How to Bid and Win in the Social Housing Sector

The urgent need across the UK for more homes, including in the social housing sector, is receiving increasing media attention and is now attracting substantial additional funding from Government.

The November 2017 Budget announced £15.3 billion of new financial support for house building over the next five years and more money to help SME builders. The Scottish Government has a target to enable the constructions of 50,000 affordable homes (35,000 in the social rented sector) by 2021. The Welsh Government is targeting 20,000 new affordable homes by 2021 and new build affordable housing is also progressing in Northern Ireland.

Additionally, there are ongoing social housing refurbishment and retrofitting programmes, including work following the Grenfell Tower disaster focussing on fire safety, insulation and cladding.

With all of this activity, what is needed to be awarded contracts in the social housing sector? Managing Director of AM Bid Andrew Morrison takes a look the successful steps to take when bidding for social housing contracts, tenderers need to demonstrate that they truly understand: the sector, the client, the residents and the communities in which they work. If you can show good knowledge and empathy with the 10 points below, you will find your tender evaluation scores starting to move northwards:

1. Context
Show that you get the context your client is working in e.g. housing shortages, funding constraints and changes to welfare benefits. Your bid should also show how you will help your client comply with their statutory and regulatory obligations. What about their mission, aims, values and customer care charter? Illustrate the synergies between your organisations.

2. Terminology
Mirror your client’s use of language. For example, are they a Council or a Local Authority? Are they an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO)? Are they a Registered Provider, a Registered Social Landlord, a Housing Association or a Co-operative? What do they call the people who rent their homes – Tenants, Residents, Customers or Services Users? These may seem minor, inter-changeable details – but they are not!

3. Think Local
In many cases you are bidding to local authorities or local housing associations. So, burnish your local credentials. Will you have local staff, local offices, local suppliers, local sub-contractors? Do you have links with local colleges? local charities? Can you mention some of the local communities / estates in your bid and show that you understand any unique challenges they may bring to your successful delivery of the project.

4. Social Value
Offering social value / community benefits is becoming increasingly important. They started life as a non-scored part of bids … however, the times they are a changin’. I saw a bid recently with community benefits scoring 20% of the overall technical submission. Also, don’t just stick with the trusty x number of apprentices to £y million of spend. Consider other social value elements e.g. school and college placements; mentoring; volunteering; sponsorship of local third sector organisations / charities to name a few.

5. Customer Care
Social housing really is all about customer care. Will your tradespeople all wear branded uniforms and display photographic ID? How will you demonstrate that you are taking the needs of local people into account as you go about your work?

6. Employee Vetting
Social housing organisations include some very vulnerable people within their properties. For refurbishment, retrofitting or maintenance contracts, are all of your staff, and sub-contractors, Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or Disclosure Scotland checked? Do you ensure that the checks are kept up-to-date?

7. Asset Management – Integration
The vast majority of social housing organisations have invested in asset management software. They want to be able to issue works orders through this direct to contractors; and they want the contractors’ IT systems to be integrated with their software. To succeed, you will likely need to evidence both functionality and successful case studies.

8. Mobilisation
Your bid should show how you will effectively mobilise the contract at minimum disruption to the client and their service users. As budgets are often annual, and political leaders have made public commitments around house building, evidencing that you can deliver on / ahead of schedule will be important.

9. Risk
What are the risks for the client and their customers / service users? Whilst risk may be a low scoring question (or absent from some client questions), it is still an ever present consideration for clients. The last thing they want is to be “holding the baby” at the point when a contract goes pear-shaped. A senior person will ask “What clown let this contract to these clowns?” and heads could roll. So, self-preservation kicks in for evaluators – your response needs to demonstrate how you are de-risking the client.

10. Evaluation Panel
There is a need to take into account who will be marking your bid. The average size of an evaluation panel in the public sector is 5.4 people – in social housing, panel sizes can, at times, be even larger. The panel will typically include representatives from Housing Strategy & Development, Procurement, Finance, Health & Safety and tenant/resident representatives. Think about how your bid responses will play out with each of these stakeholders. In other words, your bid has to have a wider focus than just evidencing your technical competence.