The importance of accurate and reliable data is, once again, a key message from the Regulator of Social Housing’s latest sector risk profile (SRP).
The focus for 2022 has shifted slightly. When it comes to data integrity, the RSH isn’t just looking for up-to-date information that gives assurance on stock safety or helps boards to retrofit homes, set rents or drive financial efficiencies.
Better data quality
This year, the SRP has greater emphasis on the role good quality data plays in meeting tenants’ needs and expectations. Put simply, the RSH wants housing providers to get better at using data to improve people’s lives. With effect from April next year, the RSH will require housing providers to report against a number of new tenant satisfaction measures (TSMs) around repairs, building safety, complaint handling, tenant engagement and responsible neighbourhood management.
Most housing providers and local authorities already collect large amounts of data on these areas but it’s often spread across different systems and formats, with numerous workarounds and resources needed to transform the data into meaningful reports.
As a consequence, the detailed data needed to measure tenant satisfaction is, in many cases, of dubious consistency and completeness. Its provenance and journey can be hard to track because not enough work has been done on quality control.
Do you trust your data?
This failure to maintain a clear, reliable data position can weaken board control and undermine decision-making. In light of new consumer regulation, it means that some housing providers can’t be sure they are dealing well with complaints, for example, or that they have responded to repair requests quickly.
But there is another piece of the tenant experience puzzle missing when data management is poor. Opportunities to meet the needs of residents and improve their wellbeing and health may be lost if a housing provider fails to either maintain the integrity of its data or to harness its potential.
A recurring theme from the 2021 social care reform white paper was the need to ensure that ‘every decision about care is a decision about housing’. The link between home, health and happiness was repeated throughout these proposals and is backed up by research. We know that housing conditions have a big impact on mental and physical health.
We also know that around a quarter of this country’s working-age disabled people and 16 per cent of people aged 65+ live in social housing. These figures underline how housing providers must do everything in their powers to identify, prevent and, where possible, meet the care and support needs of their residents.
During the pandemic, that’s something many housing providers tried to do. Extensive resources went into trying to access the right data to make decisions and support residents. Some positive outcomes were achieved, but the rush to present data in new ways also highlighted gaping holes.
Today, the challenges around cost of living, energy and disrepairs mean that housing providers want data that gives them answers to fresh questions. The question is whether they can find these answers on their own. It might be time for a more collaborative approach, where housing providers join with others to build a ‘big data’ picture.
Let’s take energy usage as an example. Every house in Great Britain has a UPRN – a unique data number that can be linked to its energy meter (among other things). Housing providers could collaborate with energy providers, combining different data sets to identify residents at risk of fuel poverty. If a household is in arrears on fuel bills or has drastically cut energy consumption then housing officers could investigate and support.
This data could also be joined with EPC records and those homes with the lowest thermal efficiency, whose residents have the greatest need, could be prioritised for insulation works or renewable energy systems.
Aggregation & collaboration
If housing providers aggregate their data, they can look at these results not just by street, by housing estate or even by housing provider. Instead, they can create a broader view, enabling them to procure work packages together, by region.
But this level of inter-organisational data aggregation can only be achieved if data formats and processes are consistent. Training to improve data ‘hygiene’ is crucial as well, as is the recruitment of staff with strong data competencies.
Nurturing the right culture around data is vital. The right information strategy, governance and infrastructure must be in place, with leaders across the organisation communicating how fundamental good data management is to business operations.
Automation & data tools
Automating the flow of information to provide standardised, auditable data in a unified manner is essential. This is about using the right IT tools to surface key information in an accurate way, so boards have confidence in the answers being presented and can make well-informed decisions.
We know that warm, dry, suitable homes give tenants a sense of security and belonging, linking them to their community and boosting independence and good health. If housing providers can unify the millions of data points they gather, this new ‘single version of the truth’ will improve tenants’ wellbeing at scale.
Jon Gould is the head of client solutions at Illumar.