Independent scrutiny board reports on performance of Mears as a housing provider
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 in 2020 to work alongside the Mears PLC Board and provide oversight, challenge and support to improve Mears services. Chaired by Terrie Alafat CBE, the board is supported, and its independence assured by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS).
With the UK Government’s White Paper on Social Housing likely to call for further scrutiny and more focus from both the Housing Regulator and Ombudsman on tenant engagement, Mears asked the CfGS to work with the board to produce an independent report which is public, open and transparent.
The board’s main findings about Mears’ performance includes an “obvious desire and commitment” at the most senior levels and throughout the organisation to listen, understand and improve the customer experience. It found 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.
According to the report, Mears’ response to COVID reflected the organisation’s flexibility and commitment to protecting vital services and maintaining customer service standards, and it also found there is a clear strategy for customer service improvement which should have a positive impact e.g. a new appointments app, changes to how the contact centre is organised and new ways to gather and report customer feedback.
There were also areas that the scrutiny board identified as needing further development and focus such as its approach to customer communication - consistency across different channels (website, handbook, etc), and its ability to harness the potential of digital.
Mears can also improve on making it easier for customers to contact the right person quickly and must also 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 chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH), said of the launch of the report: “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, chief executive of CfGS which published the report, commented: “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 co-operated 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.”
Responding to the report, 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.
“To provide the best service we can we need to design our services with the support of those who receive them. We also need to understand where we are getting things wrong – it is only by doing this that we can create services which are designed for and by residents.”