Landlord Latest: Karbon Homes


Karbon Homes is a housing provider based in the North East of England, focusing on delivering three strategic aims for affordable homes

Karbon Homes builds, manages and looks after around 32,000 affordable homes for people across the North East and Yorkshire, located across diverse communities that all face very different opportunities and challenges.

Our mission is to provide our residents and communities with a strong foundation for life, giving them the tools they need to thrive.

To achieve this, we’re committed to delivering on three strategic aims: to provide as many good quality homes as we can, deliver excellent service to our tenants and shape strong, sustainable places for our communities.

Tenant Wellbeing & Engagement

We strive to put our tenants at the heart of everything we do and we’re committed to ensuring our residents’ voices are heard and that their feedback is kept central to all our decision making.

We facilitate a host of ways for our tenants to influence, challenge and help deliver the work that we do, either in person or digitally.

For those tenants who have an interest in a particular topic, such as improving our digital services, guiding our building safety strategy, or influencing our roadmap to net zero, we have a range of project-specific
tenant groups.

And for those who are passionate about the community in which they live and are interested in helping us improve the services we offer locally, we have a number of area forums.

As we’ve grown as an organisation and continue to grow, it’s remained important to us that we stay in the best possible position to provide tenants with an excellent experience. An important element of that is staying local, having a strong connection with the communities in which we work and a clear understanding of both the challenges and opportunities that those communities face.

The area forums play a key role in this, enabling us to directly connect with residents in different communities, and understand their thoughts and views on local issues and services. To further ensure we remain connected locally, we have rolled out a new customer service model, which gave our housing management and property services colleagues smaller patches.

This will enable them to be more visible and available to tenants, which in turn will help them build stronger relationships with them and ensure they have access to any support they may need.

Our local presence within our communities, paired with the positive experience lots of tenants have with us, has meant Karbon Homes has become an organisation that many of our tenants show an interest in working for. The variety of roles available within a housing association makes our sector an appealing one to join and with the help of the Foundations for Life Team, our employability support service, we’ve been able to support lots of tenants to join Karbon as colleagues.

One successful route has been through our apprenticeship programme where we keep all positions exclusively for those living in a Karbon household. With each intake we have a diverse range of people taking up these positions, from those wanting to learn a trade, to those looking for an opportunity to explore a new career direction or get back into work after a break.

As we continue to see the cost-of-living rise and more tenants turning to us for help, we’ve remained committed to growing and strengthening the additional services we offer that support tenants beyond our landlord-tenant relationship.

Our Money Matters Team, which helps tenants to maximise their income through money, benefits and debt advice, has worked with close to 4,000 tenants over the last year, generating £4.5m of confirmed income gains. We’ve also invested more into our tenant hardship fund, which aims to support those tenants who are struggling to heat and power their home. Tenant-facing colleagues can make non-repayable awards of up to £120, in a combination of supermarket and fuel vouchers, to those who need them. Over the last 12 months we’ve issued 770 crisis vouchers, totalling £46,000.

Major Projects

At Karbon Homes we are constantly investing in improving the quality of our existing homes which often sees us engage in larger scale regeneration projects, to ensure our homes meet the current and changing needs of residents.

We’re currently working on a £4 million regeneration of Athol House, a sheltered scheme in Northumberland. The original scheme, which consisted of small, bedsit-style flats that didn’t meet modern standards or residents’ aspirations, is being replaced with a new, modernised scheme, with a mix of spacious one and two-bed apartments and high-quality communal areas to help to facilitate community cohesion.

We’re also building strong partnerships with local partners to regenerate brownfield sites into much-needed affordable housing. Working in partnership with South Tyneside Council, this financial year we’re regenerating three sites with disused buildings, to bring three, cutting-edge Extra Care schemes to the borough.

Designed for people who have additional support needs and in partnership with South Tyneside Council, the schemes will bring up to 300 new homes, helping people with differing levels of care and support needs to live well and independently. A number of these will be specifically designed for those living with dementia.

The challenge of achieving net zero by 2050 remains front and centre across the organisation and we’re continuing to explore more ways in which we can ensure the homes we build are as energy efficient as possible and boost the energy efficiency standards of our homes.

With support from the government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) wave 2.1, this January we began a new retrofit programme, investing £3.6 million in improving the energy efficiency of 218 homes in Northumberland and County Durham. These homes, which are some of our lowest performing when it comes to energy efficiency, will benefit from a mix of external wall insulation, underfloor insulation, cavity wall insulation and loft insulation top-ups. Some will also be fitted with Solar PV panels.

This round of SHDF funding follows on from the Wave 1 round, which supported our first major retrofit project of 97 homes in the villages of Ouston, County Durham and Otterburn, Northumberland, which we completed last year. Residents who benefitted from this work told us what a difference it made to their homes, not only helping them stay warm for longer but helping them keep their energy costs down. In this cost-of-living crisis, anything we can do to help residents save money is important.

As well as investment in homes, we’re also committed to investing in our communities, helping to address the impact that the declining physical fabric of places has on the quality of life of those who live there. On the Byker Estate in the east end of Newcastle Upon Tyne, a community of 1,800 homes, consisting of 11 neighbourhoods, we’re embarking on an extensive £11 million neighbourhood improvement plan which helps address the individual needs of the community.

For each of the 11 neighbourhoods we’ve devised a bespoke investment plan, each influenced by the residents who live there. The plans have been designed to address each neighbourhood’s specific challenges, from waste management improvements to car parking and safe play spaces for families.

The Social Housing Act

Over the last few years, the adequacy of the social housing sector has faced real scrutiny, with conversations around tenant empowerment and involvement coming to the fore. This has set the context for the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which has created a new proactive approach to regulating the sector, ensuring standards are met and action is taken against failings.

At Karbon Homes we are ready for this. We welcome the focus on driving up standards and the vision for a more proactive and robust approach to consumer regulation. We’re already culturally and organisationally aligned to the requirements of the Act and we’re now taking the time to cross reference all the requirements and check for any potential gaps or areas of improvement that are needed.

Listening to and acting upon the tenant voice already plays a key role in the way we operate, and we are continuing to focus strongly on tenant voice, ensuring it influences thinking and helps drive change at all levels of the organisation. The launch of our new tenant services delivery model, which focuses on providing a great service to tenants in their homes and neighbourhoods, will further enhance this, helping us to build stronger, more proactive relationships with tenants.

Data Management & AI Software

At Karbon Homes, our in-house responsive repairs function is under a lot of pressure with a whole host of competing demands that have been placed on the sector over recent years, and that pressure is unlikely to lessen anytime soon.

Over the last 18 months we’ve been working in collaboration with Mobysoft, a specialist in data-driven insight, to look at using advanced technology to help colleagues from across the property services function to deliver a higher quality of service over time, which in turn boosts tenant satisfaction.

Mobysoft’s RepairSense tool provides AI-powered repairs intelligence and has been key in helping us make sense of our repairs data. We wanted to get under the surface of some of the biggest inefficiencies across our four main trades: plumbers, heating engineers, electricians and joiners, and RepairSense has allowed us to gather that insight and understand where improvements could be made.

We quickly started seeing the benefits of using the tool and the data it provides. A key improvement the tool has helped us make is a reduction in repeat repairs, and there’s a lot more improvements like this that the system can help us make going forward.

We have also worked in collaboration with Mobysoft to develop their damp and mould dashboard, which sits within the RepairSense system. This allows us to proactively manage cases of damp and mould, which is especially important for us with the imminent introduction of Awaab’s Law.

Key Objectives

Looking ahead to the coming years, Karbon Homes and our peers in the housing sector, are faced with significant challenges. Higher inflation, the growing cost of living, contractor uncertainties and difficulties in the supply chain, alongside facing lots of competing demands and expectations from tenants, stakeholders and our regulatory bodies, present us with a series of hurdles right across the organisation.

However, with challenge comes opportunity, and we’ll remain focused on the delivery of our key strategic aims, balancing our business head and our social heart to ensure we are doing right by our tenants, colleagues and the organisation.

Our primary focus will be on improving the quality of our existing homes, ensuring they are decent, safe and meet the needs of our tenants. We’ll also continue to focus on how we can further improve the tenant experience we provide. This will include development and investment in providing a great digital choice, maximising our use of technology to support a more flexible, timely and effective tenant experience, and ensuring digital channels are available to those who want them.

And we’ll remain ambitious in the delivery of new homes. In the coming months we’re set to start work on our largest development project yet – 750 affordable homes at Seaham Garden Village in County Durham. We’re a key partner in the project, responsible for the development of over half of the site’s 1,500 homes, 100% of which will be affordable.

Over the coming years we’re also committed to further developing our place shaping approach, which moves away from a concentration on investment in alleviating the problems our communities face and instead focuses on setting new goals that help tackle the roots of these problems, in order to facilitate long-lasting change.

We are piloting our place shaping approach in two ‘Karbon Impact Areas’ where we have a high proportion of homes – Byker, a diverse ward east of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and Stanley, an ex-mining town in North Durham. Alongside exploring the data on issues such as employment, people, infrastructure and transport, we have worked closely with tenants, colleagues and the local community there to understand the challenges they face and what sustainable difference we can make.

In Stanley, a former mining town in North Durham where Karbon Homes owns and manages around 25% of the housing stock, we have purchased a derelict board school on Stanley Front Street. The purchase is part of a wider project to help boost the local economy by regenerating the high street and bringing more vibrancy into the community. We’ve outlined a number of potential options for what could be done with the site and now we’re embarking on a community consultation with local residents and key stakeholders to understand what they’d like to see happen to the building.

Article supplied by Ian Johnson, executive director of customer services at Karbon Homes