SECTION ELEVEN: FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
Types of cost - development and running
The costs associated with any CHR will vary according to the level of complexity. More sophisticated central elements such as a central administrative unit, a one-stop shop for the provision of housing information and advice, and a complex ICT system will be associated with higher costs initially at least.
But it is important to consider any savings that will result for individual partners as a result of shared allocations processes. Many of the centralised revenue costs associated with running a CHR will replace costs to individual partners. And, an efficient CHR model has the potential to result in an overall cost saving for partners.
Partners also need to recognise that many of the costs associated with the development and running of a CHR would be incurred or partly incurred in the normal development of housing management practice. Although establishing a CHR will highlight issues to be addressed as best practice, partners should be realistic about what costs would arise if there were no CHR and you were continuing with your existing allocations process. For example, individual partners would periodically undertake reviews of their allocations policy, they may upgrade their ICT systems over time, and would have to meet the additional costs for issues such as the allocation of housing to registered sex offenders.
When developing a CHR partners need to consider the following types of cost:
- staffing (project management, ICT development/support, administrative)
- research/feasibility work
- ICT - feasibility, specification, development work, system build or procurement
- publicity, public relations and consultation
- ICT - hardware and software including electronic links
- network extension and security
- office set-up costs
- central administration unit set-up costs
- one-stop shop set-up costs
- tansitional arrangements (including merging existing lists/ undertaking a review to create a new, single list)
- Staffing including recruitment, training and other on-costs
- Rents and office facilities - photocopier/fax/telephone installation and rental etc
- ICT contracts
- Administration costs including inputting forms, collecting/ verifying additional information etc
- Production of forms including training manuals and procedures
- Updating applicant circumstances
- Ongoing waiting list review
How to develop a framework for sharing costs
The key to sharing CHR costs is agreeing a framework which is fair and acceptable to all partners. However, the sharing of costs is not a perfect science and will be based on "reasonable estimates". In some cases in Scotland the adopted approach to sharing costs has been a compromise which partners view as interim and subject to review after implementation.
Typically, costs of the CHR have been divided according to a cost-sharing formula based on one or more of the following:
- the total number of units of stock managed by each landlord;
- the number of tenancies held by each participating landlord;
- use made of CHR over a set period i.e. number of lets;
- number of applications to each landlord within the CHR; and
- a combination of two or more of the above, which can be weighted.
Different costs can be shared using different approaches.
Before you can decide whether a cost-sharing formula is fair you will need to assess how the contribution to the CHR compares with what was spent on applications and allocations before the CHR. This is something that has not been widely done across Scotland leaving a rather hazy picture of the costs of the allocations process pre- and post- CHR implementation.
- How to assess what you spent on applications and allocations pre CHR and post CHR
This is an exercise best done ahead of launching your CHR as it is difficult to do retrospectively (see below). It requires some self-monitoring on the part of staff members and equal commitment from CHR partners. Partners will also have to agree what is a reasonable time period in which to measure activity on allocations. Partners should decide on the appropriate time of year and number of months to undertake the monitoring exercise.
- Partners should record the volume of applications they receive and process and the number of allocations they make in a given time period
- Using work diaries/time sheets, record the amount of staff time spent on applications/allocations - i.e. processing and checking applications, dealing with waiting list enquiries, administration and review of the waiting list, prospect interviews, reporting, training and management etc.
- Record the amount spent on associated resources - stationary, printing of applications forms etc.
- Collectively, partners should assess the level of duplication of effort pre CHR by comparing the applicants on their waiting lists.
Partners will want to consider these costs against the development and capital costs and revenue costs anticipated for the preferred CHR model to help them decide if the proposed model represents value for money, and how they wish to approach the sharing of costs.
Following implementation, the partnership should review the costs of running the CHR to ensure that the financial management arrangements remain appropriate. This will involve a similar exercise as that undertaken before launching the CHR - i.e. monitoring overall staff time and spending on the application/allocation process along with new central/shared costs for the CHR.
- How to assess costs retrospectively
Partnerships may wish to undertake a comparative assessment of pre and post CHR costs after they have launched their CHR. Conducting the assessment retrospectively will rely on estimates and will not be as accurate as an assessment conducted before and after launch, but essentially you will be aiming to measure the same cost elements.
Partners should assess the current costs for running the CHR in the way described above: setting an agreed time period and monitoring staff time and spending on the application/allocation process. This should include resources associated with allocations including, for example, any stationary or printing costs incurred by individual partners as well as central/shared costs for the administration of the CHR.
Individual landlords should then make best estimates for spending on allocations before the CHR was established. The most accurate picture will be built up by the considering staff numbers involved in allocations and asking staff how much time they spent processing and assessing allocations for the agreed time period. Consulting previous annual budgets should help with the assessment of resource costs such as stationery, printing etc.
Example: Assessing costs before and after launching the CHR
Renfrewshire CHR partners wanted to be able to compare the time and resources dedicated to the application and allocation process before and after the launch of the CHR. This would help them to assess whether it had met one of its core aims - to achieve efficiencies in the allocations process. The partners recorded:
- how many application forms they received before and after the CHR - on a monthly basis;
- the proportion of applicants choosing more than one landlord; and
- the staff time dedicated to dealing with waiting list enquiries, processing and checking applications, administration and review of the waiting list, management, prospect interviews, reporting and training.
By gathering this information both before and after launch of the CHR, it meant the partners could assess the impact on resources.
Example: Assessing costs before and after launching the CHR
West Lothian Housing Register partners went through a clear process of assessing:
- the pre- CHR costs of dealing with applications and allocations; and
- the costs associated with introducing a CHR.
To assess the overall resources dedicated to dealing with applications and allocations before the launch of the Housing Register, all partners assessed staff time through completing a time sheet for one week. The assessments of the resources dedicated to applications and allocations varied significantly between partners.
The partners then assessed the cost of introducing a CHR. This included the costs of maintaining the common database, the cost of printing forms, advice booklets and other stationery, and the staff time involved in running the CHR. The costs of setting up the ICT system and the CHR were met by Scottish Government CHR funding. It was estimated that the ongoing costs of running the CHR would be £17,300 per annum.
There were many discussions about how the costs should be split. Because the landlord's assessments of the costs already dedicated to applications and allocations were very different, it was hard to agree a formula that suited everyone. In particular, one partner had dedicated a proportionately low level of resources to applications and allocations. This meant that this partner was less willing to dedicate money to the CHR.
Having considered a number of options, eventually the partners agreed that the CHR costs would be split based on stock size. This meant that Weslo contributed £1,800 (10%), Almond £2,500 (15%) and the Council £13,000 (75%). This was a compromise solution, put into place as an initial measure simply because "we wanted to get up and running". The partners agreed to review financial contributions after a year of operation. They were undertaking that review at the time of writing. The Council expects that in the future, there will need to be some adjustments to the way in which costs are apportioned.
Although the partners believe that the CHR has worked well, it has not yet resulted in any efficiency savings. The Council believes that in the long term, perhaps after 5 years, the CHR will result in savings. But in the early stages, the costs for dealing with applications and allocations have been higher than normal. This is because partners have gone through the process of setting up a new system and learning how to work together efficiently. It will take time for real financial benefits to be realised.
How to share costs in practice
Partners need to make sure that the best governance arrangements are in place for the sharing of costs. The agreed process for apportioning costs should be clearly stated in writing for the CHR partners.
Where the CHR is underpinned by a written legal agreement a schedule of the agreement will outline the budget for ongoing revenue costs. This should also explain how costs will be redistributed across partners. The legal agreement should also outline how payments will be collected, by whom and how frequently, and any sanctions for non-payment such as interest accrued. Partners may choose to set out cost arrangements in a less formal written partnership agreement which would potentially reduce legal costs.
CHR partners also need to be aware that services provided between organisations as part of a CHR are not VAT exempt so the service provider will need to include VAT on all costs unless the service recipient is exempt because of their status. You are advised to check your own position carefully.
Where functions are shared amongst partners rather than provided under contract by another organisation VAT will not be applicable. So, for example, using shared administration rather than a central administration unit will provide additional cost savings as it will reduce the need for cross charging between partners.
Example: Sharing CHR costs
In Perth and Kinross the CHR is managed by the local authority who have been responsible for development costs as the CHR has moved forward. The Council is responsible for the CHR Revenue Budget and have agreed a cost-sharing formula with the other partners for eligible costs. These include staff with a dedicated remit to deliver the CHR and applicable supplies and services costs. Costs are then apportioned across the partners pro rata of stock owned. ICT (infrastructure and support) costs are additional to this and charged for each user according to use each year.
The distribution of CHR revenue costs are set out in the Service Level Agreement established between the CHR partners.
Example: Sharing CHR costs and reviewing the budget
Fife Council is the overall budget holder for Fife Housing Register ( FHR) and maintains the financial management role for all shared costs. Shared costs include ICT, FHR Support team, printing and production of materials, consultation and marketing costs. Other costs are still absorbed by the partners, such as their own front line advice services and each partner meets the costs which will benefit their own organisations, such as internal ICT costs.
Anticipated costs are outlined through the FHR Business Plan. The FHR Management Executive receives a quarterly budget statement and on agreement, Fife Council issues invoices to the partners for their quarterly share. This allows the CHR to review costs at least every quarter.
Budgets are planned in alignment with a three-year business planning process which allows partners to make advance allowance for FHR costs. This regular review ensures that figures remain on target, or budgets are adjusted accordingly and in line with partnership priorities.
The Council felt that RSL partners were better able to make accurate assessments CHR costs:
"The housing associations were able to say that they have three, ten or forty people inputting applications, but at the Council, this is just part of people's jobs - someone could be doing it only part of the time, so it's never easy to get costs."
How has Fife Housing Register shared costs among the partners?
The Fife Housing Register partners share costs on the basis of stock share. This means that the share is relevant to stock size within Fife, and since all of the current partners are fully, or significantly Fife based, the partners believe this works relatively well.
The resourcing of FHR is currently under review as invitations are extended to regional and national housing associations to participate.
Any areas of cost sharing that were difficult to agree?
One stumbling block was where the Council had a complement of Occupational Therapists ( OTs) who were shared between housing and social work and so between them they had to decide how much to pay. The costs were broken down based on how much of the OTs time was spent on housing assessment activity and these were the only costs that were ultimately included within the FHR resourcing agreement. The Council retained the balance of the OT costs to pay for their wider role in terms of strategic planning and housing management activity.
Building up trust between the partners is important for conducting any financial assessments, as is being realistic about the costs incurred. FHR tried to work out what the costs were before the CHR and after, based on the increased numbers of applicants and the impact this would have on costs. A 20% increase was budgeted, but this is constantly under review when conducting the assessments.
How to do a risk assessment
The CHR partnership, as for all well managed projects, should undertake a risk assessment exercise. The risk assessment should show that you have considered all the potential risks associated with the CHR project. Undertaking the risk assessment will help partners identify any potential stumbling blocks and consider the appropriate mechanisms to put in place to resolve the problem.
There are different approaches to conducting a risk assessment. But a basic approach would involve:
- listing the potential risk factors to the CHR;
- considering the consequence of the risk for the delivery of the CHR;
- identifying the risk level - whether there is a high, medium or low chance of this issue arising;
- where possible, outlining the risk indicators that can be monitored to show whether a potential problem is occurring; and
- putting together a realistic and achievable recovery plan for each identified risk. This may build on exist relationships and escalation routes and/or propose alternative courses of action.
The risk assessment might be laid out in the following format:
Potential Risk Factor
Consequence for the CHR
Probability of Risk Arising (H/M/L)
Example: Insufficient participation of core partner
Delays to development and launch of CHR
Absence from meetings/decision-making process
Ensure strong communication strategy with partners; CHR lead officer visit to partner to discuss issues.
Example: Delay to establishing CHR ICT system
Delay to launch of CHR
Slippage in agreed timescale for ICT system build; Compatibility issues with existing ICT systems
Escalation within ICT supplier; discussion of technical issues and need/potential for amended specification; change of ICT contractor.