Homefinder UK appoints new Chair


Homefinder UK sits down with newly appointed Chair, Sharon Roberts, Lettings & Allocation Manager at Southern Housing.

We are thrilled to introduce Sharon Roberts as the new Chair of Homefinder UK. Sharon is the Lettings & Allocation Manager at Southern Housing (formally Optivo) and brings a wealth of knowledge and over 25 years of experience working in the social housing sector. She has been an active member of Homefinder UK since its beginning in 2013 and she takes on the role from Mark Meehan, former Housing Chief Officer at Hammersmith and Fulham, following his retirement in September 2022.

We talked to Sharon about what she hopes to bring to the role and the most pressing housing issues right now. She also talks about how Homefinder UK can help housing associations let voids quicker and access further housing options for tenants who are willing or need to relocate.

Why did you decide to work in the housing sector?

Originally, I wanted to be a social worker. When I was at university, I was looking down that avenue, but I was told I needed more life experience. My brother was working in housing, so I decided I was going to apply for roles within that field. I also liked the idea of developments and building homes. I managed to get a role with Humanist Housing Association in 1998. They mainly provided sheltered accommodation and a few general needs, and it all started from there.

What are the main challenges affecting housing associations right now?

Ultimately, there isn't enough suitable affordable housing out there. There are not enough units to move everyone on our waiting list, particularly those who are looking for larger homes. Paradoxically, letting our over 55 units and two-beds tend to be a challenge, as well as some of our new builds and the disabled units that we are building. Funding for development teams to build new homes is another challenge.

There's been a lot of conversation recently about improving tenancy satisfaction and the government’s plans to give tenants more power when it comes to calling out bad landlord behaviour. What is your viewpoint?

Residents should have the power to call out bad landlords, particularly if the landlords are not doing what they are supposed to do. Those that have good policies, procedures and a good repairs system in place shouldn't have anything to worry about. As a landlord, you are supposed to be putting the residents at the heart of everything you do. If the residents are telling you that the condition of the property is not good, then you need to do something about it. I don't think it's good to villainize housing associations and local authorities, some of them are doing the best that they can. But there are things that all of us can improve on.

You have worked with Homefinder UK for many years, how would you evaluate the progress made by the scheme so far?

I was there at the beginning when they were discussing introducing Homefinder UK.  At the time, there were not many avenues for residents to move. Developing a scheme like Homefinder UK, which incorporates relocating homeless applicants or residents that want to move across the UK, was a brilliant idea. Homefinder UK has done a fantastic job over the last 10 years. With Homefinder UK, you can venture as far as you want to go, so it just broadens everybody's chances of moving.

What do you hope to achieve as chair of Homefinder UK?

I have always been an advocate of the scheme. I tell everybody about the good things Homefinder UK does, and so I thought I'd like to be involved in chairing the scheme. It’s a no brainier for housing associations as it offers great value for money.

As chair, I want to make sure Homefinder UK increases the number of homes available for people, ensuring the right match and shortening the waiting time for social housing.

What do you hope the future of social housing looks like?

Ultimately, as a sector, we need to increase the number of new homes that we’re building. We're not hitting any building targets and the waiting list for a lot of local authorities is very high. It's a problem that will take everybody involved to fix it. If we don’t get on top of the housing crisis, it's going to get even harder for people to move as they face issues with increased living costs. We may not ever have enough housing for everybody, but I think it's about opening up more opportunities to make it more cost-effective for people to move to different types of accommodation. Homefinder UK can be a part of that.