Home Improvement Agency (HIA) services originated over 30 years ago with a vision to provide responsive, client-centred solutions to low income, older owner-occupiers’ home repair, maintenance and adaptation problems. The early pioneers, independent ‘Care and Repair’ or ‘Staying Put’ services were small scale and largely funded by the charitable sector.
While many of the original agencies still operate, most agencies are now managed by housing associations, local authorities or private companies with funding from local authorities and health services.
The HIA sector is almost as well defined by its differences as by its similarities, but all HIAs share two key facets:
- Client-centred support provided in a person’s own home
- Expertise in making changes to the physical fabric of the home.
Used together, these key strengths provide HIAs with a unique selling point as a provider of services to vulnerable people. These strengths are well suited to drive forward the development of new business, as attributes that differentiate and set apart the sector from other providers in an increasingly segmented and competitive market of support services.
Client-centred support is very powerful because face-to-face contact, at a person’s home, is the preferred method of receiving support for many vulnerable people, especially older people. It gives HIAs the ability to fully understand how a client can maximise independent living and provides vital clues when assessing the client’s housing needs and finding the right range of choices.
As a business development tool, client-centred support places agencies very close to their customers and encourages dialogue at all stages of the process, providing feedback to improve existing services, and uncovering the need for additional services. Much of the development of the most successful HIAs in the country has arisen from acting on feedback from clients.
An expertise in matters to do with repairing, improving or adapting the physical fabric of the client’s home is equally as critical to the sector’s unique market position. There is a risk that the development of a range of less-specialised ancillary services will turn this expertise into a ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘core’ service. Without this an agency loses its distinctiveness as an HIA rather than any other kind of housing-related support agency for older/vulnerable clients.