SwapTracker: Streamlining Mutual Exchange

SwapTracker is the sister software to our flagship product, HomeSwapper; the system that completes the mutual exchange journey. Once a tenant has found a suitable swapper through HomeSwapper, SwapTracker has been designed to simplify and streamline the process of mutual exchange – from application to acceptance. 

Eddy Irvine, Account Director for HomeSwapper, works with our 700 HomeSwapper customers, building relationships with them and ensuring that they get the most out of HomeSwapper. As of 2019, SwapTracker became an addition to that offering. “The idea of SwapTracker is that while HomeSwapper is brilliant for customers to find someone to swap with, that’s essentially where it ends. Then when a tenant has found someone they want to swap with, it’s a very manual process for the landlord.“

SwapTracker digitises a process that for many social landlords, can consist of a series of paper forms, phone calls and face-to-face meetings. Before the world changed, it was important to us here at MRI Software to integrate the full process into one dashboard in order to save time for housing officers and give their customers transparent access to the application process. However, since the start of lockdown in March 2020 it has become apparent that SwapTracker has an even bigger role to play – that of supporting landlords to ensure that their mutual exchange processes are COVID safe.

For many customers, Eddy describes a working situation for mutual exchange delivery which is simply no longer tenable. “They [tenants] would have to contact the landlord to fill in a form, which nine times out of ten is paper. Mostly this is sent by post to the tenant and the tenant fills it in. It’s also sent out in the post to the incoming tenant; the person they’re swapping with. In the worst case, this can take two or three weeks to get both forms completed, full and correct. It can go missing, or have incorrect or missing information and have to be sent back, so it can be quite a long process.”

“We did a survey 18 months ago with some landlords and the feedback we got was that they can take between 5 and 15 calls for each exchange they do. The tenant calls during the process to say, ‘where are we in the process’, ‘what’s happening?’ and ‘when can we move?’. What SwapTracker provides is a two-way dashboard. The two big wins for using SwapTracker are that it takes away the manual forms and filing and secondly, saves on time and resources; the tenant can see the full process, so they stop making phone calls.”

From the point of an application for mutual exchange being accepted, it needs to be completed within a statutory 42 days (28 days in Scotland). A lot needs to be done by a provider from that point, from property inspections and gas and electric checks, to collecting references from the other landlord(s) involved. We built SwapTracker in consultation with our existing HomeSwapper customers, “Off the back of feedback from a lot of our customers saying: ‘Why can’t HomeSwapper do that process for us?’.”

When using SwapTracker, Eddy tells us, “Rather than the tenant being sent an application form, if the tenant finds someone to swap with, they press a button on HomeSwapper and it takes them to a registered provider’s specific application form because we upload everything each organisation needs – that’s part of the process when they join SwapTracker. That’s a big tick for a landlord. SwapTracker takes away the paper form and it becomes an online process. Now, when we relate that to COVID, it’s very apt at the moment because everyone is of course, trying to do less face-to-face contact.”

A word from Eddy on mutual exchange in the current climate

Mutual exchanges and other housing allocations all but stopped during lockdown, but with the UK tentatively reopening, they are now making a resurgence. “I have had four or five sign-ups this month, people are signing up to SwapTracker because they know it will take away some of the stress.”

The lockdown has also seen a change in the behaviour of tenants. “From the landlord’s point of view, it’s quieter because they’re not doing as many exchanges. Yet, what we’ve found throughout COVID was that tenants were more active. Obviously, they couldn’t swap but they were more active in updating their photographs and changing their preferences and speaking to each other. Through April, May and June tenant traffic using the system was really busy. It’s getting back to some form of normality now, so landlords are opening up again to do mutual exchanges.”

At the end of March through to early April as lockdown came into force there was, understandably a downturn in new registrations to HomeSwapper. Following this however, as the graph below shows, registrations began to pick up, increasing to levels greater even than before lockdown.

As far as our evidence shows, people are stepping up their hunt to move homes. Overcrowding has been linked to higher rates of Coronavirus and with many having faced lockdown without a balcony or a garden, they are now looking for a change with outdoor space. Equally, fuelling the move in the other direction are those looking to move into more densely populated urban areas for economic opportunities. Whatever the reasons may be for tenants, an increase in renter mobility seems inevitable. This rise comes at a time when the funding and resources of local authorities and registered providers have been hit once again. We designed SwapTracker in consultation with our customers to facilitate a friction-free, as well as mainly contact-free mutual exchange process. When we designed the software, it was to streamline and simplify processes; in the current climate we believe it has become a necessity.

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