Strata Hub(bub)…

Strata Hub

If you’re a strata manager and want to get your heart rate up without visiting the gym, I have two words for you: “Strata Hub”!

Much as I personally find it fascinating, I won’t discuss the rationale behind the Strata Hub and how it has evolved over time in this post – that’s really a discussion for another day.

However, I do want to quickly (or at least, as quickly as possible!) talk about some of the challenges when preparing data for and sending it to the Strata Hub.

I’ll only mention in passing the fact the Strata Hub went live on 1 July 2022 with a promise of bulk upload templates to be available by August/September while noting that, in fact, the upload templates were finalised and available for download on 15 December, only a few working days before most strata firms closed for the year.

I’ll barely even acknowledge the fact plans and managers were told to upload their data by 30 September or face fines, which was then extended to 31 December 2022…which then changed again over time to 30 June 2023 with a very watered-down statement that “fines may apply” after that date (my emphasis).

Is it even worth mentioning the bulk upload files were not insignificantly changed from their draft versions, while the data definition documentation was not updated to reflect those changes? Probably not.

Should anyone have expected instructions that upload files only needed to “match” the format defined in the upload templates actually meant anything but that the data had to be copied into the provided Excel templates or the uploads would fail? Such naiveté!

And shouldn’t strata managers understand that phone numbers must start with “02” or “04” to be valid phone numbers for contacts in strata schemes in NSW?! Sorry, schemes with cross-border contacts and “1300” number-bearing strata management and building management companies: those numbers aren’t valid.

And, of course, everyone expected that contacts couldn’t undertake more than one role, surely?! Strata managers as Chair and/or Secretary? Impossible!

Lot count discrepancies between LRS’ data and what strata managers have on record? A minor irritation “easily” sorted by getting the OC to resolve to update LRS.

Undefined limits (say, $1B in insurance building replacement values) couldn’t possibly be due to inadequate planning in relation to future needs of the relevant data fields…could they?

And it goes without saying that such undefined limits would prevent the uploading of the file without explaining why the upload failed (literally – the upload process doesn’t say).

And let’s not quibble about the 20 or so clicks required to verify authority to provide information and acknowledge privacy consents for uploaded details and download invoices and generate BPAY details. For every scheme uploaded. Every year. Group acknowledgements? Pah!

Surely using time-sensitive BPAY details which aren’t included on invoices is only a problem for Accounts, not strata managers…right?

And don’t forget, the initial upload has to be for the 2022 year, and any AGMs held subsequent to 31 December 2023 will trigger the 2023 annual update (and Government per Lot fee), but I’m sure Committees will understand the “double” billing from the Government and for Schedule Bs.

And for a little extra spice on that one, if a new plan has not yet held an AGM, or only held their First AGM in 2023, they won’t be able to be placed on the Strata Hub as there’s no exclusion for this situation available to be applied.

There’s no doubt API access would make providing data more straightforward, but many of the above issues are underlying data definition and process issues which the method of data provision doesn’t change. Additionally, if a file-based bulk upload facility is provided, surely it should be more straightforward than the above.

Then there are the many questions outstanding, not the least of which include:

  • Will the data trigger compliance action by Fair Trading and/or Councils? Think “buildings not currently required to prepare AFSS’s”, or “schemes which have not held an AGM as required”.
  • How will the Government confirm identity of those seeking access to a scheme’s data (owners and tenants), and how will their data sources align to the Strata Rolls we maintain as strata managers and which we have stringent legislative and privacy requirements on access to?
  • How will other community-ownership and management regimes (BMCs, Community, Neighbourhood and Precinct Associations, and Company Title) be incorporated in a way which is consistent given the wildly varying natures of those regimes?

The Strata Hub is obviously a work in progress, the scope has clearly grown significantly since its inception (and will continue to grow), and quite a few design decisions were clearly not thought through from the perspective of day-to-day strata management operations.

On top of this, issues around privacy and access were sometimes dismissed (before some level of accommodation), and in some respects are still to be resolved (for example, tenant access to Committee member contact details).

COVID-19 has seen some important and overdue changes in strata (increased prevalence of electronic meetings and document signing), and some challenges, of which I definitely consider the implementation of Strata Hub and compliance with its requirements examples of.

How strata companies react to these changes at a systems level will define how well they will be able to continue to service the needs of their clients in an ever more complicated market.

And I’m honestly not entirely sure the market considers increasing complications such as these as valid triggers for a sensible approach to strata management fees…but that’s yet another discussion for another day.

Author: Sean McNamara, Strata geek, IT geek.