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2019: The year in review

7 January 2020 • Simon Leighton

2019, the year that marked the centenary of the Housing Act of 1919 (marking the start of state-owned housing in planned council estates), was a fruitful year for Croftons. With senior team-member appointments, award wins and a faultless Lexcel audit, Managing Partner, Simon Leighton, recalls the highs and lows of the year and shares his hopes for 2020.


Croftons

Throughout 2019 we continued to invest in people, making a number of senior hires across the business, and grew our teams with specialist fee earners to strengthen our offering and delivery across our core service areas. Alongside this, and as part of a move towards better, more agile working, we introduced new technology and systems allowing fee earners to work remotely, optimising client care and communications.

Looking back several years, we were still working through significant readjustments in our various teams. Now, with our united teams and dedicated focus, I’m pleased to see that our efficiency and performance have improved unequivocally, and that our committed approach has continued to secure clients and recognition within the housing sector year after year.

2019 was also fantastic year for recognition in the sector, securing top rankings in both Chambers & Partners and Legal 500, and winning ‘Boutique Law Firm of the Year’ at the Modern Law Awards.

It’s a genuine pleasure to serve the social housing and regeneration sector, and we’re immensely proud to retain these rankings, and to have won the award, as they recognise our commitment to our clients, and the quality of the specialist services we provide. It’s a challenging market, and we compete with much bigger, multi-practice corporate firms – but this demonstrates that our agile, efficient and innovative approach to delivering a high quality, personal service stands us out from the crowd.


The sector – a few snapshots

2019 brought a lot of uncertainty but a healthy level of discussion, on the back of Grenfell, and the importance of listening to the tenant voice. Two-and-a-half years on, there have been a whole host of Green Papers and consultations, but quite a lot of frustration in the sector that not a lot has actually happened. With the Grenfell Tower Inquiry judge making a series of recommendations in his first phase report, and The Queen’s Speech promising a Social Housing White Paper that would “provide greater redress, better regulation and improve the quality of social housing”, I hope that we start to see real change in the sector this year, tackling cladding and safety issues in social housing at the root, and ensuring regulations and plans are put in place to avoid reoccurrence and to support those affected.

The year also saw the introduction of the Fitness for Human Habitation Act. With its greater duty on landlords and making it easier for tenants to bring disrepair claims, we anticipate an increase in this type of work - which is something Housing Associations, and Croftons, are gearing up for.

A slowdown in the property market over the year primarily affecting south-east Housing Associations has had a negative impact upon Shared Ownership sales and the income they provide for RPs.

The importance of good quality data in the sector has become ever more clear, with numerous Housing Associations still using out dated and fragmented IT systems, hindering their abilities to efficiently meet their housing obligations.


The politics of housing

An unavoidable event of the past year was, of course, the re-election of the Conservative party in December. On the whole, the housing sector wasn’t overly impressed with the manifestos on housing from any of the political parties, but I do see some glimmers of hope on the horizon such as their pledges to build at least a million homes over the next five years, and to reform the planning system.

One of the key housing announcements for me came in April, as the government pledged to end Section 21 no-fault evictions in the private rented sector. Boris Johnson has since confirmed he wishes to continue with this reform which is of paramount importance to protect those most vulnerable. Families can be asked to move quite regularly on assured shorthold tenancies, which leads to moving costs and debt for tenants, and has become a key contributor to homelessness, with huge costs for central and local government as well. The abolition of Section 21 is another step in the right direction to support communities and ensure the tenant voice is heard.

My biggest concern following the election, however, is that the widely established divide between rich and poor continues to grow greater. Many Britons are struggling, with inadequate funding for heating and food, and an overall lack of good quality housing. With a clear mandate now to exit Europe, inevitably food prices will rise, for one, and there will be greater friction as those most vulnerable are going to find it yet harder. This is why, for our Christmas charity fund, we put a real focus on supporting local food banks and initiatives that feed and support those who struggle, offering donations to Salford Foodbank, Lucie’s Pantry and St George's Crypt, to name a few, who all do excellent work in the communities they serve.

With our razor-sharp focus and agile team, Croftons is extremely well placed to deal with the demands of the Conservative manifesto, whatever it may bring to the sector this year and beyond. Our dedicated housing and regeneration departments run like well-oiled machines, and are routinely praised by clients for doing things on time, on budget and with utmost transparency.


The roaring twenties

Looking ahead to 2020, our main objective is to grow the Housing Associations we work for across a wider geographical remit, and provide our clients with a holistic legal service – focusing on the provision of our Governance & Regulatory and Commercial Property advice, alongside our renowned Housing and Regeneration work.

With this growth in mind, our commitment to our people will continue to shine throughout the year as we increase leadership and personal development capacity through our soft skills training initiative, ensuring our staff remain brand ambassadors, all striving to deliver the best in client care.

Lastly, I am eagerly anticipating the implementation of our new document management system this year, which will not only deliver greater efficiency, but allow us to take a step towards greener working across the business.

With an efficient and agile team, clear focus and intelligent systems in place, Croftons is ready to tackle whatever 2020 may bring. I wish all our clients and friends in the sector a happy and prosperous New Year.


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Croftons is the trading name of Croftons Solicitors LLP, a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with number OC343375. The term ‘partner’, if used, denotes a member of Croftons Solicitors LLP or a senior solicitor of Croftons Solicitors LLP with equivalent standing and qualifications. A full list of members is open to inspection at the office. Croftons is authorised and regulated by The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) number 508041. Croftons has its principal place of business at The Lexicon, Mount Street, Manchester, M2 5FA.

 

 

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