Mobysoft’s MobileLogic text-messaging system is being used by A2Dominion as part of its strategy to reduce problems with rent arrears among residents in its 30,000 properties in London and Southern England.
For many housing providers, using first-generation text messaging to solve common problems is nothing new, particularly for outbound reminders to tenants about relatively straightforward areas such as maintenance and repairs appointments. However, more complex problems require second-generation, database-driven text-messaging systems.
As A2Dominion had found before it turned to Mobysoft, one such problem area is rent arrears. Although the problem seems simple, the challenge is ensuring that the software can intelligently recognise the complexity of a tenant’s payment situation. For example, it needs to automatically distinguish between people paying by housing benefit or part housing benefit, people paying monthly by direct debit or standing order, and failed direct debits or failed arrangements. Getting this right is vitally important as housing associations need to know that the correct tenants are receiving the right information at the right time. Getting it wrong is not only irritating for the tenant, but also counterproductive as it creates new customer service issues for the housing provider.
Dawn Wightman, assistant director of housing, A2Dominion, said, “Increasing income collection at A2Dominion is a high priority. It is all about updating the way we communicate, making our tenants aware of arrears as quickly as possible, and then getting the right advice to them sooner rather than later.”
The Mobysoft system, which went live last December, enables A2Dominion to automatically send text messages to tenants as soon as the system recognises that an account is in arrears. Statistics show that one-third of rent arrears fall within the low-level category (i.e. the early stages of debt), and a timely text message can either simply remind the tenant to pay or, just as importantly, to seek assistance before debt problems escalate.
Wightman added, “If a text message sent early is enough to solve many low-level arrears, then it allows our staff to concentrate on harder-to-reach reach tenants and the more complex cases. Wherever possible, we want to keep arrears cases out of court.” However, if arrears in an individual case eventually escalate to the point of legal proceedings, MobileLogic helps to prove a case of ‘early intervention’ and provides other supporting evidence, such as when text messages were sent and delivered.
Wightman said, “The advent of the credit crunch and the recession is a cause for concern. As people struggle to make ends meet, we may see an increase in the number of accounts entering arrears. And although this was not introduced as a specific ‘credit crunch’ solution, this is a very pertinent time to be introducing proactive measures for rent arrears, rather than simply sitting and waiting for problems.”
A2Dominion has further plans to extend the use of its Mobysoft system for intelligent text messaging. Wightman concluded, “We will certainly be looking at introducing new solutions. In particular, we are investigating how texts can be used to help residents deal with anti-social behaviour as it’s an obvious and effective way of reaching people and socially inclusive.”