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Housing recruitment – social hearts, commercial minds

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by Claire Harrison | 09 August 2018

More than 150,000 people are employed in housing & property services across the UK and are tasked with managing and servicing the five million homes owned by housing associations and local councils. Whilst local authorities have historically been the main employers of housing professionals, in recent years, the transfer of property to large-scale voluntary transfer (LSVT) organisations has meant that housing associations are now the main employer.

Housing functions are under huge pressure to work more efficiently, with increased demands and fewer resources. External factors including welfare reform, the lack of housing supply and the increasing gap between income and housing costs, are placing significant pressure on both housing organisations and tenants, resulting in the current push to identify cost saving initiatives, and recruit the people needed to implement these.

In April 2016 housing associations were forced to cut social housing rents by 1 percent each year for years, in an attempt to decrease the country’s housing benefit bill which constitutes around 14 percent of welfare spending. The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 has had a huge impact on the sector since its roll out, greatly reducing the number of homes being built, which has further impacted the housing shortage. More recently we have also witnessed the implementation of The Homeless Reduction Act which again is placing greater pressures on professionals working within the sector. Local authorities staffing needs are greater and will continue to grow as the workload rises. My worry is the sustainability of this long-term. With more people being classified as homeless there comes a much greater need for homeless prevention officers and review officers, and if budgets are not increasing dramatically with the new system I worry local authorities will not be able to afford the support they need.

In addition to this, the benefits cap which saw a reduction in the amount a family can receive in benefits in a year, has further created a need for cost saving within housing organisations. Tenant’s loss of income from the reduced benefit cap will first hit their housing benefit allowance, which is likely to result in increased arrears and many urban areas becoming unaffordable for large families.

Impact on recruitment

So how has this impacted recruitment in the housing sector? Currently there is a strong demand for housing professionals with solid strategic and commercial experience, who can dissect the way a service is run and implement changes to drive cost savings. Specifically in demand are policy officers, who are able to navigate and contend with the policy changes the government continues to implement.

Rent arrears is and always has been in huge demand, given it is the main source of income for housing associations and local authorities, with an immediate impact on the bottom line. We are seeing a marked increase in the demand for rental arrears officers who are skilled not only in rental arrears recovery, but also taking preventative measures such as educating tenants on how to avoid going into arrears moving forward. We are also witnessing an increase in demand for temporary and contract housing professionals, as a number of housing organisations internally restructure their teams to support policy changes. This results is an increased need for interims, from strategy to support level, whilst restructures are taking place.

Today’s housing candidate needs the ability to be effective in a quickly changing environment, possess commercial awareness and the ability to respond to challenging situations creatively. Due to cost cutting measures across the sector, candidates need to be aware that lower rates may be offered compared with previous years, and they may need to be more flexible. Interestingly, we are seeing a rise in clients and candidates using social media platforms like LinkedIn and social housing website forums to reach out to recruiters, reducing the reliance on the traditional method of job board advertising.

The housing team here at Sellick Partnership have identified and responded to the demand for commercially minded housing professionals and can provide tailored recruitment solutions to housing associations, local authorities and charities. Please visit www.sellickpartnership.co.uk/housing for our latest vacancies within housing, or if you are interested in the sector please feel free to get in touch with me directly for a confidential chat on 01782 572000 or email claire.harrison@sellickpartnership.co.uk.