At the risk of starting my column with a shocking cliché or, worse still, reading like a spam email – how would you like to improve your customer service, make better use of your stock and save money? You might be sceptical, but I’m going to spend my 750 words doing just that by telling you why my association employs an occupational therapist.
More than one, in fact. We started with one occupational therapist in 2009, we employed a second in 2012 and we’re about to employ a third. Why expand the service when our income has just been cut? Well, it’s simple really. We found that having our own occupational therapist improved customer service, made better use of our stock and saved money. Here’s how.
First of all, it’s efficient – in lots of ways, but most notably by reducing void rent loss. That was costing us £12,000 a year and we’ve slashed that figure, because our in-house occupational therapist can assess the suitability of potential properties for disabled applicants much faster.
Also, we can claim back 20% Value Added Tax relief for bathroom works where the tenant has a disability together with an occupational therapist recommendation. Having our own occupational therapist means we can do those assessments ourselves when we’re planning to upgrade a disabled tenant’s bathroom as part of our major repairs programme. That lack of hold-ups saves another £16,000 per year.
The big wins, which we reckon save us well over £100,000 annually, come from better use of stock. Consider *Mary, a full-time wheelchair user whose adapted home became unsuitable when she was unable to go upstairs to care for her children. We’d started to develop a new three-bedroom bungalow for her on one of our garage sites but completion was some way off.
This would have been a slow and costly solution, but our occupational therapist had previously been working on a proposal to free up one of our existing three-bedroom bungalows. When we were able to achieve this she inspected the property during the four-week notice period and identified what needed to be done. It only cost £7,000 and meant we could house Mary much more quickly than if we’d waited for the new build.
That’s not the end of the benefits, though. We then had a vacant property on our hands and were able to house *Dan, a 24-year-old man who was unable to walk and was living with all nine members of his family in a very cramped house. H was shuffling up and down the stairs on his bottom and had to be helped by his grandmother with going to the toilet and bathing.
We’d been considering a ground floor extension which would have cost £30,000 but instead, by working closely with the local authority and our housing team, we managed to move Dan and some of his family into the property vacated by Mary. The total cost of the adaptations we had to do? Less than £2,000.
The total savings from those cases alone exceed £70,000. Just as importantly, we have two people living in homes that are entirely appropriate for their needs. Not only that, but we can sell the new build bungalow when it’s finished, yielding a surplus to fund other developments (there’s limited need for three-bedroom bungalows, and the bedroom tax means they’re very difficult to allocate).
None of this would have happened without the expertise of our occupational therapist and the detailed knowledge she’s gained of our clients and our stock. Our occupational therapist service advises on minor adaptations and new build properties too, so we can maximise opportunities to make best use of our stock and save money. So there are future savings to be had as well: our population is ageing and more of the people we house will need adapted properties.
It’s not just me that feels this way, though. The Chartered Institute of Housing’s 2014 report titled How to make effective use of adapted properties noted that “housing associations who have employed an occupational therapist in-house are reporting significant improvement in making best use of their disabled stock and in their strategic planning for improvement and development schemes”. That’s definitely our experience.
In this climate, it would be easy to see services like occupational therapist as peripheral, but hopefully, I’ve explained why that’s a short-sighted perspective.
Aileen Evans, Group Chief Executive, Grand Union Housing Group
If you are interested in finding out more about occupational therapy and social housing, RCOT has produced a leaflet on the topic.