2013 is the year when benefit payments will be made online. For many housing associations in the UK, this will create challenges around how their tenants access this money and use it to pay their rents.
But this also presents an opportunity to get tenants using the internet now to not only pay bills but also access valuable learning resources, benefit from online savings, job hunt and much more.
For housing associations, it’s about how the internet can make communication and rent payments easier, helping to protect revenues and hold down operating costs.
But with pressure on budgets and resources, housing associations will need a partner to help them both supply and support the roll-out of broadband if they (and their tenants) are to truly benefit from it.
Internet access encourages positive change
In response to this, BT has developed a Digital Inclusion solution that enables housing associations to supply each household with a broadband connection that’s fully installed and managed.
Humphrey Penney, director of custom solutions, BT Business, said, “We have seen how millions of households in the UK now regard broadband access much as they do gas or electricity – it’s a necessity.
“We want every household in the UK to regard broadband in the same way, no matter what type of housing they live in. We’ve been working with organisations such as Citizens Online to get everyone confident using the Internet and now we want to go one step further and make sure they have the broadband in place to put that confidence to good use.”
The Digital Inclusion solution provides each household with:
- An internet connection and affordable computer or PDA (personal digital assistant – a handheld device giving internet access);
- Installation of the service so there’s no extra workload for housing associations’ internal teams;
- A helpdesk facility designed for the digitally excluded, helping to resolve any service or installation issues directly with the tenant.
Tenants can pay for their broadband monthly as part of their regular rent payment.
Helping close the digital divide
Penney recognises that housing associations will need support in rolling broadband out. He said, “We know that the biggest barrier for the tenant isn’t cost, it’s that they don’t fully understand the benefits it has to offer. As an example, tenants not online miss out on around £560 of online savings each year, that’s 3 per cent of their annual household spending.
“We can offer each housing association funding to help get all residents confident using the internet, no matter what their level of experience. And because we’ve rolled out broadband access to digitally-excluded groups before, housing associations know the solution is tried and tested.”
Keep rents coming in when payments move online
The benefits of the Digital Inclusion solution go beyond giving residents a better quality of life. Social housing providers could save more than £340 million per year (roughly £36 a head) by moving to more cost-effective ways of communicating (such as email or online chat) with their 9.5 million residents.
And with the move to paying benefit payments online by 2013, introducing broadband means your tenants can access their benefits, and can then pay their rent on time. One medium-sized UK housing association with a rental income of around £50 million estimates that it stands to lose around £5 million each year in unpaid rents as a result of this change.
Great service perceptions at a lower cost
Giving residents more control over how and when they make transactions (like paying rent) together with the near real-time experience of talking via the internet can make housing services appear more bespoke and personal.
Penney said, “By using a mix of online and offline service, social housing providers can also save costs too; general government figures show that each contact or transaction switched to online away from telephone or postal contact generates savings of between £3.30 and £12.”
Closing the digital divide – five points to consider
- Get your tenants involved before you roll it out – explain why you’re introducing broadband and why it’s of value to them so that they don’t feel it’s something that’s been forced on them. Giving your residents an opportunity to ask questions up-front may help with a smooth implementation. Use events such as residents meetings to get key people on side. Can you recruit some advocates in your community to drive take-up?
- Consider a trial – you might want to consider whether or not you roll out fully. A trial could allow you to measure levels of take-up – who takes it up and why? But also just as important, why potentially are they not taking it up?
- Talk to other organisations to share learnings – for example Citizens Online can advise on the work that it’s been doing to get people across the UK online. If you’re talking to service providers (see the next point), ask them to provide examples of where they’ve worked with other housing associations.
- Assess the impact on your own resources – you will need to consider not only who will install the service but who will then manage and support it. That’s where you might want to consider using an IT service provider to manage this for you. But there’s also the factor of how you’ll need your own teams to drive and support the roll-out – again, it’s key to engage with your people early and to get them bought-in.
- Keeping talking to your tenants – once you’ve rolled it out, you’ll probably want to keep promoting it. That’s where your advocates can help as not every resident will want broadband from day one. Think about different avenues for talking about the service. Can any local businesses support you? Would incentives to use help – for example, exclusion online savings vouchers if you sign up by a set date?
A trusted partner to housing associations
BT has a wide-range of experience in working with housing associations. To find out more about this and BT’s Digital Inclusion solution, please contact Natasha Clough (head of innovation, BT Business) on +44 (0)7801 321 078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.