Mobile workforce software from 1st Touch has enabled Wulvern Housing to reduce rent arrears by helping tenants deal with the challenges of welfare reform.
Sasha Deepwell, deputy chief executive, Wulvern Housing, said, “We felt that unless the issues surrounding welfare reform were managed professionally, some of our tenants would find themselves under greater financial pressure and a consequent risk of increased arrears. We realised that we therefore needed to mobilise our services so that we could help our tenants more.
“While our call centre works very well in practice, we decided that the best thing to do was to get our incomes team out of the office, which would enable us to have more one-to-one personal contact with our tenants. As a result, our strategy was to mobilise our incomes officers and moving them to the front line.”
Wulvern’s approach was to re-organise its service into patch sizes of 250 homes, each with a neighbourhood officer, so that they got to know all the residents in their area. This allowed them to sit down with tenants and identify how best they could help. To do this, Wulvern chose 1st Touch’s mobile software in order give its staff access to all the forms and data they needed when visiting tenants.
Deepwell said, “By using 1st Touch, our officers have up-to-date ‘live’ information when visiting tenants. As a result, 1st Touch has played a significant part in enabling our tenants to prosper by allowing us to get to them before financial pressures become a problem. This has not only helped us improve our arrears performance but it has also improved our tenant satisfaction ratings.”
Ian Rutherford, application developer and project manager, Wulvern Housing, said, “The mobile project was the result of a ‘lean systems intervention’, with the IT team effectively project managing and facilitating the introduction of mobile technology to enable neighbourhood officers to spend more time in the field with our tenants.
“Wulvern has a history of lean thinking and continuous improvement, based on Vanguard principles. This ensures that not only are projects handled professionally and efficiently but they are also designed to put tenants first and help them as much as possible. So initially, with the introduction of mobile technology, we wanted to look at the income management process as a whole, particularly in terms of ensuring our tenants pay the right amount of rent and pay it on time. Our analysis showed that the earlier an arrears case could be contacted, the more likely that case would be cleared.
“To achieve this, we needed a rapid application development platform that would link the mobile solution with our existing Aareon housing management system. 1st Touch software was chosen as it has existing integration with Aareon, is device-neutral, and has the support of a large company behind it.”
The project was delivered in less than 10 weeks, from the first requirements meeting to the project’s ‘go live’. This included a rigorous testing programme, an upgrade to Aareon QL, and adding the necessary server infrastructure to support the 1st Touch software.
Rutherford said, “The speed with which we went live with 1st Touch was very impressive. Our staff found the application easy to use and quickly found their way around it, so we were able to quickly convert an office-based role into a mobile one.”
Wulvern’s neighbourhood officers now have all the information they need at their fingertips, including rent and payment histories and past arrears activities. They can also take payments and capture data to set up or amend direct debits. All of this is then updated into the Aareon housing management system. In addition, neighbourhood officers can also draw up individual financial plans electronically when visiting tenants.
Rutherford said, “Our arrears fell from almost four per cent in September 2013 to just over three per cent in April 2014. There are other benefits too, such as increased efficiency as shown by an increase in tenant visits of 15 per cent. One interesting comment from a neighbourhood officer was that tenants seem to take more notice of rent balances when they are presented to them on the neighbourhood officer’s iPad.”