An independently chaired panel of customer representatives has published its first annual report on the performance of housing provider Mears.
The scrutiny board was set up last year to work alongside the Mears board to provide oversight, challenge and support to improve Mears’ services. Chaired by Terrie Alafat CBE, its independence is assured by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS).
As the government’s social housing white paper is likely to call for more scrutiny and more focus from both the housing regulator and ombudsman on tenant engagement, Mears asked the CfGS to work with its board to produce a public, open and transparent report. The company said that introducing an element of independence to this scrutiny offers assurance that the organisation “is truly open to challenge and gives tenants the confidence that they have the freedom to consider any issue and report publicly”.
The report says of Mears’ performance:
- There is an obvious desire and commitment at the most senior levels and throughout the organisation to listen, understand and improve the customer experience.
- There are a wealth of positive examples and stories of Mears staff building excellent relationships with tenants and tenant groups, providing information and responding to issues as they arise, sometimes above and beyond what is expected.
- Mears’ response to Covid-19 reflected the organisation’s flexibility and commitment to protecting vital services and maintaining customer service standards.
- There is a clear strategy for customer service improvement which should have a positive impact eg, a new appointments app, changes to how the contact centre is organised and new ways to gather and report customer feedback.
It also identifies areas needing further development and focus:
- To approach customer communication with consistency across different channels (website, handbook, etc).
- To harness the potential of digital – helping customers to help themselves.
- To make it easier for customers to contact the right person quickly – to create a consistently good first impression.
- To continue to develop key customer service performance indicators which would give insight into best practice or highlight national and local development opportunities.
Terrie Alafat, former CEO of the Chartered Institute for Housing, commenting on the report, said: “Mears are leading the way in establishing an independent customer scrutiny board with a direct link to their PLC Board and reporting publicly on performance.
“In a challenging first year, the customer board members have already demonstrated their ability to identify the issues most impacting on customers’ experience and make recommendations which will lead to direct improvements”.
Jacqui McKinlay, CEO of CfGS, which published the report, added: “The Centre for Governance and Scrutiny has provided support to the scrutiny board ensuring its independence and effectiveness in providing insightful scrutiny to Mears. Mears has welcomed scrutiny and cooperated with the Scrutiny Board providing information as requested, engaging fully at a senior executive level and being open and honest in their evidence giving.
“I am confident that the board has maintained its independence and the board’s advice and recommendations are acted upon.”
Alan Long, executive director of Mears, said “Mears welcomes the insight, challenge and support from the Scrutiny Board and assurance provided by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny.
“This year has presented significant challenges to Mears as we have worked hard to keep our customers and employees safe, whilst protecting the most vulnerable and delivering vital services. Our commitment to being open to scrutiny during this time has not waivered, in fact we were more committed than ever to operating in a way that was open, transparent and welcomed the challenge of our customer Scrutiny Board. In its first year, the Scrutiny Board is already seen as a valuable asset to the business and we will actively adopt the recommendations contained in this report.”
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