The team at Housing Insight has just rolled out a third iteration of RentsConnect, the arrears management module within PanConnect. Offering a completely new way of working, the changes to RentsConnect have created standout advantages for organisations seeking to address rent arrears.
RentsConnect began as a basic solution designed to help new customers who approached Housing Insight because their existing rent arrears recovery system wasn’t fit for purpose. When it came to releasing v2, we wanted to deliver above and beyond what was already on the market so we asked customers for detailed feedback about what they needed. We translated their responses into focused algorithms and other functionalities.
A different mindset
RentsConnect v3 is a game-changer. We realised that while it’s useful to sit down with CEOs and heads of services who certainly appreciate the money-saving potential of our products, it was even more valuable to listen closely to the grassroots end-users.
Our original goal was to iron out some implementation niggles but it quickly became clear that we could make upgrades which would have a transformative effect on how housing officers manage their entire arrears processes. The changes we’ve now made will make a positive difference to a lot of organisations (and the best part is that all upgrades are free for existing customers).
The latest version of RentsConnect helps staff on the ground to work better. It doesn’t just facilitate efficiencies in collecting arrears but, significantly, it offers an intelligent filter which generates a real-time priority list that we believe is more accurate than anything else on the market.
Most arrears tools have a monetary threshold below which they don’t recognise debt as being problematic. However, our view is that early interventions have never been more important; any and all debt needs to be addressed straight away.
Vulnerable residents can be overlooked if the intervention threshold is set too high. Debt can quickly spiral and if a resident is relying on wishful thinking to get themselves back on track, they may choose not to get in touch with their landlord at this stage. Early interventions are vital in limiting the level of accrued debt, and while we recognise that some arrears will never be repaid, our system also allows residents to repay what they can afford right now, from as little as £1 per week, which gives them dignity and a sense of ownership over the debt.
An intelligent filter
However, simply removing the arrears threshold wouldn’t be particularly helpful if it resulted in additional cases being added to the workload of already hard-pressed housing officers. That’s why we’ve created an intelligent filter in RentsConnect that uses the data an organisation holds in its back-office system to predict the financial behaviour of its residents, determining how and why they get into arrears. Using this filter, which relies on our in-house formulae and algorithms, housing providers can now generate what we believe to be the most effective priority arrears caseloads available in the sector today.
We use a series of lifestyle indicators to trigger early-intervention home visits, and these may even happen before the first rent payment is missed. And because our priority lists are updated in real time, housing officers can be sure that their overall task lists are not only shorter but that they also reflect the most urgent cases, every day of the week.
A further benefit of liaising direct with our end-users when developing RentsConnect v3 has been screen simplification. When additional functionality is added to a system over time, it typically adds extra layers to the navigation process.
We’ve worked hard to retain all of the original system’s benefits and add new ones, while also reverting to a three-click scenario that makes life as easy as possible for our end-users – for example, if a housing officer has 15 visits on their list for the day but they have advance knowledge that one of these residents is going to pay their rent, we wanted to make it easy for them to update the system without having to complete a lengthy process.
And, as part of our listening process, we replaced some of the language in RentsConnect with non-technical words that more closely reflect the terminology used by the housing officers themselves during their visits.
Despite this drive for simplification, we were also able to add much more data to the system, taking the functionality far beyond a report or reconciliation of accounts. Our RentsConnect analytics engine integrates fully with an organisation’s housing management system; the user-friendly graphical interface is now searchable by organisation, patch, street and individual property, for any user who wants to view charges, payments and true arrears.
All RentsConnect customers automatically benefit from the improvements we’ve made in v3. Upgrades are always included in the annual fee for our products, so there are no hidden charges. As a small company, it’s easier for us if everyone operates using the latest version; we can minimise the number of support tickets that arise, which allows us to focus our energies on developing new products and features.
Gary Naylor, chief executive, Thenue Housing, said, “The feedback from staff has been great. They are embracing the change, and the ease of accessing and updating accounts. We made the decision to choose RentsConnect because it completely integrated with our back-office systems, reducing duplication and increasing our efficiency. RentsConnect makes it easy for our staff to access the full information they need to carry out their roles, whether they are on-site, at home or in the office.”
A genuine collaboration
We’re delighted that RentsConnect v3 has already made such a difference for staff on the ground. Our customers own the project as much as we do because it’s their feedback that has enabled us to evolve, using a process that’s robust yet rapid. RentsConnect is like having an extra staff member on your team; it’s digital technology but with a human mindset.
Katrina Heyworth is the head of sales, and Ann Foy is the business development manager at Housing Insight.