Poor record keeping drives substandard service in social housing, according to the Housing Ombudsman.
The complaints body found that 67% of its upheld investigations in 2021-22 involved substandard records, demonstrating repeated examples of poor practice across the industry. The issue is so bad that the organisation has launched an investigation into what's causing these administrative issues. To help with this, from November to December 2022, it asked social landlords to submit evidence of their own experiences.
What impact can inaccurate records have?
Poor record keeping can negatively affect the work of social landlords in a number of ways. On the one hand, it commonly results in bad experiences for residents as complaints they make seem to disappear into the ether, or they have to provide the same details repeatedly because they were not recorded correctly. On the other, it can also lead to housing associations making data reporting mistakes, providing a distorted picture of compliance to the regulators.
Johnnie Johnson Housing was ordered to pay £1,800 in compensation in November 2022 after failing to keep accurate and complete records of an antisocial behaviour complaint and destroying the records within 2 years, which was less than its data retention schedule specified. This meant that the Ombudsman was unable to access the information it needed for its complaint investigation.
Poor record keeping can also endanger resident safety. In February 2022, The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham was found by the Regulator of Social Housing to be in breach of the Decent Homes Standard. More than 16,000 of its properties were missing information related to electrical installation condition reports, fire risk assessments, asbestos surveys and gas safety, either because the records could not be found or because the data lacked clarity. The council managed to avoid enforcement action by the Regulator by taking steps to improve compliance and introducing a new electrical safety testing programme. But other providers may not be so lucky.
When it comes to data reporting, social landlord Incommunities mistakenly told the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) in its annual return for 2020-21 that 2,041 of its homes had failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard. The real figure was just 239. This error led to 2020-21's count of sub-Decent Homes Standard homes to appear unusually high and 2021-22’s figure, in comparison, to seem unusually low, with a 38% drop from the previous year.
What providers must do
Actions must be taken from these examples. It is not enough simply to create a data retention schedule as required under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). An organisation which fails to follow its own protocol and destroys records too early can create an absence of information where it is needed the most. As we've seen, inaccurate data can introduce great errors into data reporting. In an ideal world, this type of error would have been spotted before being submitted to the Regulator. Finally, records of safety checks and assessments should be a number one priority to be kept accurate, up-to-date and transparent. Poor safety recordkeeping doesn't just risk action from the regulator—it invites much more serious consequences for your residents.
It’s clear that the industry has a problem with poor recordkeeping. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in repairs and maintenance reporting to ensure the information they enter is clear and correct, so issues can be followed up quickly without having to go back and forth with the resident. Repairs and maintenance systems such as Fixflo help ensure that records are accurate and easily accessible by storing information digitally and providing a central hub on which to store all necessary documents such as certificates and assessments.