In the age of austerity, housing associations, their employees and their tenants are becoming increasingly affected by the lack of budget and recently introduced legislation such as the Welfare Reform and Work Act, Universal Credit which is replacing six benefits and condensing them into one monthly payment, and the move from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The most critical issue comes from the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, whereby registered providers of social housing must reduce rent prices by 1% each year with a requirement of a 4% reduction by 2019. This deadline is approaching rapidly, however with central funding freezes and raising rents out of the question, housing associations are left to fend for themselves when it comes to saving costs elsewhere.
With over 1,500 housing associations currently operating in the UK, funding is definitely overstretched. The key to the vital cost cuttings however, may be utilising cost effective technologies that help to empower tenants and create more time and resource for housing associations to carry out further crucial works.
When we refer to ‘empowering tenants’, we mean providing them with a self-service platform to help them take any issues that arise into their own hands. We list five ways in which digital can be made more personal in the housing sector:
1 – UNDERSTAND COMMUNITY
In a bid to use digital transformation to affect change among housing association tenants, research into understanding this community as a whole is essential. Housing associations cater to a very diverse audience, from children leaving care and the elderly to destitute and vulnerable tenants and beyond, so it’s important that you have an understanding of each demographic to tailor your services accordingly. Some tenants may be digitally well-versed, whereas others may not know how to use the internet or have access to it at all.
2 – VALUE CO-CREATION
Value co-creation is so important within the housing sector and among housing associations as they deal with some of the most vulnerable people in society. Inviting these vulnerable groups to help you in the quest to reach a mutually beneficial outcome is likely to save costs as tenants are more likely to make an active effort to meet payments on time, report necessary repairs and take care of properties if they feel valued. Therefore, this equates to less damages, less arrears and debt-chasing, and happier tenants.
3 – DATA AND ANALYTICS
Even though housing associations hold an extensive range of personal details about their tenants, data and analytics can’t be used and monetised in the same way that private companies may leverage them. However, this doesn’t make the database redundant when it comes to cost saving and catering to the needs of the tenants to provide a more personal experience. Housing associations can tap into this data to inform the next steps in their journey to digital transformation by using it to plan projects and purchasing. For example, this data could be used to determine when a tenant last received a repair, to pre-empt when this may next be due again.
4 – MULTI-FUNCTIONAL APP
Creating an intelligent, intuitive and innovative self-service hub that integrates with the technology tenants use everyday, where they can take care of every element of their housing situation in one platform, can help streamline operations and ultimately, keep the end-user happy by putting them in charge.
Repair Reporting / Appointment Scheduling
Implement a system into the app whereby tenants are able to report repairs, broken down by category, room and even the piece of inventory that isn’t functioning to make it as simple as possible for the end-user to get the message that repair is needed across to you. This can help save problems becoming more expensive as they worsen over time if tenants aren’t able to easily communicate a problem.
The system could also include tracking, whereby the end-user is able to see in real-time how their report is progressing, when the problem will be fixed and how and be informed when the necessary work has been carried out.
Putting in place a function where tenants can schedule repair appointments is also a great way to avoid contractors turning up and being unable to gain access to the property. This saves on the overhead cost of paying the contractor for their time more than once.
With the aforementioned changes in benefits, housing benefit recipients now receive their housing payments straight into their bank accounts instead of this being paid directly to the housing association. This puts tenants in control of their money, but also means they’re able to miss or avoid payment far more easily. Creating an accessible, user-friendly experience where tenants can easily pay their rent may result in a dramatic decrease in late or non-payment of rent, meaning you won’t have to foot the bill.
Provide useful documents in one place in an easy-to-read format, demonstrating advice and requirements to tenants. For example, make information on the things they need to receive permission for easy to access, such as decorating, pets, making any alterations to the property and so on and allow them to request this permission and track the progress of their request in the same platform. This will help to avoid tenants undertaking these kinds of activities without being aware they first need to ask if it is possible to do so. This will save on costly revertions later down the line to return the property to its original state.
A system where tenants can log complaints easily to help resolve any conflicts as quickly and efficiently as possible can be implemented into an app. This will help to avoid concerns escalating, keeping the end-user assured in the knowledge that the problem they are experiencing is going to be dealt with in a timely manner. This is an effective use of technology to help tenants feel valued.
5 – MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS
Once you have this intuitive technology in place, raising awareness of it across your client base is important to ensure that these systems are taken advantage of. Without marketing and promotion to support the newly implemented technology, it’s likely that your efforts to cut costs may be a slow process. Ensure that you use the data at your disposal and segment it by communication preference to ensure your message reaches your audience in the most effective way.
By providing a user-friendly, accessible platform where tenants are able to easily manage their living situation and promoting it widely, investing in technology can see great savings made in the long-term.
While digital transformation has been a priority for some time across a host of other industries, the housing sector seems to have been somewhat left behind. Now is the time that it needs to catch up in the race to deliver savings and provide better services to tenants. Need help with the shift to digital? We’re here to help, get in touch with us today.