One of the characteristics of social housing tenants is that they are more likely to be financially deprived than the general population. This means that tenants are more likely to struggle to buy computers and get connected to the internet – they are part of the ‘digitally excluded’ that the Government is trying to help following the publication earlier this year of its ‘Digital Britain’ report.
The appointment of Martha Lane-Fox as the first ‘digital inclusion champion’ is a step in the right direction, with a brief to get six million people online in the next two years.
But what should housing associations be doing to support digitally-excluded tenants? The provision of techhnology to tenants is very rarely on the agenda of IT and finance directors, but perhaps it should be, in conjunction with the tenant services department. There are good examples of IT departments helping tenants, such as Solihull Community Housing’s delivery of broadband access to its tenants via internet-over-powerline and Orwell Housing’s provision of grants for computers and internet access for low-income families.
Housing Technology believes there is scope for technology suppliers to work with housing providers to develop innovative, low-cost packages tailored to the needs of tenants while also meeting the technology suppliers’ commercial and CSR objectives. This has worked for utility services such as heat, light and power, so why not technology?
This would also help housing providers; the cost savings and efficiencies of their web and email customer communications channels would be much greater if more of their tenants actually had the means to use those channels.