rent reduction has increased the need for new and efficient ways of working.  One significant barrier to OSM has been the capital cost premium associated with the build.  Estimates vary between 5-20% depending on scale and complexity of the development and in a sector concerned with upfront costs, this can represent a significant hurdle.

However, OSM manufacturers argue that this additional upfront cost is nullified by the reduced lead times and early revenue streams from rental income and further reduced by low lifetime repair and maintenance costs. For rental properties therefore, where the association has a long term interest in the property, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is reduced and justifies the OSM premium. It is also anticipated that in a growing market, costs will come down as economies of scale are achieved. This will be particularly important in parts of the north of England, where property values are lower.

This is not holding the north back though. A group of housing associations have joined forces to form the Modular Allianz.  The group are collaborating with Salford University with the objective of establishing whether modular or off-site manufacturing can work for the social housing sector. They want to develop a blueprint that can be replicated, improving quality, speed of delivery and lowering costs through economies of scale. Working collaboratively has thrown up many challenges in agreeing standard designs and specifications but between them they have put together a pipeline of 500 new homes and work is due to start on their first 160 homes in July this year. The Modular Allianz will continue to evaluate the value of OSM to the social housing sector and have attracted interest from housing associations across the north wishing to sign up to the project.

According to a survey conducted by Inside Housing published in March 2015, over the three years to 2018, 56.8% of 22,544 homes planned by 17 of the UK’s largest housing associations will be constructed using offsite methods, including timber frame and modular construction.


Case Study – New Charter: Boundary Close, Mossley

Boundary CloseBoundary Close2

New Charter set out to improve an existing site by replacing old post-war prefabs with new modular construction homes as a pilot scheme.  It put together a team involving the developer, Bowsall; principle contractor, Globe; architect, JDA; employers agent, Poole Dick; manufacturer, Factory Homes and New Charter as the client.

  • March 2013 – Existing tenants were rehoused and New Charter took possession of the site
  • Off-site construction of the units allowed for site preparation to take place simultaneously. Volumetric units were finished with half render/half brick slip.
  • November 2013 – site completed & tenants moved back into Boundary Close
  • Cost: £97k per unit (£25k per unit HCA funding)

Key lessons:

  • Too many people involved. A principle contractor and single point of contact would have been easier to manage;
  • Involve the manufacturer early in the planning stage;
  • A design responsibility matrix should be included between architect and manufacturer;
  • Monitoring and evaluation co-ordinators should be moved to one camp of responsibility;
  • Get it absolutely right in planning – there can be no fine-tuning onsite.

Key benefits:

  • New Charter say their tenants are extremely happy with their new homes;
  • Build quality was so high that there was very little need for touch-ups or fixing minor faults;
  • Tenants have noticed a significant reduction in their energy bills;
  • The homes have full accreditation and guarantees and will last as long as any timber built house;
  • Even with delays onsite (largely due to building control and service installations) the development was completed significantly quicker than a traditional onsite project.


Into the future?

Growing demand, a reduced skills base and the need for increased quality and efficiency have created a challenge that cannot be met without changing the way we see the construction of our built environment. Off-site manufacturing is recognised as part of the solution and the market for it, in all its forms, is growing.  But the industry is still fragmented and therefore the critical mass for OSM has not yet been achieved. This may be about to change. Institutional investors such as Legal & General Homes have judged the market conditions to be right for a dramatic growth in OSM.

Traditional on-site construction is slower and more dependent on factors outside of our control and OSM offers a greater degree of control and predictability. With more emphasis on the use of brownfield sites, which are often cramped, difficult to operate in and disturb local residents and businesses, OSM reduces the on-site traffic, noise, dust and inconvenience.

OSM has the potential to supply more houses, quickly and offer more diversity in the market.  Close working partnerships between the design team and the manufacturer can deliver a better quality, cost effective, energy efficient and sustainable home with lower lifetime maintenance costs.

A question remains as to whether OSM will benefit developers in the north as well as the south. OSM in the current market commands a capital cost premium which is easier to absorb when property values and rental incomes are higher.  In some parts of the north, it is likely that OSM will not be financially viable until economies of scale bring the unit cost down.

The challenge for off-site manufacturers is to overcome old stereotypes and prejudices. They need to convince the market that the technology has moved on. After all, we are all happy to accept technological advances in other sectors, such as the motor industry, and we all accept that our cars are built in clean, dry, automated factories with quality inspections at every step of process.  We probably wouldn’t want our cars built out in the rain, so why our houses?


The NHC would like to hear more about your experiences with off-site manufacturing.  If you have a case study for us include in future briefings or are considering a pilot scheme, we would like to hear from you.  We are also setting up an OSM network for members keen to know more.  If you are interested in joining or would like to share your experiences with us please email Policy Services Manager, Justine McGrady on Justine.mcgrady@northern-consortium.org.uk

Research Services for a Changing Landscape

The Northern Housing Consortium fully appreciates that these are changing and challenging times for housing providers and local authorities. Many of our members have faced and continue to face the prospect of organisational restructure to meet the challenges posed. Some members have lost some skills key to providing valuable insight vital to their business and residents.

With a long-standing track record in undertaking research for our members, NHC is in an ideal position to ensure members continue to collect valuable intelligence on which to make decisions. Our Research and Intelligence service, which sits within the Policy and Public Affairs department, has expertise across a range of quantitative and qualitative methodologies and experience in shaping research commissions that provide housing market analysis, customer insight and satisfaction, community-based research and providing strategic support to key business functions.

The team provides a tailored service for members that enable them to better understand their housing markets and their residents. The tools which the team provide can assist in improving performance within member organisations as well as gaining a robust, reliable and representative knowledge of the northern housing offer and how it relates to the needs and aspirations of its residents.

Some of the team’s projects include paid research – for which members or groups of members will commission and fund – and wider strategic projects which will benefit a wider range of our northern members.

Commissioned Research projects include:

  • Tenant Satisfaction surveys, using STAR methodology to measure the satisfaction of tenants with their homes and neighbourhoods to enable landlords to identify improvements
  • District-wide housing market assessments, which enable authorities to better plan future housing provision
  • Housing Needs Surveys, which examines households living within unsuitable accommodation and assists authorities in prioritising future spending for improving homes
  • Affordable accommodation studies, highlighting the level of affordable accommodation that is required and how affordability can be measured at a local level
  • Rural housing assessments, which will be used by parish councils to gain additional funding for any affordable or specialist housing
  • Homelessness Reviews, to review homelessness services and the impact they have
  • BME and Traveller Accommodation Assessments, allowing authorities to gain a better understanding of the needs of a range of ethnic groups and recognising the cultural sensitivities surrounding these
  • Regeneration assessments and impact assessments, which allow a robust assessment of current and previous regeneration work and investment to highlight successful and unsuccessful schemes
  • Assessment of Older Person’s accommodation, which gives a better understanding of the needs of older people in terms of accommodation and support-related services
  • Housing strategies, which assist members in writing strategies and considering future priorities and how these will link together
  • Mystery Shopping exercises, testing a range of landlord services to highlight any difficulties with service delivery
  • Staff Satisfaction surveys, enable organisations to improve staff moral and assist with recruitment and retention
  • Staff salary surveys, benchmarking of salaries in the sector to monitor staff pay and assist with recruitment and retention by ensuring fair pay

For more information please contact one of the Policy and Public Affairs team on 0191 5661000 or email efficiency@northern-consortium.org.uk


Health and Housing – Hand in Hand

The portfolio of frameworks that Consortium Procurement offers to our members includes a variety of collaborative procurement solutions that are being developed by professionals with an innovative approach to the ever-evolving world of housing.

We are closely observing the exciting changes the housing marketplace is going through including its gentle collaboration with the social and health sectors. This collaboration coincides with the rise of digital technology in almost every aspect of our lives prompting positive transformation in the way sectors operate and move forward in their development.

As the connection between housing and health has never been higher on the agenda, we have secured our members a trusted and compliant route to procure their telecare and telehealth requirements, keeping in mind the rapid advance of technology in those areas. We have developed our Technology Enabled Care Services framework in a bid to help our members support improved health outcomes for their tenants and communities.

The framework includes Product Provision with Installation and Services relating to TECS and has been split into five lots. Following a precise procurement process, we can offer our members an extensive selection of 15 supply partners that were appointed to this framework.

Tracy Harrison, Commercial Director at the NHC said: “We are pleased to continue to help our members to deliver services which are cost effective and enable proactive care and improved quality of life for older people and those with long-term care needs throughout the UK. The Technology Enabled Care Services framework provides members with an easy-to-use procurement route from a trusted organisation.”

The NHC has put a conference together, delivered in partnership with HACT, that will explore the health challenges facing our communities, the changing operational environment for the NHS, local integration of health, housing and social care and the opportunities for housing to engage in the new models of care. With a line-up of senior leaders in the NHS, Public Health, Social Care and Housing, this event will be key for those looking to extend, develop and strengthen local partnerships with health.

If you would like to book your place for the event, click here.

Alternatively, if you would like to receive more information about our portfolio of frameworks, please give us a ring on 0191 566 100.

Guest Blog: Adactus Housing – Gamifying Resident Involvement

As part of the NHC’s work highlighting the best practice of our members, we are delighted to host a guest blog from Jon Jackson from the Digital Projects Team at Adactus Housing Group about innovative ways to ‘game’ resident involvement.

The Digital Projects Team was established at Adactus Housing Group in 2015 to deliver work defined by the ambitious Customer Care Strategy approved earlier that year. The team are working hard on projects such as setting up a new automated customer portal, automated telephone systems, and digital engagement with tenants through the Adactus500. The team have adopted a “working out loud” approach and have set up a blog to share their successes (and failures) to a wider audience.

If you haven’t read my last post, “how to “gamify” resident involvement“, make sure you take a look!

In my post, I talked about how we aim to increase customer engagement, through the Adactus500, and make use of their efforts to help improve our efficiency – specifically in terms of photo submissions.

Well, we’re delighted to now have the “levels” functionality up and running – thanks to @wilsoncooke – BUT – if you build it….they probably won’t come…..because nobody knows it’s there…..! Cue marketing!

Simple, right? Just email all our customers, and all our Adactus500 members, and tell them how great it is. Possibly, yes, but here we are launching #gamification, so it felt like we were missing a trick just doing the same old thing we always do. Not only that, but with a new online portal from 1st Touch on the horizon, we needed to test some #nudge theory to help with some channel shift when the time is right. It was time to test the water!

We decided to stick to emails. Letters have a better “conversion” rate, but they’re expensive and time consuming. We’ve got around 5300 email addresses for current customers, so taking out our Adactus500 members that left us with just under 4000 non-members to market to (we approached members separately).

Our options

We split the contact list into three, using Excel to randomise for us (not just for the integrity of the test, but we also had a feeling it might get competitive!). One email would be based purely on Gamification, one on Nudge theory and then finally a standard email as a control.

Gamification Email

Suzy opted for the Gamification email…..she pulled together a neat little leader board to include on the email. With a bit of redaction for data protection reasons, she then set it up so the email recipient would appear in the leaderboard at a mystery position. The theory being that it’s human nature to want to be at the top of a leader board, so maybe customers would be motivated to get involved.


Nudge email

I chose to put the Nudge email together – not without a sense of competitiveness…..

Part of the Nudge theory is about people wanting to adhere to the norm in their “group”. So, for example, you might receive a letter encouraging you to take action on tax returns or reducing your energy usage for example. A Nudge based letter wouldn’t just tell you about the benefits, it would also include some information about people in your area, in similar houses, or even age group etc, and how you compare to them. It makes the figures relate more directly to how the recipient might stand out from the crowd, rather than just being generic stats you can excuse yourself from. It’s a bit of a “keeping up with the Joneses” situation.

My choice was to base it all on voucher collection by Adactus500 members, specifically in the recipients area, so for example – “the average member in your part of Sefton has collected £43 worth of vouchers”:

Nudge wording1


Finally, we had to pull together a standard email, just stating the facts and encouraging customers to join in. Actually, once we’d got into thinking of gamify themes and nudge speak, the hardest bit was trying to do a control email without any hint of either!

The results

We use Dotmailer for all our email campaigns. It’s easy to use, flexible in terms of design options, and it gives us useful stats in terms of how many of our emails have been opened, and click through rates. On top of this, we compared each list to see how many new members signed up to give us a conversion rate.

Gamification – Unique opens 29.89%, user click through 5.92%, conversion 1%

Nudge – Unique opens 31.08%, user click through 7.53%, conversion 2%

Control – Unique opens 35.02%, user click through 2.63%, conversion 1%

(compare this to Mailchimp’s email campaign averages for non profits: Unique opens 25.29%, Clicks 2.85%)


Importantly, I won with my Nudge based email. Perhaps more importantly, the overall impact of this campaign was very low. But it wasn’t about that, it was about comparison. Results clearly show that although similar numbers opened the email, the control option failed to encourage much interest as very few recipients clicked on the link. But interestingly, there was more interest in the nudge campaign than the gamification leaderboard.

We think this is simply because in terms of the leaderboard, recipients weren’t already involved, weren’t already part of the race, and therefore perhaps their potential position on this board is less important than it might have been for an existing members – I feel another test coming along!

Our new portal is taking shape, we’ll be blogging about this again soon, but suffice to say we have a few more ideas now in terms of “nudging” our customers towards alternative channels.


If you’d like to find out more, contact the team via Twitter:

Suzannah Robinson, Digital Projects Manager: @Suzy_Adactus

Jon Jackson, Digital Projects Officer: @Jon_Adactus