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DLO Consultancy Services


Written by Chris Turner


May 12, 2024

What is a DLO?

By DLO, we mean a housing association, or a Council, who employs their own maintenance team. It’s a ‘direct labour organisation’ (DLO). They directly deliver some construction works or maintenance services. Rather than outsourcing repairs, communal cleaning, grounds maintenance, winter services and pest control, for example, to external contractors; they delivery these services themselves, in-sourced, with their own team.

Why the Growth in DLOs?

Housing associations find themselves grappling with escalating costs, rental caps, alongside further scrutiny to achieve value for money and transparency requirements with their service charges. Therefore effective management of external costs via procurement and contract management, alongside internal expenditure review and efficiencies, has never been so important.

These challenges have cast a spotlight on the role of maintenance services, prompting the sector to seek innovative strategies to optimise efficiency, enhance customer satisfaction, and ultimately, drive performance improvements.

DLO Challenges?

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Data-Driven Decision Making

Before making changes, it is crucial to establish a comprehensive understanding of your organisation's current maintenance services. A critical examination of factual data, a structured, independent assessment can provide invaluable insights, enabling you to evaluate the alignment between your maintenance service and your residents' expectations, identify areas for improvement highlighted by our estate services audits, and gauge the effectiveness of existing service improvement plans.

Benchmarking exercises, considering the importance of quality and your organisations goals and challenges. Conducting a structured, independent health check can unveil blind spots, equipping you with a holistic perspective and empowering you to make informed strategic decisions.

To transform your estate services requires a structured, phased approach that drives effective stakeholder engagement, builds organisational capacity, and communicates a shared understanding and buy-in of the vision.

When improving your estate services solution what do you need to consider? A structured process can ensure you collate the required data and benefit from its collation:

  • Engage stakeholders across all levels
  • Conduct a thorough review of your existing estate services, identifying strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement
  • Recommendations and costed options appraisals. This can include the financial, compliance and satisfaction impact of your decisions to optimise your service. Beyond this it can include outsourcing areas to external contractors, prioritising and re-procuring services, establishing a new DLO, or growing an existing DLO, TUPE implications, joint venture, partnering opportunities and hybrid models
  • Conduct a comprehensive risk and opportunity assessment for each viable option, considering factors such as organisational appetite, resident preferences and expectations, staff readiness, board alignment, culture, capacity, skills, expertise, investment requirements, and long-term planning
  • Develop an overarching plan for your estate services, and maintenance teams, aligning it with your goals, objectives, visions and values
  • Secure support, approval, and investment from key decision-makers to ensure buy-in and commitment to the transformation process
  • Develop a detailed business plan for your preferred option, outlining the strategic roadmap, resource allocation, and performance metrics
  • Develop a robust implementation plan, complete with project governance structures, communication strategies, and collaborative frameworks
  • Regularly assess performance against the implementation plan, making data-driven adjustments as needed
  • Identify areas that require ongoing improvement, and establish clear objectives, timelines, and action plans
  • Develop a culture of responsibility and continuous improvement, empowering staff to identify and address inefficiencies proactively
  • Ensuring health and safety checks to ensure alignment with evolving regulatory requirements and industry best practices
  • Implement a comprehensive service improvement plan, incorporating feedback from customers and partners
  • Measure, learn, and apply insights gained from performance data to drive continuous optimisation.

At Thornton & Lowe we can support, guide or lead this transformation of your estate services. Contact us to discuss your requirement and current plans.


Considering a move to insourcing and forming a new DLO?

The establishment of a DLO presents a opportunity for social housing providers to enhance service delivery, improve customer-centricity, satisfaction and realise cost savings if managed effectively. By employing an in-house maintenance workforce, housing associations can benefit from a range of advantages, including:

  • Cultivate a customer-focused service ethos, prioritising resident satisfaction and responsiveness. Your culture extending to your maintenance team and making an impact.
  • You will be your only customer, or certainly in the early days, so no competing priorities of numerous clients, which contractors have to manage
  • Eliminate the need for frequent re-tendering processes, reducing associated costs and disruptions
  • Capitalise on the associated tax benefits
  • Gain transparency and control through true open-book accounting practices, minimising the impact of profit margins and contractors' central overheads
  • Demonstrate tangible value for money by optimising resource allocation and minimising waste.

While the benefits of establishing a DLO are compelling, it is important to conduct an assessment to ensure organisational readiness. This assessment should evaluate factors such as stakeholder appetite, resident preferences, staff readiness, board alignment, organisational culture, capacity, skills, expertise, investment requirements, and the existence of a detailed business and risk mitigation plan.

Estate Services Audit?

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DLO Consultancy Services

Our consultancy services encompass a wide range of support offerings tailored to the unique needs of social housing DLOs, or those providers who want to develop a new maintenance team (in-house). Whether you require assistance with a specific project or seek a fresh perspective to review and revitalise your operations, our team of experts is poised to collaborate with you.

We can collaborate with your project team in an advisory capacity or take a hands-on approach, working alongside your team to realise your vision. Our implementation support includes:

  • DLO readiness assessment
  • Risk management and mitigation planning
  • Implementation planning and project management
  • Solution design and business process optimisation
  • Data preparation and configuration
  • Communication, training and engagement
  • Go-live support, reviews, and advisory services on an ongoing basis.

At a practical level, this means we can help you weigh up the pros and cons of establishing a DLO, support or lead its implementation.

For those organisations with an existing DLO, an existing insourced estate services team, we can help you streamline efficiency, reduce costs, strengthen output, and enhance management control. This starts with our estate services audit.

Our consultancy service extend to working with housing associations with existing DLOs advising and supporting them to grow their service, bid for tenders, win contracts and create a sustainable commercial projects.

What commercial activities do Housing Associations offer?

Housing associations have many opportunities for diversification and commercial growth.

These include:

Property managementCommercial meeting spaceTenancy management
Letting agentConference facilitiesReal estate services
Housing management servicesSelling 'central services'Establishing a DLO

Promoting and growing your DLO as a route for income generation may include:

Architectural designConstruction and housing Commercial development projects
Civil engineeringProject managementProfessional services
RepairsEstate servicesHandyman service
Grounds maintenanceCleaningPest control
Waste managementBulky waste collectionsWinter services

In addition, to these core property and construction opportunities, health and social care opportunities are significant area for many in the social housing sector. Offering services to other social housing providers, schools and the wider public sector, such as:

TelecareSupported housingExtra care
Supported livingSheltered housing supportResidential care
Nursing and home careHomeless outreachDrug and alcohol support
Mental health support Older people independent livingYoung person’s housing support
Learning disability supported accommodationDomestic abuse accommodationCommunity support services

Many housing associations also ‘sell’ their high performing ‘central services’, allowing them to grow a sustainable avenue for income across professional services. Bidding and securing new contracts across:

Environmental consultancyMarketingLetting agent
ResearchEmployment supportAudits

To discuss your opportunities for growth, development and service improvement, contact us on

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Social Housing Consultancy Services

Social Housing: Social Enterprise

In addition, to this we see successful housing association creating and supporting social enterprises which further support their communities in which they operate. These social enterprises offer a wide range of commercial services, which can efficiently deliver elements of providers requirements, such as:

  • Satisfaction surveys
  • Marketing, design, PR, Comms, video production
  • Bulky waste collections
  • Recycling furniture
  • Grounds maintenance, landscaping and tree works
  • Debt management
  • Home energy advice
  • Research. / 01204 238046

Speak to Commercially Focused Social Housing Experts!

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