The government’s housing accelerator remains “fully operational and determined to continue doing business”, it has said, as it announced that staff would work from home from today (17 March).
Homes England took the decision for staff to work remotely following guidance to avoid non-essential travel issued nationally by the prime minister yesterday.
The news comes as housing associations this afternoon participated in a webinar run by the National Housing Federation designed to share best practice on mitigating the impact on residents and services.
Social Housing reported yesterday that approaches being taken by some providers included upping cash reserves, preparing for a potential rise in arrears, and triaging repairs requests.
In a statement released this afternoon, Homes England said that it is “determined to support government at this time”.
It added: “The most important contribution we can make is to continue working with our partners to complete transactions and continue building the pipeline to support housebuilding.”
The organisation said that as part of business continuity protocols, it had been “thoroughly testing [its] technology” and was confident it could continue to operate fully. It confirmed it had also withdrawn from participation in upcoming conferences and other business engagements.
The statement said: “As an outward-facing national agency, we are taking these steps to protect both our staff and partners and are grateful for everybody’s continued support.
“We are determined to support the government at this time.”
In the measures announced yesterday, as part of the prime minister’s first daily briefing on the government’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak, Boris Johnson said that people should work from home where possible.
He also outlined social distancing measures that he said were “particularly important” for people over 70, those living with medial conditions, and pregnant women.
Yesterday evening, the Grenfell Inquiry announced that its hearings would be suspended for the time being to avoid the “unacceptable risk of infection”.
Housing providers including Optivo and Platform told Social Housing on Friday that they had already taken steps to encourage remote working and reduce travel where not required.
But they said that while there would be no impact to funds invested in new and existing homes, sickness and absence of construction staff on site could in time cause a delay to programmes.
Commenting on the unfolding situation, Simon Nunn, executive director of member services at the National Housing Federation, said: “Housing associations are prioritising the health and well-being of their residents.
“As this unfolds, housing associations will continue working round the clock and with local partners to put appropriate measures in place to keep residents safe. They will also continue to provide financial support and advice for those who need it.”
As countries across the world move to control the spread of the virus with a range of travel bans and restrictions, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office also today announced that it now advises against all non-essential travel overseas.
It said that the change in advice reflects the “pace at which other countries are either closing their borders or implementing restrictive measures”, which it said were often implemented with “little or no notice”.