Managing and assigning social housing has always been a socially- and politically-charged task. BancTec’s Simon Stackhouse argues that continued money saving by housing providers, combined with new government policies and lengthy waiting times have meant an effective management system is critical to communicate with tenants.
Problems with housing complaints procedures have been well noted in the national media in recent years. Cuts to public services have resulted in streamlining, which when combined with new policies such as the bedroom tax have resulted in confusion among tenants.
Complaints tend to skyrocket whenever the country is lashed by severe weather, such as the recent flooding experienced as we were hit by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, again highlighting failures to repair housing.
No matter what policy the government chooses to take on housing, tenants will always need to get in touch with their housing provider and there will always be a base level of complaints. Strong communications between housing providers and their tenants is therefore critical and a case management system is a good solution.
The issue within many housing providers is not necessarily the result of a lack of resources, rather, confused communication and customer complaints procedures.
Case management allows the collaborative management of tenant information, from multiple sources, making data available whenever and wherever it is needed, ensuring complaints procedures, decision-making and communications are focused on the individual.
The UK’s growing population has created pressure on housing, resulting in the government implementing policies such as the bedroom tax. Received with a mixed reception, the bedroom tax aims to encourage tenants to live in properties more suitable to the size of their household. Curbing the benefits of those with a bedroom deemed to be ‘spare’ has simply created confusion among tenants. In some areas of the UK, the bedroom tax is the most complained about issue, with thousands of tenants being affected by it. The increased level of complaints has in turn resulted in a rise in the workload of housing providers and local councils, who have been left to determine if an individual house has a spare bedroom and is liable to the tax, and therefore deal with the complaints.
With housing regularly a key area for government legislation, effective management of tenants’ needs through changing policy is essential to making them feel secure and happy.
While the majority of housing complaints and communications are made over the telephone, many tenants prefer email, letters or, increasingly, social media to get in touch or vent their frustrations. The problem arises when, within most housing providers, the multiple channels through which tenants communicate are totally separate. In order to efficiently manage complaints, it is critical for communications to be centralised.
Severe time delays in dealing with essential complaints demonstrates a failure by many housing providers to suitably deal with and manage customer communication. These providers might argue that delays in responding to tenants are simply a result of not enough time and not because they are choosing to ignore their tenants, merely that they are unable to deal with them fast enough, but the result is tenants often going straight to the housing ombudsman with their complaint.
This can be very easily solved, with time saved and productivity increased through the adoption of a case management system. Rather than dealing with the same complaint many times, housing providers and councils can see when a tenant has complained more than once and are then able to prioritise those people.
A case management system would allow housing providers to hold a case profile of every tenant, complete with all of the contact they have ever had, from every single access point. Whenever a tenant gets in contact, the communications will be documented within an individual case file, meaning whichever access point they use, the member of staff receiving the complaint will be able to track and examine the full case history rather than starting from square one.
The assigning of new housing and the management of waiting lists is arguably one of the most controversial aspects of housing policy. Prospective tenants are regularly frustrated by waiting times for housing, often being left in unsuitable accommodation for too long.
Having an overview of a tenant’s case history can significantly help with this stressful process, making the decision making easier and less disruptive. For example, having access to details on areas such as anti-social behaviour or issues a tenant has complained about in the past (such as noise), and a clear profile of the individual will mean the organisation is much better equipped to suitably house them.
For example, someone whose case history shows that they have had noise complaints previously directed at them or have regularly complained about noise can therefore be housed outside high-rise residences or shared accommodations.
Case management provides housing providers with the ability to prioritise, seeing key flashpoint areas for concerns and placing all communications in one space. No longer will staff be forced to ask, ‘do you know who you spoke to before?’ or ‘can you explain the issue to me again?’
Case management gives housing providers the opportunity to overturn the stereotypical label that they are slow to respond and unhelpful. With increased pressure on housing, and more and more people requiring it, communications procedures must be effectively managed.
Simon Stackhouse is the business development manager at BancTec.