The UK’s social housing sector is a current hot topic and for good reason. While there are currently almost 2000 registered providers of affordable and low-income housing (with these tenants making up 17% of total households), demand is still outstripping supply. The UK’s most vulnerable tenants are being steadily pushed out of the private rental market, according to the latest Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Residential Market Survey, with new figures showing rents are predicted to rise by in excess of 20% over the next five years.
And these aren’t the only issues to contend with. Multi-agency working, shifting Government policy and a growing population is placing enormous pressure on housing associations, who must now act fast and think radically about how they deliver their services to survive. While £7.5bn may have been invested in new and existing stock in 2016, the sector still faces an uncertain future.
Technology driving change
In light of this uncertainty in the market, social housing providers are increasingly turning to technology to achieve their strategic priorities; both modernising customer service and unlocking significant savings in the process. From cloud-connected devices and smart buildings to data analytics, issues can be resolved far more quickly. A firm grasp on data can make a huge difference to social housing providers; gathering vital data on tenant services and interactions allows organisations to spot patterns and behaviours earlier to better support and inform future choices.
The Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices, smart meters and buildings present a huge opportunity for social housing providers, particularly those looking to diversify their offering. We’re already seeing buildings which can detect how people are using their accommodation and alter services such as heating in real-time accordingly – and this is just the start. Used effectively, technology can help housing providers to anticipate and respond to issues faster, be more strategic and proactive in commissioning bulk repairs and replacements to minimise disruption and costs.
Digital transformation will also join up housing, health and social services, as organisations can monitor residents’ behaviour, automate communication between different organisations and spot potential issues before they even happen; all of which could, for example, reduce stress on the NHS by helping support a frail, older population to stay healthy and independent for longer.
Knowing your tenants
However, it’s not just having a firm grasp on new technology; providers need a solid understanding of their tenants too. Any provider's digital strategy must be developed on a deep understanding of their community’s needs. While the ONS has showed that 82% of UK adults use the internet daily, figures from Doteveryone show that 21% of the UK lack basic digital skills, including using search engines, shopping online and keeping in touch on social media. Social housing providers must recognise which category each tenant falls into to understand how to interact and engage better.
Many social housing providers recognise that they don’t have the necessary skills to make this transformation to connected devices and smart analytics alone. It’s vital to learn from best practice and look to private sector organisations for help around new ways of working and build a foundation for innovation. In fact, as noted in our report, ‘The Changing Landscape for Social Housing’, 53% of social housing leaders believe they need to collaborate with other organisations where technology or know-how already exists, and more than half said they felt that working with private sector partners would help them leverage and optimise the use of technology.
Civica already works in partnership with more than 500 customers across social housing. A recent example is our work with Housing Leeds at Leeds City Council, where we now supply an integrated housing system for over 57,000 tenants across the region. This system helps the council to work flexibly and provides it with a complete view of tenant and employee interactions; allowing informed decisions to support the changing needs of tenants.
Radically rethinking operations
Effective customer engagement using intelligent data will bring greater efficiencies, financial stability and, in many cases, new income streams. As the housing sector is squeezed from both ends – both dwindling financial support and growing demands from increasingly diverse and vulnerable citizens – those who want to thrive, rather than just survive, are using digital solutions to positively transform their organisation. While we can’t predict the future, making the best use of emerging technology and strong partnerships is undoubtedly the key to success.