By Colin Heyman, EDI Nework Lead Associate 

The topics we cover in our best practice groups are chosen by the people who attend them, and it’s interesting to see which topics are raised most often and most consistently. Perhaps the one that comes up most is the collection of data on tenants (NB: I will use the term ‘tenants’ to cover what different organisations also call ‘customers’, ‘residents’ and ‘service users’.) This blog brings together what I see as some key general points in this area.

How? And who?

I’m writing this blog from an EDI perspective, but it’s worth remembering that the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) expects providers to know ‘who is behind every door’ for the purposes of shaping and flexing services and meeting diverse needs, along with ensuring knowledge of our properties and the people who live in them is used to best effect. So, much of the data we would be aiming to collect may fall outside of our usual EDI dataset. The other key thing to remember is that you need to collect household data, not just tenant data – ie, understand the make-up of the household.

Collecting data on all your tenants is a massive exercise, even if you already have some. There are basically two general approaches in terms of how. One method is a planned project to collect data, normally driven from and monitored by senior management in the organisation; the other is that data will be collected ad hoc whenever there’s an opportunity. These aren’t mutually exclusive. Often the former method is used to get a baseline of data in the first place and then it’s hoped that this will be kept updated by the second method.

The two methods have different implications for who does the collecting. The project method implies that there will be a lot of people in the organisation involved (unless an external consultancy is engaged to do this). The second method is likely to be carried out by customer-facing people. In my view, every contact with a tenant should be viewed and used as an opportunity to update their information.

One housing association I work with decided that surveyors would hand out the forms as they went round houses. The surveyors liked it because it meant the tenants had something to do whilst the surveyor went round the house, rather than chatting to the surveyor, and many forms were collected this way.

Of course, the disadvantage with this approach is that you’ll only have the data on the tenants in those houses the surveyors are visiting, so it’ll take a long time to get data on all your tenants.

Bear in mind that if the data collectors are people who aren’t used to doing this, there may well be anxiety and nerves about the questions and how the tenant may react. Training is needed so that such collectors are familiar with the form and especially with why the data is being collected and how it’ll be used, so that they can explain to the tenant and anxieties can be discussed.

Whatever method is used for the initial collection, it’s vital that a plan is already in place from the beginning for keeping the data up to date – for example, by checking it every time there’s an interaction with a tenant – or it will very quickly become inaccurate.

Other people involved in the project

The ‘who’ isn’t just about collecting the data, however. Others need to be involved if the best use is going to be made of the data you collect. Key people are:

  • Like any organisational activity, support from the top of the organisation is needed to allocate the required resources and, even more importantly, to communicate the message that collecting this data is important to the organisation and embedding the collection and use of data as business as usual
  • The IT department, as they will have to design the systems and programmes which will take the data and distribute it to those people who need it, as well as analysing the data into whatever reports are needed
  • Departments involved with tenants, as they will be big users of the data
  • Strategic planning, as they will use the data to look at who your tenants are and who they aren’t as part of their planning (see below).

What data – and what’s it got to do with you?

As well as the basic questions about gender, race and so on, there are three questions that many feel uncomfortable with – transgender, sexual orientation and religion. I often hear ‘our tenants aren’t comfortable with those questions’, ‘they don’t even understand the transgender question’. This may well be true. However, I often think it’s the people collecting the data who are uncomfortable.

In my experience, even if it’s true, if the people collecting the data are comfortable with the questions and are clear about why they’re collecting the data, it’s far more likely that tenants will understand and be prepared to give you the information.

The other thing is that even if some tenants are uncomfortable with those questions, most of your tenants who are LGBTQ+ will actually feel more comfortable being your tenants if they know you’re taking note of these issues.

A ‘prefer not to say’ option should be included on all questions – paradoxically, people are more likely to answer the questions you’re asking if they’re given the option of not doing so, since then they don’t feel forced into a corner.

The other question, though, is what data are you going to collect? Many social landlords use this opportunity to find out more about their tenants. Think of it as market research – for example, questions about financial circumstances can be asked (so that support can be given if needed), about digital inclusion, the best way to communicate with that tenant, mental wellbeing, any services the housing association doesn’t provide that they’d like to see, and so on.


One question I’m often asked is how collecting tenant data and using it fits in with GDPR, with some people reporting that their GDPR experts are cautious about collecting data in this way. Although they’re right to be cautious, my understanding (and I’m not an expert on GDPR) is that there’s no conflict between collecting and using data and the GDPR, as long as:

  • Data is collected for a legitimate purpose, such as improving services to tenants
  • Tenants are advised what the purpose of collecting is, how the data will be used and give their permission
  • The data is used in the way specified by that permission and only that way
  • Only those who have permission can access the data and they’re using it for a legitimate purpose, as in one (above).

The most important thing to start off with – as in any project, I guess – is being clear about why the organisation is undertaking the exercise and particularly how they’re going to use the data.

I’ve come across quite a few people who think collecting data is good EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) practice. It’s not. It only becomes good practice when you use the data to improve your service to tenants.

Mainly, there are two different outcomes from tenant profiling:

  • Tells you what the needs are of specific tenants are so you can provide a better service.
  • Tells you who you have as tenants and who you haven’t so you can try and find out whether you’re unconsciously putting barriers in the way of certain people becoming your tenants – and dismantle them.

In terms of the first objective, you would ideally get to a place where the data about a tenant’s needs is available to anyone who’s dealing with them. Examples might be an indicator on the screen when the tenant phones your organisation to give useful information (eg, hard of hearing, lives alone, etc) or that information is available to someone visiting the home (eg, contractors or housing officers) so that they know in advance – for example, that someone for religious reasons won’t let someone of the opposite gender into the home when they’re on their own.

In terms of the second use, the collection of the data is likely to just be the first step. If you have certain groups that are under-represented in your tenant group compared to their numbers in the population that you serve, the next step is to try and find out why – for example, if it was an LGBTQ+ organisation, perhaps it would mean contacting a local LGBTQ+ organisation and talking to them about what barriers there might be and how you could remove them.

And finally

Tenant profiling is a major project that needs to be bought into across the organisation and can take up a considerable amount of resource. Yet its results, if done well, can bring benefits for the organisation and its tenants.

I go into more detail about all these issues on the equality, diversity and inclusion data collection course that’s available through HQN.