How Technology Can Help Us Tackle Challenges In The Social Housing Sector
With over 5 million families in social housing in the UK, the development of technology for this sector has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of people from all walks of life. At KOMODO, we have worked with social housing providers and associated businesses for years to build and deliver digital products that make a real difference to landlords and tenants alike.
When it comes to developing technology to tackle a specific challenge in the social housing sector, there are a number of factors to consider, including a budget, stakeholders the accessibility of technology to end-users. Of course, we should always aim to develop technology with the end-user in mind, but this becomes even more pertinent in the social housing sector.
Challenges facing the social housing sector
Understanding the challenges facing social housing organisations and their tenants is our first step towards building something that not only meets the user’s needs but also exceeds their expectations, elevating the provider above others in the market.
Supply vs. demand
Greater demand for social housing has brought with it a growing pressure on the sector to accommodate hundreds of thousands of families across the UK. In fact, England alone needs about 145,000 new social homes every year, compared to the 6,000 that were actually built in 2018.
While these issues require an industry-wide shift, political support and significant funding proposals, there are still many ways in which technology can support the providers with growing demand.
One solution is the introduction of Self Service platforms, such as this one we developed for Orchard, that allows tenants to communicate with landlords quickly and easily via desktop, tablet or smartphone.
This tool gives tenants the power to carry out simple tasks that would previously require a phone call, thus improving the tenant’s customer experience and saving time and money for the housing provider at hand.
Returning to our user’s needs, we must recognise the importance of digital inclusion when discussing technology for the social housing sector. There are still more than five million people in the UK who don’t use the internet, nearly 80% of whom are over the age of 65. And it’s not just the older generation who are not logging on - over 23% of those five million are disabled.
In our increasingly digital world, it’s no wonder that those without basic digital skills are feeling left behind and less likely to get the same opportunities as those who are connected. As social housing accommodates for millions of the country’s poorest families, we cannot develop technology for this sector without recognising digital inclusion.
So, while Self Service platform’s like Orchard’s are a fantastic way to channel a large proportion of phone calls to simple in-app communications, the social housing sector must dedicate time and money into improving offline solutions that support these so-often forgotten people.
Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) is tackling digital inclusion issues head-on with its GoMobile solution. Every housing officer is equipped with an iPad and training to use a series of apps that they log into when sitting a customer in their home. They can tap into the tenant’s rent account, use the Universal Credit calculator and signpost them to a variety of local help and advice services. So, even if a customer does not have a smartphone, tablet or computer, they can still benefit from the empowerment and efficiency of digital technology.
In a similar vein to digital inclusion, accessibility is an unavoidable topic when discussing technology in any industry, not just social housing, and for good reason. This could be as simple as providing an in-browser solution for those who do not have a smartphone and may access a platform for a personal or shared desktop device instead.
Technology should also be accessible to people with disabilities, including hearing problems, sight loss, reduced motor skills, learning difficulties and many more. Accommodating for everyone may seem like a daunting task, but it’s vital that we, as technology providers, put the time and energy into developing solutions that meet all user needs, where possible, and not just the privileged majority.
And while sometimes you may require a custom solution to your software to ensure accessibility, there are many amazing out-of-the-box platforms that will dramatically improve your tool’s usability. Microsoft provides a wealth of detail about how to ensure your website is keyboard accessible, and all common CMS allow you to add Alt Text to images for those visiting your website using screen-reading technology.
As long as you are creating technology with your end-users in mind, you shouldn’t have any problems when it comes to digital inclusion and accessibility. If it all seems a little daunting, give us a shout.
A problem facing the entire human race, we couldn’t write this article and not discuss climate change. With the right technology and infrastructure, there is a huge opportunity to rollout solutions that improve the environmental impact of social housing. Over the last five years, we’ve seen thousands of social homes benefit from solar power, which takes leaps toward reducing carbon emissions, while also making an attempt at tackling fuel poverty.
However, the sector has a long way to go to ensure that the roll-out of environmentally-friendly technology, like solar panels and smart monitors, meets the needs and demands of those living in social housing. Not only from a digital inclusion and accessibility standpoint but also from a financial one.
It is our role as software engineers to identify the big problems facing notoriously underfunded industries like social housing. We strive to develop solutions that not only drive commercial growth for the providers but meet the needs of as many users as possible.
Whether that’s by providing communications platforms like Orchard’s Self-Service, or improving existing digital infrastructure like Orchard’s income analytics tool that aims to foresee and prevent rent arrears for thousands of tenants nationwide.
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