Press Release posted 16 June 2022
Fairhive Homes and Buckinghamshire Housing Association to join forces
Two Buckinghamshire based affordable housing providers announce plans to join together
Fairhive Homes Limited and Buckinghamshire Housing Association Limited (BHA) are looking to join forces to become a single combined housing association delivering homes and services for those in housing need across Buckinghamshire and the surrounding areas.
Both organisations have strong performance including high levels of customer satisfaction, and the union will create the opportunity to enhance their combined services, create value for money benefits and build more affordable homes in an area where they are desperately needed.
Fairhive, which until recently was known as Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust, owns 8,500 homes and delivers services to over 20,000 of its residents in Buckinghamshire and beyond. Stokenchurch-based BHA has a housing stock of 500 homes and provides services to 1,000 residents in the same geographical area.
In May, the Boards of both Fairhive and BHA agreed in principle for BHA to join with Fairhive through a process known as a Transfer of Engagements. During the next few months the two organisations will be working together with the aim of achieving the formal transfer in January 2023.
Matthew Applegate, Chief Executive of Fairhive Homes, said: “Our two organisations operate in the same geographical area and we have similar values, culture and strategic objectives so we are thrilled at the opportunity to combine our services for the benefit of all our residents.”
Phil Green, Chief Executive of BHA added: “We are both recognised locally as successful housing associations in terms of our overall performance and financial strength; coming together will deliver greater operational resilience for us, as well as generating significant cost savings which will be used to enhance homes and services for our current tenants, as well as supporting the development of more new homes.”
The transfer is subject to the outcome of consultation with BHA residents, the consent of shareholders and the formal approval of both Boards. In the meantime, resident services and all other activities will continue as normal in both organisations.
More information will be available over the coming months as the transfer of engagements progresses.
Update 13 June 2022
Following a detailed review by the Board of Buckinghamshire Housing Association, we are considering a transfer of our homes and operations to another local housing association, Aylesbury-based Fairhive Homes.
The proposal is subject to consultation with residents, and we very much want to know your views before the Board makes a final decision on whether to recommend the proposal to the Association’s shareholders later this year. The consultation will be open until Wednesday 31st August 2022.
Fairhive, previously known as Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust, owns and manages approximately 8,400 homes, the vast majority of which are located in Buckinghamshire.
We are considering this proposal because we firmly believe that Fairhive is in the best position to maintain the quality of services our residents currently receive. We also consider that they will be best placed to enhance and extend the range of services available to residents, to an extent not feasible for a small housing association like ourselves.
We believe that Fairhive, with its significantly greater financial resources, will be in a much stronger position to make the necessary long-term investment in the maintenance and improvement of your homes, including making them as warm, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable as possible. Fairhive is also in a stronger position to commit to building more new rented homes in our area for those who need them than we could on our own.
The following information seeks to:
- answer some of the questions you may have
- let you know how you can find out more
- invite you to make comments on the proposal so that your views can be taken into account in the final decision making, and in the way in which services will potentially be delivered by Fairhive in the future.
How will this affect you?
First and foremost, please be assured that you will have exactly the same tenancy rights as you do now. The terms of your tenancy agreement will stay the same and your rents and service charges will not be affected, except following the normal annual rent and service charges review each April.
Fairhive, like Buckinghamshire Housing Association, is a local, not-for-profit housing association. It was formerly known as Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust and was originally set up by Aylesbury Vale District Council in 2006 to own and manage its homes. Although Fairhive is a much larger housing association than us, with around 8,400 homes compared with our 500, we cover a very similar geographical area and we are both committed to providing high quality housing and maintenance services to our residents in Buckinghamshire and the surrounding areas. We both have high levels of customer satisfaction and we share common aims and values. Fairhive employs 280 staff, all of them based at their offices in the centre of Aylesbury, including an in-house team of 100 skilled operatives who carry out the majority of repairs and improvements to their properties.
Why are we doing this?
Buckinghamshire Housing Association is a financially strong and high performing small housing association but there are a whole range of emerging challenges facing housing associations, big and small, up and down the country. These challenges will always be more acute for small housing associations like ourselves.
We have a long and proud history and we want to make sure the necessary investment in our housing stock takes place over the longer term to ensure that we continue to provide warm, safe and secure homes for you, our residents. We need to address energy efficiency and ‘carbon neutrality’ and we want to be able to expand the services we are able to offer you, particularly those services which people increasingly want to be able to access digitally. Against a backdrop of increasing economic uncertainty and pressures on public expenditure and public services, we think now is the right time to consider joining a larger organisation to make sure we have the strength to continue to meet the high standards we have set for ourselves and which you have a right to expect.
In looking at potential ways forward, we asked ourselves one overriding question:
“What is in the long term best interests of our current residents and those in need of good quality social housing in our area?”
The answer we came to was that a merger with Fairhive would best fulfil this challenge.
What benefits will there be for residents?
We believe that this proposal will deliver a range of benefits for Buckinghamshire Housing Association residents, listed below. We have not identified any disadvantages.
Residents transferring from Buckinghamshire Housing Association will receive the same level of service as other Fairhive residents. The first point of contact for residents will be the Fairhive Customer Contact Centre in Aylesbury, where Customer Service staff will be able to deal with the majority of routine queries and transactions. This front line service will be backed up by well-resourced, dedicated teams of staff specialising in aspects such as tenancy support, income management, anti-social behaviour and leasehold management.
Fairhive also provides a range of online services to residents 24/7, 365 days a year, including self-service options for diagnosing and booking repairs, accessing rent accounts, making payments online and updating contact details. Fairhive is committed to expanding its digital offer in the future but residents will, of course, still be able to report any issues via the phone or in writing.
In our view, one of the major benefits for Buckinghamshire Housing Association residents is that the majority of day-to-day repairs and planned maintenance programmes will be delivered by the Fairhive in-house repairs team. The service is well established, properly resourced and achieves high levels of customer satisfaction.
Accountability to / engagement with residents
Fairhive has strong and robust resident involvement arrangements, offering a range of ways residents can get involved in influencing and scrutinising service delivery. Fairhive’s resident involvement groups will be open to Buckinghamshire Housing Association residents and they will meet with involved residents and staff to discuss the best ways of ensuring that the voice of our residents is heard on representative bodies.
High quality tenancy and community support
Buckinghamshire Housing Association residents will have equal access to the full range of free support services currently made available to Fairhive residents, including welfare benefit advice and assistance, help accessing food and energy vouchers for those in financial hardship, debt advice and digital support.
In addition, Fairhive provides an Additional Housing Management Service (AHM). This offers a monthly visit to your home by an Independent Living Advisor to provide help, advice and assistance in accessing services which will enable your continued independence, health and well-being. There is a small weekly charge for this service which is benefit eligible if applicable.
Health & Safety
Fairhive has an absolute commitment, as well as an excellent track record, in delivering Health & Safety compliance, with robust policies and processes to ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents across the whole range of compliance areas, including Gas Safety, Fire Safety, Electrical Safety, Asbestos, Legionella and Lifts. Buckinghamshire Housing Association residents and properties will be included in all of these safety arrangements.
Investing in your homes
Fairhive is committed to keeping your homes in excellent condition and will apply its consistently high standards to the incoming Buckinghamshire Housing Association properties. Fairhive has the financial resources to make the necessary long term investment in our stock to ensure that it remains of good quality and to achieve the Government’s expectations in terms of the Decent Homes standard, carbon neutrality and energy efficiency.
Costs and Savings
The savings resulting from this proposal will greatly outweigh the initial one-off costs. These one-off costs, including legal, financial and other professional fees, will be shared between Buckinghamshire Housing Association and Fairhive, and are likely to amount to between £100,000 – £150,000. However, in return we expect to achieve annual savings in operating costs of over £400,000 from bringing the two organisations together. These savings will come from reductions in overall staff numbers, reduced office running costs and from savings on external services such as HR, IT and Audit. Fairhive delivers a number of services in-house (most obviously the repairs service) which we currently have to ‘buy in’ from external providers, and this will generate savings, including in VAT.
These cost savings will be reinvested in service improvements, maintaining your homes and in the provision of new homes.
Maintaining Social Rents
Fairhive will continue to relet any homes becoming vacant at affordable ‘Social Rent’ levels as we do now. Rents for existing tenants will be approached in the same way as they are now, with any changes made annually in April in accordance with Government-set rent policy.
Continuity of Governance
A number of Buckinghamshire Housing Association Board members will join the Fairhive Board or one of its subsidiaries or committees. This will help to ensure continuity and a smooth transition.
What will happen to Buckinghamshire Housing Association staff?
All staff, who wish to do so, will transfer to Fairhive and will be welcomed as new staff of Fairhive. No Buckinghamshire Housing Association staff member will be disadvantaged as a result of these proposals.
What will happen to the office in Stokenchurch?
It is likely that the current Buckinghamshire Housing Association office in Stokenchurch will be closed in due course. Fairfax House, Fairhive’s office in Aylesbury, will become the main office base for Buckinghamshire Housing Association staff, although ‘hybrid / home’ working is likely to become the norm for many staff as it is now.
What happens next?
Over the next few months, subject to this consultation and to both Boards coming to a final decision, we will be working together to combine our operations with the aim of achieving the formal transfer on 1 January 2023.
How can I find out more information and how do I make my views known?
We have tried to give you as much information as possible here, but we are keen to ensure that you have every opportunity to find out more about this proposal.
You can find out more about Fairhive through their web site. www.fairhive.co.uk
We will also be providing information and updates here.
We are telling you about our proposals at this early stage because we want to consult with you and to hear your views. We also have a formal obligation to do so. Our Regulator sets certain standards which we must meet and one of those is to consult with ‘affected tenants in a fair, timely, appropriate and effective manner’ when we are proposing a change in landlord. We are also expected ‘to set out the proposals clearly and in an appropriate amount of detail, highlighting any actual or potential advantages and disadvantages (including costs) to tenants in the immediate and longer term.’
We believe we have met these expectations.
This consultation will be open until Wednesday 31st August 2022. We encourage you to contact us with any comments on the proposal to help the Board take a final decision on the proposals at their meeting in September.
You can find out more and make your views known to us by:
• Emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Writing to us at Buckinghamshire Housing Association, Unit 4, Stokenchurch Business Park, Ibstone Road, Stokenchurch, Bucks, HP14 3FE
• Calling 01494 480340 – please ask to speak to Phil Green, Chief Executive or Nick Brake, Head of Housing & Customer Services
We encourage you to get in touch with any comments, queries or concerns. We will ensure that all your views are noted and considered by the Board and that they are taken into account as we move forward.
How will the Board take your views into account?
You can rest assured that the Board has given a great deal of thought to this decision and feels certain that this is in the best interests of residents. The Board intends to make a final decision in September, following further work (‘due diligence’) to ensure that that all legal and financial reassurances are in place (we are not expecting to come across any problems in this respect).
The Board will take all views into account in reaching their decision. The Board is also obliged, under the regulatory standards mentioned earlier, to “be able to demonstrate to affected tenants how they have taken the outcome of the consultation into account when reaching a decision.”
Once the Board reaches its decision, it will recommend this to shareholders who will formally vote on the proposal in October. Our current expectation is that if the decision is taken to proceed with the proposal, the transfer to Fairhive will take place early in the New Year.
We understand that any change like this is bound to create a certain amount of anxiety, although we hope we have reassured you that your homes and your security remain of paramount concern to us and that our chosen provider will maintain the best of services to you.
I do hope you will agree that this proposal offers a great opportunity to ensure that we can safeguard the long term interests of current and future residents. Once again, please be assured that your continued enjoyment of your homes and your rights to security of tenure will not be affected in any way by these potential changes. We look forward to keeping you informed on progress and hearing your views.