How Wolverhampton Homes is making a difference in its communities
The Good Home Network brings together local authority housing managers from all over England to share challenges and find new ways to improve poor-quality homes.
Lisa Morgan, Home Improvement Agency Manager for Wolverhampton Homes, explains how her organisation ensures it has the right structure and staff in place to support its vital work of making homes better and safer.
Wolverhampton Homes is an arm’s-length management organisation and we manage social housing on behalf of the City of Wolverhampton Council.
Our Home Improvement Agency (HIA) is a service dedicated to helping older people, people with disabilities and vulnerable people to live in their own homes safely and comfortably through adaptations and improvements.
Ten million people in England are living in poor-quality homes that contribute to reduced health and wellbeing.
Wolverhampton is one of the most deprived areas of the country, with an increasing older population and already stretched community health services.
Over the past few years we have made two big changes to the way we deliver our services.
Firstly, we brought together four dedicated teams from across the local authority: affordable warmth, housing assistance, aids and adaptations, and telecare – to streamline the service and create our new HIA.
Secondly, the HIA was developed within our Homes and Communities directorate.
This part of Wolverhampton Homes is where our tenancy teams are, the teams who deliver all of our support and young people’s services, and our Domestic Abuse support, amongst others.
This move was a commitment to put each customer firmly at the heart of our service and demonstrate how we are working to support people as individuals, putting in place preventative measures that keep people safe and create long-term health and social care savings.
We’ve seen some fantastic results so far – with a hugely increased level of expenditure due to the rising numbers of residents accessing the service, the ability to fast-track the most urgent cases and reduced waiting times and drop-off rates across the board.
We have invested in the right people to deliver the new service within the HIA, and we now have a team of 24 specialist support workers, technical surveyors, trade specialists and an occupational therapy technician who work together to develop and implement solutions to help residents remain living independently.
A dedicated support worker is allocated at the very start of a customer’s HIA journey and becomes their single point of contact throughout the scoping, grant application, planning and delivery phases.
We identified that the complexity of the government grants process was causing some to withdraw their application, struggling on in a home that no longer met their needs.
The support worker provides dedicated support to their often-vulnerable customers to support with this process, providing progress updates and reassurance throughout.
From the outset, we took an innovative ‘values and beliefs’ approach to recruitment which has brought diverse skillsets and experiences, attracting internal colleagues from anti-social behaviour and tenancies roles, with external recruits from a range of different backgrounds strengthening the team.
To help secure funding and support the growth of the team, it’s vital to show the impact of our work, for example the numbers of referrals, through-puts and other statistics.
Since we launched, the HIA has been recognised by local and national partners for the unique ‘whole home’ solutions which are offered and I believe that the diversity of the team has played a key part in our ability to do this.
This year we have exceeded expectations and moved from an average £1.6m spend to a spend of £6.5 million on Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG).
We have worked with our social care and finance partners, collaborating to develop some radical changes to staff funding to address outstanding cases as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A key challenge for the future will be our ability to continually develop and adapt our team to meet the growing need for the service in our community.
To help secure funding and support the growth of the team, it’s vital to show the impact of our work, for example the numbers of referrals, through-puts and other statistics, as well as evidence of the often life-changing benefits from the customers themselves.
Using the BRE Group cost calculator I was able to demonstrate significant financial savings across a range of health and social care measures, including direct savings against the social care and health budgets locally. I also used affordable warmth statistics to help build our case.
Maintaining good relationships with the local integrated care board, the Black Country ICB; the Better Care Fund and the A&E Board has helped to diversify our funding sources and ensure we are the go-to local delivery mechanism.
New guidance on delivery of the DFG sets out what elements of funded work can be considered capital expenditure.
And we have received valuable support from Foundations regional advisers about the steps we can take to support our staffing needs.
To future proof our service and increase sustainability we are considering ongoing changes and improvements such as implementing agency fees for the able-to-pay market and developing our telecare support.
I’m so proud of the team and all that we have achieved and I’m focused on working to grow and develop as a team.
But the one thing I feel has contributed most to our success is the guiding principle of ‘customers at the heart’ through everything we do.
It’s the thing we keep coming back to at every step, because we need to be clear that everything we do is right for the people in Wolverhampton who need our help to improve their homes and increase their wellbeing and quality of life.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or positions of the Centre for Ageing Better.