Circle Insights

How to compile the data-based SRS evidence you need for funding applications

Andrew Bradley

Complete, consistent and detailed data across 48+ metrics is becoming the norm for Housing Association funding applications

Bromford and Clarion Housing Group both recently made headlines with their ground-breaking, large-scale funding wins supported by their evidence of meeting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards in social housing.

Bromford’s £75m deal with SMBC Bank International links the sustainable loan to a governance metric: by reducing its gender pay gap, Bromford will benefit from a lower interest rate. Clarion has raised £300m in a heavily subscribed sustainable bond issue, ascribing its popularity to the housing association’s commitment to ESG principles.

The Sustainability Reporting Standard for Social Housing (SRS) was launched in November 2020 by the ESG Social Housing Working Group – a collaboration of banks and investors, housing associations, service providers and impact investing organisations.

The SRS is a voluntary reporting framework, setting out 48 ESG criteria such as zero carbon targets, affordability and safety standards. It enables housing providers to report on their ESG performance in a consistent and comparable way, so lenders and investors can assess performance, identify risks and pursue opportunities to create positive social and environmental outcomes.

With more and more major funding organisations using the SRS to guide their investment strategy, UK housing associations are considering how they can evidence their performance against the framework. Gathering and retaining accurate and accessible data across the organisation to inform the 48 SRS metrics is key.

For housing associations whose data is distributed around the organisation or is not recorded frequently or regularly, pulling together an evidence-based SRS report on ESG criteria to support a major funding application is a huge headache. Managers and administrators have to find, validate and manually collate the information. It places massive demands on resources, taking staff away from essential day to day activities supporting residents. In some cases, the data may not be available. It’s a real issue, because without this evidence, Housing Associations may lose the chance to compete for transformative funding.

The 48 metrics in the SRS are just the start. For individual funds and grants, further criteria may apply and additional, specific evidence may also be required. Housing Associations that can pull together data efficiently and reliably have a clear advantage in bidding for these very substantial funds.

If their data strategy and practices are not well established, housing associations will need to assemble data reactively for every application. It’s possible, if the data exists somewhere within the organisation. But this reactive approach is not just time-consuming; it also fails to support SRS monitoring and improvement.

If you have reporting and data collection set up to run continuously, you will be able to look at the metrics at any time and view trends and improvement opportunities. This benefits housing association employees and communities by improving the sustainability and inclusivity of service delivery across the organisation.

SRS reporting isn’t just a box-ticking exercise – the standards have been carefully designed to help Housing Associations achieve positive growth and work in environmentally and socially responsible ways. As this is very much a part of housing association operating culture, the standards are in principle welcomed by responsible social housing providers.

Keeping SRS and related metrics under constant review and using them to identify areas for improvement is a double win. Housing organisations gain better insight into current strengths and weaknesses and potential to develop, so they can prioritise improvement initiatives. This strengthens their ESG performance for the benefit of their communities and catchment. At the same time, they’ll be better positioned to compete for funding against the SRS criteria with clear and trusted data to present and trend information that shows how the organisation is evolving.

It’s not an easy task for most housing associations to marshal and monitor this SRS data. They need a data strategy that helps them identify the data they need to collect, where it exists already, how to obtain and sustain it where it doesn’t. The data strategy will provide a roadmap to the comprehensive and constructive data approach that the housing association needs to meet today’s ESG criteria for grants and funding as well as tracking its performance against organisational goals.

The data strategy doesn’t need to involve a major IT investment. It can audit and draw together existing resources. Once the housing association knows what data is has and what it needs to measure, it can develop efficient processes to track progress and to create reports that achieve the best funding outcomes for the community.

If you’d like to know more about developing a data strategy that reveals your Housing Association’s ESG performance metrics and supports SRS-related funding applications, download our free white paper “Insight for building flourishing communities”.

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Andrew Bradley