Non-executive directors: what you need to know before joining a housing association board

NEDonBoard has recently analysed data and insights gained from our jobs board to assess the opportunities available to join the board of a social housing provider as a non-executive director (NED).

What is a housing association?

Housing associations offer housing to people on a low income or who need extra support. They are also known as registered social landlords or private registered providers of social housing. They own, let, manage, acquire, build and maintain housing. The most recent list of registered providers, available on the website, includes over 1,600 entities in England. Housing associations:

  • Are not-for-profit organisations, although they may have for-profit operations and commercial activities, such as property development.
  • Own property, so typically have large balance-sheets.
  • Reinvest their profits to build more affordable housing.
  • Vary widely in terms of size, complexity, type of property owned, objectives, services offered and quality of services provided.

Why do housing associations have independent NEDs?

Housing associations are regulated by the Regulator of Social Housing (formerly the Homes and Community Agency). Elsewhere in the UK, the function is performed by the Scottish Housing Regulator, The Department for Communities (Northern Ireland) and the Welsh Government’s housing regulation team.

Providers follow a code of governance, typically the UK Corporate Governance Code or the National Housing Federation’s Code of Governance. They are required to have a board and solid governance arrangements in place. The Regulator of Social Housing publishes governance and viability assessments every year.

Key characteristics of the NED role in the social housing sector

Time commitment. Typically, from one to four days per month, depending on the size and complexity of the organisation and the role (board chair, committee chair or NED).

Remuneration. Roles with small providers may not be remunerated but most are paid. NEDs can expect between £2,000 to £15,000. The range for board chair is wider, from £3,000 to £30,000.

“Board roles with housing associations can be quite complex, encompassing regulation, finance, IT, governance, long term strategy and property development, all allied with a strong social purpose as their operating ethos. There is a broad range of housing associations, so due diligence and familiarising yourself with the sector are essential to securing a role.”

Cynthia Alers, Director of Investor Relations, Board Director and Audit Committee Chair.

What skills are housing associations looking for?

Data from the NEDonBoard jobs board shows that the following skills are desirable:

  • Strategic leadership.
  • Risk and finance.
  • ESG / sustainability.
  • Stakeholder engagement and customer service.
  • Transformation and organisational change.
  • Technology and digital.
  • Governance.
  • Regulations.
  • Sector expertise, such as health and social care, property development, asset management and health and safety.

Housing associations also look for board members that have a passion for the sector and connections with the local communities that they serve. Being a local resident will support your application.

“As with any sector, there are specific challenges and nuances for board members of housing associations to get their heads around such as building safety, improving customers’ experience and the net zero agenda. Board members from outside the sector can be a valuable addition by bringing different experiences and perspectives, helping organisations to address these challenges.”

Mandy Clarke, Global HR & Transformation Consultant, Chief People Officer, Board Director and RemNoms Chair.

Diversity and inclusion

Diversity is central to the appointment of NEDs on the board of housing associations. Most vacancies advertised through the NEDonBoard jobs board include diversity and inclusion wording such as:

“We are particularly interested to hear from groups currently under-represented at board level (for example with respect to ethnicity, younger ages, disability, LGBTQ+ and those living in areas of low social mobility).”

It is worth noting that prior NED experience or a knowledge of the housing sector are typically not required (except for the chair role). Housing associations welcome applications from first-time NEDs.

Want to learn more?

Join us on 25 January 2022, when you will hear from two NEDs with extensive experience in the sector: Mandy Clarke and Mike McDermott. The conversation will be chaired by Cynthia Alers.

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