Bill Banks, group chief executive with Kindgom, has been looking back over the last six months to review the organisation’s response to the pandemic and identifying changes to the way services have been delivered and to how tenants have been supported.
At Kingdom, everyone was working as normal on March 22. The next day that all changed with all office-based staff working from home. We were fortunate at Kingdom that we had been implementing our digital infrastructure and strategy for a few years and the move to home working was relatively straightforward and seamless. Most services were continued remotely and customer services were enhanced through dedicated staff providing support over the phone, via email, using our customer portal and through the webchat facility.
Very quickly, however, we recognised that many of our tenants were even more vulnerable due to the restrictions and we immediately introduced a system of welfare calls and visits to people who we knew required support, or were socially isolated in their homes. Part of this was a staff initiative to visit tenants, to help with shopping and deliver small gifts to them to help brighten their day. The tenants really appreciated the interest shown and the visits and contact has been maintained since March.
At Kingdom, we have an employee recognition scheme where staff nominate colleagues or other teams for actions and behaviour they have demonstrated that fit with our Values. As part of the scheme the staff can nominate a charitable donation and receive gift vouchers as prizes and this year they all agreed that the donations and vouchers should be used to buy the small gifts for the tenants.
Although most staff have continued to work from home, we provide in house maintenance services and personalised care and support, so home working isn’t possible for these groups of staff. Our trades operatives continued to provide emergency and urgent repair services to tenants during lockdown, support and care staff have continued to work throughout the last six months and normal allocations have recommenced.
Financially, the current situation has been very challenging for many tenants and customers and we have found different ways to support and assist them during this period, including;
- The £100k Coronavirus Assistance Fund, approved by KHA, to support tenants and customers experiencing financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19,
- Supporting Communities Fund, where we have secured almost £100k funding to support our tenants and our RSL partners customers,
- Connecting Scotland Funding, where 180 iPads and Chrome books have been secured to distribute to vulnerable and eligible people in our communities
- Charities and Community Groups who have accessed funding donations through our Charitable and Community Initiatives fund.
Our thanks go to the Scottish Government for making additional funding available and the SFHA who have facilitated the funding. The initiatives have also allowed us to work even closer with our collaborative RSL’s at Glen, Fife, Ore Valley, Ochil View and Fairfield, whose tenants have all benefited from some of the available funding.
The provision of mobile devices through the Connecting Scotland Fund helps people access banking, shopping and other online services, as well as facilitating social interaction with friends and family. One of the tenants who received a new Chromebook said, “I really don’t think people realise what a difference this will make for us. It’s just fantastic”.
We have been operating through a phase where there has also been an increase in Universal Credit applications and this has brought challenges for the organisation and our tenants. Our money advice officers have been able to assist many tenants with their applications and help them secure benefit payments. One of our tenants had been struggling for many months to receive the benefits she was due and through the intervention of one of our customer accounts advisors she successfully won an appeal for approximately two years worth of backdated benefits amounting to more than £13,000 and ensured entitlement to ongoing benefits was in place. This allowed her to remain in her home and give her financial security.
Over the last six months, we have enhanced all our advice, assistance, tenancy sustainment and energy advice services. Our energy advisor has provided over 600 appointments over that period to support tenants, including one family who was supported to reduce the debt on their faulty gas meter by over £500.
Despite the restrictions that we have all experienced over the last six months, we have still tried to continue ‘business as usual’. We have all learnt how to become comfortable working differently where our Board, Management, Partnership, Team and individual meetings have all become virtual. Staff have identified and implemented new processes and practices which have created efficiencies. Staff engagement and satisfaction levels have increased and customers are experiencing an even better service that they did before.
The way we do things will definitely be different in the future and a virtual staff conference is being arranged for later this year to hear directly from colleagues about what they feel we should keep and what we should change moving forward. When restrictions are lifted and things return to some degree of normality (which they will), it will be different and a blend of office, home and virtual working is likely to be the new norm.
We still have challenging times ahead and we will continue to support our tenants and customers in whatever way we can, however if nothing else good comes from the current situation, it has demonstrated that we are agile enough to do it and we have enhanced our resilience for the future.