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Archived Updates

1 April 2020

Great Places Housing Group Limited (the Issuer)

£345,000,000 4.75 per cent Secured Bonds due 2042 (ISIN Numbers XS1794197852 and XS0842152281)

1 April 2020

On Wednesday 1st April, The Financial Conduct Authority confirmed approval of the Transfer of Engagements of Equity Housing Group Limited (Equity) (registered as a charitable community benefit society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 with registered number 16551R and registered as a registered provider with the Regulator of Social Housing with registered number L1229) to Great Places Housing Association (GPHA) (registered as a charitable community benefit society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 with registered number 19564R and registered as a registered provider with the Regulator with registered number L1230), pursuant to section 110 of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. GPHA is the largest subsidiary of Great Places Housing Group Limited “The Issuer” (Great Places).

This marked the completion of a process which commenced in early 2019 when Equity announced it would be seeking a long term strategic partner. Great Places was selected as preferred partner in May 2019 and since that date both parties have been working towards the objective of a 1st April 2020 Transfer of Engagements. The required funding consents have been successfully negotiated and the Boards of both Organisations gave their final approvals in March.

Great Places will subsequently own or manage over 24,000 homes across the North West and South Yorkshire, with turnover in excess of £150M, housing assets of over £1.5BN and more than 700 colleagues.  The merger reinforces Great Places’ geographical focus around Greater Manchester, Cheshire and South Yorkshire, and the larger Organisation will be financially stronger with greater influence and have increased operational resilience which is particularly of importance given the backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Two members of the former Equity Board have joined the Great Places Board – Mervyn Jones (former CEO of Yorkshire Housing 2008-2018) and Grenville Page (who has a portfolio of Non-Executive roles including with Manchester Health and Care Commissioning).

Andy Oldale, who was Deputy CEO and Strategic Director – Corporate Services for Equity has joined the Great Places Executive Team in the role of Transitional Managing Director.

The successful completion of the merger has been achieved despite the challenges presented by Coronavirus. Great Places is responding to the pandemic in a number of ways:

The safety of our colleagues and customers remains our highest priority and in order to continue to run essential services we have had to quickly adapt how we work. The majority of our colleagues are now working from home, with a limited number of colleagues continuing with their essential front-line roles. We have introduced a number of changes to working practices to ensure that they can comply with social distancing measures.

Our business continuity group is overseeing our response and taking decisions to ensure we are best placed to respond appropriately and quickly to this fast-moving situation. We are keeping our service provision under review and responding quickly to Government guidance while remaining committed to delivering essential services to our customers, carrying out business-critical work and maintaining health and safety standards.

We have implemented a range of actions to support our customers and protect our colleagues while they continue to carry out their roles including:

  • setting up our customer contact team to be able to work from home and closing all of our offices in line with Government guidance;
  • providing an essential only repairs service, introducing customer screening checks and issuing front-line colleagues with the appropriate personal protective equipment;
  • empowering our neighbourhood teams to extend our usual sympathetic and measured approach to arrears, and to offer additional support to customers who are struggling to pay their rent as a result of financial hardship due to the impact of Coronavirus;
  • in line with Government guidance we have suspended legal action for arrears at this time;
  • launching a £100,000 hardship fund that will allow those customers most in need to access vouchers to purchase food and pay their energy bills;
  • actively promoting the Government’s emergency financial support and supporting customers to access it;
  • working closely with Local Authority partners and third sector stakeholders to support local food networks and responses to rough sleeping;
  • continuing caretaking services in our independence and wellbeing schemes in order to ensure we maintain health and safety compliance, and also increasing our cleaning schedules;
  • continuing to support, with appropriate social distancing, a number of relets for customers where not completing their move would have caused them hardship;
  • developing a remote handover process that has facilitated completion of small number of new lets and shared ownership sales to ensure those new properties can be let or sold to those most in housing need;
  • streamlining financial processes to ensure our suppliers are paid as fast as possible for the goods and services they provide;
  • launching an internal volunteering programme, offering colleagues who have some additional capacity to support areas of the business who may be impacted by less colleague resource due to health conditions, sickness and additional demand.

It is too early to assess the potential impact on Great Places’ future financial performance. We are carefully modelling the possible impact on key business activities such as rent collection and arrears, property sales and development activity. The majority of our development programme and investment works are currently suspended which will help support an already strong liquidity position. Great Places has always sought to avoid being over-dependent on cash generated from property sales which provides further comfort during what may be an extended period of uncertainty.