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Circle Insights

5 lessons from the pandemic about the value of Housing Association data

Authors
Andrew Bradley
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WHAT HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS HAVE LEARNED THAT’S ALREADY CHANGING THE FUTURE FOR THEIR COMMUNITIES

The extreme situation created by the Covid pandemic brought the value of data into the spotlight for Housing Associations, as they strove to support tenants and identify priority needs under lockdown conditions, at a time when face to face interaction was difficult or impossible.

As lockdown conditions ease, Housing Associations are considering what they’ve learned in these extremely challenging times and how it will influence their future strategy and operations.

The Covid-19 situation surfaced urgent needs and opportunities for many Housing Associations. Teams worked tirelessly to identify and support vulnerable residents and to maintain services while adhering to infection control guidelines. Planning and delivery would have been easier with clear and accessible information about the particular characteristics of properties and the needs of their inhabitants.

Working with Housing Associations throughout and beyond the pandemic, our sector experts have summarised five key factors that will influence the coming demand for housing and related services. Now’s the time to review your data strategy, to make sure your organisation has the information it needs in order to assess, monitor, and meet residents’ current needs and to model, predict and plan for ongoing and future needs in the post-pandemic landscape.

Digitalisation of services

Face-to-face and direct contact has traditionally been a core route to delivering services and providing information and engagement with Housing Association residents. In lockdown, this became very difficult. Many residents are both willing and able to engage through online media: some Housing Associations were able to offer online or mobile communication and services to replace in-person support at least temporarily. For example, holding consultations over mobile phone video-calling services like WhatsApp or Zoom, or allowing fault reporting via email or text-based services.

Building a robust and permanent digital service platform has emerged as a priority for many Housing Associations. It may have been a potential future project before: the pandemic has proved the demand and need. To offer a full range of tenant information and services online in the most efficient way, Housing Associations need complete and accurate data about the people they serve and the properties they live in. With this, they can make sure they offer the right digital support to the people who need it, providing a tailored experience for their household.

Self-help

Offering a digital service platform can improve resident experiences beyond basic fault reporting, bill paying and account information checking. If your Housing Association has accurate information about the systems and appliances installed in every property, you can go further, giving people online advice and trouble-shooting guides for common problems, for example re-igniting a boiler’s pilot light. This can be empowering and reassuring for residents who are able and willing to help themselves, removing the frustration of a long wait for support or not being able to report a problem by phone out of hours.

You can offer up-to-date online resources with advice on relevant topics like money management, community support networks and even job opportunities. In the pandemic, FAQs about coronavirus restrictions helped residents adapt to different ways of operating and understand how to access support and services.

Digital exclusion

Digital service delivery is empowering and meets expectations for many housing association residents who are digitally capable. But it cannot meet everyone’s needs. Some residents are digitally excluded, because they don’t have smartphones or other connected technology, or because they aren’t able to use it with confidence.

Knowing who cannot access digital services is crucial for a modern Housing Association. By collecting and recording this information accurately, you can make evidence-based decisions about the value and likely uptake of digital services. Most importantly, you can ensure that those who can’t use them have alternative channels of support. Face to face and paper-based communication are essential for some residents: if you know who they are, you can focus your time and resources on the people who need traditional support.

Vulnerability

With many residents confined to their homes during the lockdown, Housing Associations sought to make sure that everyone had the information and assistance they needed. With a complete data record for every household, it’s easier to identify residents who may have particular health or accessibility needs.

Beyond lockdown, this kind of information is very valuable for prioritising repairs and services to vulnerable residents. It also helps housing associations to ensure that they continue to provide accommodation with all the facilities that may be needed by a person with disabilities or particular needs.

This is sensitive data: it’s important that residents understand why you’re asking them to provide it. If you can explain clearly the benefits to them of sharing personal and health information, they are more likely to provide it accurately.

Economic hardship

In your Housing Association’s catchment, major employers can have a big impact on prosperity and hardship amongst residents. The post-pandemic economy is volatile and is likely to influence changes in employment and income for your householders. If you hold employment and financial data about your residents, you can be proactive in making sure their rents are affordable and anticipating issues that may arise from redundancy or reduced pay.

Third-party income and lifestyle data can help you identify trends in your area that may affect current and future tenants. This can also influence your recommendations to developers and housebuilders about the type and affordability of the housing stock that’s being built for the future.

All these types of data can help Housing Associations deliver better services for residents, responding more quickly and efficiently and planning for the future based on reliable evidence. The challenge is making sure you collect consistent and accurate data and that it’s shared securely within the organisation, so everyone has a clear and consistent picture for decision-making and prioritisation.

If you’d like to know more about developing a data strategy that supports your Housing Association objectives and improves residents’ experiences, download our free white paper “Insight for building flourishing communities”.

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Authors
Andrew Bradley
Email