The National Housing Federation’s annual Housing Finance Conference took place last month and we were there alongside Dacorum Borough Council, Hafod Housing and the National Housing Federation to present our Housing Analytics suite of solutions. The systems, designed for social housing providers, support decision-making across the whole resident journey, from pre-tenancy to post-tenancy.
Speaking on the day were:
Joanna Lewis: Senior Manager – Product, MRI Software
Greg Andrews: Client Success Manager, MRI Software
Sandra Mogan: Rent and Income Team Leader, Dacorum Borough Council
Lisa Slade: Tenancy Sustainability Leader, Hafod Housing
The Housing Analytics suite has brought together powerful solutions from MRI Software’s heritage brands to assist housing teams in making evidenced decisions to deliver support. The past 12 months has been particularly challenging; rent arrears have risen as people’s lives and livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic. Alongside the practical implications soon expected from The Charter For Social Housing Residents, there is an immediate need for providers to have access to a broader picture of what is going on in their homes. Amidst these changes, using tools that highlight issues before they escalate, housing providers can maintain positive and support-driven relationships with residents.
Supporting sustainable tenancies
The pre-tenancy capabilities within the Housing Analytics suite offer housing teams a full picture of a potential tenant’s financial circumstances. Having this insight ensures that individuals aren’t placed in unaffordable homes, limiting hardship for residents and arrears for providers.
Hafod Housing embedded the pre-tenancy tool into their day-to-day working in order to provide support, addressing financial issues head-on and never penalising potential residents. Lisa Slade explained, “We don’t use it [the tool] to refuse tenancies, that’s the key point that we want to get across. This is purely so that we know the financial background and are able to work with residents in a positive light in order to get the outcome and sustain that tenancy for the long-term.”
Once a tenancy has begun, the in-tenancy solution maintains these positive relationships, supporting tenancy management to identify residents falling into difficulties and avoid negative outcomes. Dacorum Borough Council went live with the solution just two weeks before the first national lockdown. Sandra Mogan’s Income Management Team utilised the software to assist them with the upheaval experienced at that time. Given the limited ability to meet with residents over the past year, the email and text functions within the system enabled swift resident communication and assisted Dacorum in shifting their approach to centre on support.
During the crisis some tenants may be depressed or dealing with loneliness. That more personal contact, sending a little text saying, ‘Please contact us’, not ‘We need to talk to you about your rent account’… but ‘Give us call’, ‘Can we help you?’, ‘Can we support you?’. All-in-all it’s helped us move more towards tenancy sustainment than as a way of enforcement.
Sandra Mogan, Rent and Income Team Leader, Dacorum Borough Council
When the pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, few anticipated the duration of our national lockdowns or the long-term economic impact that they would have. By December 2020, the UK’s jobless rate had risen to 5.1% and forecasting further hits to employment, the Bank of England is estimating that the unemployment rate could peak this year at 7.75%.
For Sandra, the Coronavirus crisis exposed new worries for both her team and the residents they manage. “One threat is the redundancies coming after the furlough scheme ends. We have been putting in UDCs, markers on any accounts [at risk]. We have kept track of anybody in our tenancies who has been affected financially by COVID. As such, I run a report on Income Analytics and just make sure that we are keeping in touch with those people. It’s important that we don’t go down that enforcement route if they are affected by COVID or are isolating. It’s really important that we continue to keep in contact with those people, that we know that it’s not their fault they’ve been financially affected.”
Looking to the future
While the past year has been one of great upheaval, our aim remains to deliver greater innovation and support for social housing providers and local authorities – and as such, we have maintained one eye on the future. The ongoing enhancements to our suite of solutions include investigating capabilities to link repairs data alongside housing analytics in order to predict future behaviours.
Joanna Lewis elaborated on further work being undertaken to incorporate machine learning capabilities, utilising historical and live data held by housing providers.
Machine learning generally is something that we are building more and more into our products and we’re always looking for feedback for the areas where we can integrate that in. We work in partnership with all of our customers and one of the things we’ve been asked about are people who are in credit or have been really good payers and then a change happens in their lives and it leads to a change in their pattern of financial behaviour. They maybe wouldn’t be recognised immediately, but the sooner that these individuals can be identified, the more support housing teams can give them. That will be available in the product very soon.
Joanna Lewis, Senior Manager – Product, MRI Software
In the near future, machine learning will be used to bolster the work of housing teams, delivering far greater reporting capabilities and supporting efficiencies for housing officers and managers. Housing Analytics has offered long-term support to our customers and when ‘stress tested’ by the coronavirus pandemic, it was a tool that housing teams could use to strengthen the safety net they hold beneath their residents.