Looking for greater efficiencies and to cope with seasonal demands for housing services and benefits assistance, Torbay Council has transformed its casework data operation from a mostly manual system to a single-point customer contact platform.
Torbay has a population of around 133,000 people, which changes considerably with the seasons. The movement of people in and out of the town at different times of the year affects Torbay Council’s benefits assistance and the need to improve efficiencies here led to the council’s decision to transform its Housing Needs casework data operation.
Torbay’s Housing Needs department has 14 staff, split into two teams of housing officers. One team focuses on proactive advice, prevention, homelessness and resettlement, and the other provides support and outreach for housing applications.
Conscious of the need to meet efficiency targets in order to keep its council tax down, Torbay’s newly-formed Transformation team looked at how to make Housing Needs more customer-focused. They found that the structure of the Housing Needs teams hindered customer service, there were too many housing specialists resulting in a lack of focus on service delivery, variable levels of service due to differing individual experience, and there were poorly defined processes and procedures, such as forms not being completed consistently or customer enquiries logged inadequately.
Andy Sandford, transformation and customer access manager, Torbay Council, said, “The team had some very experienced staff in housing services but they didn’t have roles and responsibilities that were sufficiently well-defined. Up to 50 per cent of Housing Needs’ appeals could be considered and then overturned over a period of time, and up to 70 per cent of incoming calls were not being answered. Furthermore, the existing paper and electronic administration systems were not synchronised – some customer enquiries even had to be taken down on Post-It notes.”
Having used Civica systems since 2005, including electronic document management and workflow, Torbay Council decided to implement Civica’s Homeless and Temporary Accommodation module as it would easily integrate with the council’s existing Civica contact management system.
Sandford explained, “With the installation of Civica’s Homeless module, we ensured that the whole of Housing Needs was integrated with Torbay’s contact centre and with Civica’s Contact Manager. This meant that all customer enquiries had to be routed to the central database and logged, before being transferred to the individual Housing Needs specialists for review and action.”
The transformation team also recommended that the advice- and administration-focused teams all became housing officers, effectively removing the option for people to claim that any task was beyond their remit but also creating a stronger team responsibility for handling enquiries. The staff structure was also reorganised so that each member of staff had a single manager; their roles and responsibilities would be understood by each other, accompanied by regular performance reviews.
Sandford said, “People began to see the council as responsible for all local housing needs, services or enquiries, so it was vital that everybody, regardless of function, understood the history of an enquiry, so we could improve our overall customer service. It was therefore a priority to establish better information sharing between the Housing Needs team and other departments that already had a Civica module.”
Nick Jones, project leader for IT Services, Torbay Council, said, “We back-scanned all of the relevant paper files to ensure that everyone had access to a customer’s history. We used Civica’s barcode reading functionality to automate the indexing process. We also needed to migrate data from our previous Housing Needs system, which involved exporting records for applicants, accommodation and assessments, and recombining them in the new module as cases. While this resulted in some duplication, we are cleaning the data so that we will soon have a single view of each customer and their history.”
The implementation of Civica’s technology did not immediately solve all of the problems in the team. The legacy of a function without a fully-defined structure still lingered and the lack of previous technology experience among some staff inevitably meant a slow start to the new Housing Needs regime.
Sandford said, “Even the day before implementation, the team was suggesting changes to some of the business processes. After the system users’ training, we realised that while the housing officers were experts in their field, their previous experience of technology had been very limited. We had overestimated the level of proficiency which slowed progress down.
“Despite these teething problems, Civica’s technology has brought much needed structure, improved business processes and timely reporting to Torbay’s Housing Needs service. This overhaul is transforming customer service as well as giving the teams better insight into the fluctuating seasonal demands to enable them to plan ahead.”