In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the UK housing sector was thrown a new challenge with the government’s Charter for Social Housing Residents which laid out a bold new standard for housing providers. Combine this with ambitious climate-change targets as well as an irrefutable digital lag, and the housing sector was already on the back foot when it came to making any meaningful headway towards strategic change.
Skip forward two years and it appears that the pandemic may have been the most significant influence on the housing sector’s strategic focus, with that focus appearing to have been on technology.
The need for efficiency
With resources increasingly strained just as the need for better tenant communications and support grew, the call for greater efficiency in property and facilities management was highlighted. Housing providers needed to service properties and look after their (often vulnerable) tenants across wide geographies and with complex sets of needs. The administrative load of dealing with repair booking, tracking and logging across such a network can be difficult and time-consuming, and with a lack of real-time data available, often more than half of all calls couldn’t be resolved first time, requiring repeat visits.
Some housing providers deployed booking systems to capture data at the point of booking and deliver a frictionless experience for employees and tenants, significantly reducing internal costs and waiting times for residents. With the right technologies, these systems will be scalable and adaptable in order to track trends in demand, allowing those housing providers to plan proactive repairs and schedule resources with more accuracy than before.
People need people
The pandemic highlighted how social interaction is a basic human need; older people, already particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation, were particularly affected. With over 55-year-olds comprising over 40 per cent of tenants, housing providers needed to provide solutions to tackle the increased detachment felt by people who had to shield or were cut off due to fear or reduced social opportunities.
Technology played a vital role in connecting potentially isolated tenants with staff and landlords to provide support and maintain relationships. Many organisations were spurred by the pandemic to adopt a digital platform, such as Microsoft 365, to enable them to integrate their collaborative communications tools with their operation at a greater depth as well as offering video-based Zoom/Teams calls where and when needed.
Data powers all
There has been widespread recognition of the need for housing providers to maintain and interrogate a greater depth of data across their organisations. This might range from tenant data helping to determine people’s needs and the properties they occupy, to service, finance and technical data that provides the modelling needed to run efficient and proactive services.
Housing providers have been forced to recognise that delivering an effective digital service platform requires accurate and up-to-date data. Remotely monitoring appliance performance can give early indications of the need to service or to troubleshoot potential issues. Holding catalogues of data on common issues and how to resolve them can enable self-serve capabilities that empower tenants and free housing staff to tackle more complex issues.
Managing financial data in a sensitive and compliant manner will also enable housing providers to understand tenants’ circumstances in greater depth. With the post-pandemic economy affecting most tenants’ financial circumstances, being able to overlay income and lifestyle data onto housing and asset schedules will be an invaluable way to make strategic decisions on, for example, the development of existing properties or investment in new housing.
Technology has proved to be the pillar on which housing providers and their tenants can lean, with pockets of innovation springing up both during and after the pandemic. Now is the time for the housing sector to surge forward, using the creativity forged during the pandemic to take the sector into a new digital age.
Simon Evans is the CTO at Amido.