Putting residents at the heart of change - Restructuring customer involvement at NCHA

Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA) has adopted Together with Tenants to help reshape their customer involvement structure. The changes have provided customers with more involvement in service delivery and offered closer ties to NCHA’s board.

What’s the story?

At NCHA, we always want customers to be at the heart of our decision making. Together with Tenants acted as a guide to improve customer involvement across all that we do. This has helped us as a housing association to build stronger relationships with our residents.

Historically, our customer involvement offers focused on input from informal customer groups. But, we’ve always had big goals for customer involvement and were keen to create a more formal structure, to operate within our governance framework.

In 2020, we reviewed our approach, establishing plans for a new Customer Committee and customer panels.

An extensive recruitment campaign followed to get involvement from diverse customers. This included targeting customers of different tenures, so all customers are represented at the top level of our organisation.

This resulted in us creating a Customer Committee, with direct access to our board. Made up of customers, board members and an independent chair, our committee has vast experience in our sector.

Once this committee was formed, we recruited customers to two panels:

  • Our Scrutiny Panel - Acts as NCHA’s critical friend, and through a customer-led scrutiny forward plan reviews our services and policies to recommend improvements.
  • Our Homes and Neighbourhood Panel - Focuses on the customer experience and acts as an oversight panel to review and provide challenges across a range of customer-facing services. This ensures there’s a place for customers to be heard.

One of our customer panel chairs Natalie Robinson, has recently been appointed as an NCHA board member.

What’s the impact?

Our Customer Committee and customer panels have enabled customers to influence the services we offer and the decisions we make. They investigate the effectiveness of our services, our ways of working and deliver their findings. This provides us with the insight we need to improve the customer experience.

These groups have an established presence in our publications and online channels. Members of our Homes and Neighbourhood Panel supported the procurement of our responsive and compliance repairs contractors. They are working with our Communications and Engagement team to review our website and how we present customer-facing information. Panel members are also involved in the recruitment to senior positions within NCHA. 

The Scrutiny Panel have recently concluded their first scrutiny which looked in detail at how we respond to complaints, and particularly applying lessons learned to improve services. Their recommendations were all accepted by the Customer Committee and an action plan is in place to implement the recommendations.

A significant benefit from the new structure has been raising the profile and importance of hearing the voice of the customer.

We have seen greater engagement from many other parts of the organisation with the new structure. We have also seen many of our involved customers engaged in other activities, including our retrofit programme, reviewing our annual benchmarking performance report, developing networks with other customer groups and delivering presentations at departmental away days.

What barriers, challenges or points of learning did you identify?

Like many housing associations, we have a varied customer base, with customers across the East Midlands. This presented its own challenges alongside the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

These challenges included:

  • Engaging leaseholders who generally have less contact with us.
  • Enabling customers to attend meetings in different regions.
  • Restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic affecting our recruitment and engagement activities.

Senior leaders from our Homes and Wellbeing department took a proactive approach to address these issues. From day one they maintained close contact with interested customers to offer support and guidance. 

During the pandemic online drop-in sessions were delivered, giving customers the opportunity to learn about customer involvement. As restrictions lifted, we’ve continued with a hybrid approach, holding meetings in-person and online, to suit customers’ needs.

What can others learn from your experience?

Recent news and campaigners in our sector have shown how vital it is to give customers a voice. Working closely with customers to improve services benefits both customers and housing associations. 

Adopting Together with Tenants has encouraged us to keep customers at the heart of what we do. Creating a Customer Committee was a big step for us, one that not many housing associations have taken. However, taking customer involvement to the highest level has great rewards.