Opinion: Making housing work better for everyone | Residents' Network news

Opinion: Making housing work better for everyone

By Haris Khan, Director, Group Strategy & UK Commercial, Plentific

The Social Housing White Paper, released in November after some delay, lays out the actions the government will take to ensure that residents are safe, are listened to, live in good quality homes, and have access to redress when things go wrong.

The document covers a huge swathe of reforms, all of which are critical in improving the quality of social housing in the UK, however, the overarching theme throughout is resident satisfaction.

From providing transparency on how landlords are performing to having a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in, the resident is being put at the heart of reforms.

The importance of resident satisfaction isn’t new. For any consumer-facing business striving for excellence, customer experience is a critical part of management and operational strategy and housing is no different.

For some time, social housing providers have been working to improve the experience of residents, but this will now take on a new level of urgency as residents are given greater ability to hold landlords to account. With the government mooting greater consumer regulation and a new access to information scheme for social housing residents, the performance of registered providers may soon be under greater scrutiny than ever before.

To achieve the level of service deserved by residents, landlords will need to make some changes. Efficient repairs and maintenance, robust compliance processes and tailoring services to residents’ needs are just some of the areas housing providers will need to improve.

However, these are complex. Local authorities and social housing providers are, for the most part, using a multitude of systems, with data fragmented and trust in its power low. Without the ability to bring everything together, the efficiency of their operations is going to remain low.

With demands increasing, the industry needs to get better at utilising data, intelligence, and digital solutions in order to not only improve processes but to strengthen their relationships with residents. Take, for example, a situation where a tenant’s boiler stops working properly in the middle of winter.

Under the current process, the tenant will have to raise the issue with their housing association, who will then raise a job with their preferred contractor.

This repair then needs to be arranged and scheduled and communicated to the tenant. This typically takes 13 days. That’s almost two weeks a resident is without hot water - not accounting for any repeat visits for parts or other complications. You can easily see how relations with the tenant can be quickly soured.

The laborious process is both unnecessary and inefficient. Instead, technology could speed up the whole process by giving both residents and housing authorities the functionality of easily raising jobs, scheduling and classifying them using pictures and allowing jobs to be allocated to local contractors who have time in their schedules immediately.

Not only does this reduce erroneous and repetitive tasks and communications, but it also speeds the process up immeasurably.

This drives up trust in the repairs management, and ultimately improves tenant satisfaction - hot water in two days, not two weeks - it also creates invaluable data with insights into everything from the most common repairs, to the average response times, job fulfillment and much more.

This then gives the housing provider the information it needs to manage by exception and continuously improve its own operations.

We need to see wholesale digitisation in the social housing market, as we know incremental changes have resulted in multi-system solutions which are not scalable.

With the right technology in place, landlords will be better able to manage their estates and substantially improve tenant satisfaction - and see cost savings too. Ultimately, it will make housing work better for everyone.