The only thing that is constant is change, so the saying goes. And nowhere is this more true today than the social housing sector. We all know what change I am referring to: started by the coalition and accelerated by the Conservative Government, the welfare reform agenda is dramatically altering the social housing landscape for both tenants and landlords alike.
This change is here, now. No longer can we plan for it or look at regional pilots to see how it might affect business models. It has been implemented and is now part of our everyday lives. Rents are being reduced, arrears are increasing and business plans are being torn up. The change is so profound that some organisations are questioning whether they can continue to successfully operate in the social rented sector.
So what does this mean for landlords and indeed for their suppliers? Two things are of utmost importance – information, and the ability to act on that information.
Tenants are under renewed pressure as benefits are cut. Family spending priorities are changing and basic necessities such as food and energy are being prioritised over rent. It is crucial that landlords can spot this happening early to intervene and offer support and guidance, as well as to minimise arrears. Importantly, it is not those tenants who have always had problems paying rent that landlords need to prioritise. Problem tenancies are well known to housing officers and management strategies will already be in place. Focus is now moving towards those who are on the margin: tenants who have always paid their rent, but who now will be pushed into a cycle of arrears. And no-one knows for sure how big this group are.
Trend analysis and predictive analytics can play a crucial role here. Being able to spot a vulnerable tenant before they go into arrears dramatically reduces the cost of managing the issue and can avert a catastrophic cycle that could end in homelessness. Predictive analytics is not new, however the application of this branch of science in the social housing sector is a recent phenomenon. The clues that are hidden in the large data sets that landlords hold, notwithstanding the implications of new EU data protection rules, could be vital to prevent a large rise in arrears cases. When this is combined with external data (energy usage, credit information etc.) identifying problems earlier will be far simpler.
However, information is only part of the solution and organisations must be able to act on the insights they uncover. A new breed of tools are required to enable housing officers to make quick decisions and effective interventions. Mobile is critical to this and being able to access rent account information, payment trends, risk flags at the same time being able to take a payment whilst in the community is a powerful tool. As well as helping to ensure landlord income levels remain robust, it also provides the information required for a higher rate of successful visit completion, and as a result increase customer satisfaction. Combining this with the ability to log a repair, report anti-social behaviour and complete surveys, all in the tenant’s front room, the commercial case for deployment becomes compelling.
Change is a constant. How you react to change makes the difference. Landlords are now in uncharted waters. They will only be able to find their way if they have the information and tools at their fingertips to help them. That is the supplier’s challenge.
John Hunt, Director
Want to hear more views on Universal Credit? Check out the blog by Annette Benson (Orchard Rents Modular Group Lead) discussing how the collective intelligence and experience of this group has gone beyond being ‘just about software enhancements’ to become a lifeline to many dealing with the challenges of Universal Credit: http://ow.ly/WDSR300kC0n