As housing associations devote more time to meeting regulatory requirements, Lisa Donoghue, Data and Analytics account director at Perfect Image, explains how proper utilisation of analytics can help them to keep on top of their legal obligations while maintaining core business operations such as finance, repairs, and voids
It’s critical to keep on top of all areas of the business, especially when the housing sector is having to devote more of its efforts to keeping up and complying with regulation. Yet, many housing associations report difficulties in not only reporting on this information but also analysing it and addressing problems.
While down from 2019, data quality and governance still featured in the top 10 risks and challenges for the sector in the Social Housing Annual Review.
What’s more, because of the inflexible nature of many systems, reports go out of date quickly. This can have serious consequences; for some, it results in a lack of visibility around arrears and the inability to collect debt effectively. For others, it’s a lack of understanding around why certain properties remain empty for so long, which equates to lost revenue.
The data produced by housing associations is rich and valuable, but many find themselves unable to use it in a way that allows them to make better decisions.
‘Data chaos’, whereby your data is siloed and therefore unmanageable, is a common concern for housing associations. Part of the issue stems from the fact that there is no one big provider of housing-specific tech that covers all of a social housing provider’s needs.
This means housing associations often have a multitude of systems or highly bespoke software to cope with their specific requirements.
The challenge is that these disparate or bespoke systems don’t fit all of their demands – or they might when first implemented, but then things change and technology progresses and then they’re suddenly outdated.
If you think of the amount of legislation and compliance involved with housing, it can be very difficult to roll with the times.
Housing associations require specialist systems for many different purposes, such as property management, overseeing external contractors, and internal staff systems for HR and payroll purposes. That’s a lot of data to manage, understand, and analyse.
There might be a recurring problem that your housing association is experiencing regularly. For example, you have a lot of empty properties – why? Is it because there’s a performance issue in your team, or is it that no one wants two-bedroom properties in a certain area? These are the questions you need the answer to.
Using analytics tools will help you identify and resolve these issues. You probably have a lot of different systems with all of this information in separately, and it’s hard to get an overview. Analytics can help housing associations with a number of common issues including void properties, repairs, and rent arrears.
“If you think of the amount of legislation and compliance involved with housing, it can be very difficult to roll with the times”
Quite often, social housing providers will implement analytics as a solution to a specific problem. They’re haemorrhaging money, a vital repair was ignored, a crucial problem with a house was missed.
Some companies do proactively adopt analytics to gain the competitive edge and get the answers they need faster, too. We recommend implementing analytics as a way to futureproof your business, improve your tenant experience, and make better decisions – rather than in response to an individual issue.
Putting analytics to use
Addressing and preventing rent arrears
Failing to reconcile rent and utilities arrears equates to money down the drain. In 2020, arrears hit a five-year high in the social housing sector, while rent collection was at its lowest level since 2013. It’s very difficult recovering owed money once someone moves out, and you certainly want to avoid writing off debt because it’s easier than chasing.
You can do things like profiling tenants, allowing you to see who is likely to fall into arrears, with leading analytics platforms. Of course, this has to be done accurately and in a non-biased way.
You feed the system all your data and it will identify the key factors – whether that’s geographic or demographic – that make someone high risk for falling into arrears, helping you to flag them as high risk.
It’s important to recognise that this is beneficial to yourself and your tenants: you can contact them in advance to see if they need support with paying their bills, rather than using it as a targeting tool.
Filling high-priority void properties
Like uncollected rent arrears, you’re losing money when you have empty properties. With Coronavirus restrictions, overall social housing void properties increased in 2020.
You need to understand why a property is void and what you can do about it. By using analytics, you can identify common themes in empty properties, including their location, the level of furnishing, and the number of bedrooms.
Combining this with your repairs service means that you can also ensure the property is fit for purpose before renting again. In fact, a lack of repairs might be the reason it’s sitting empty. Analytics can help tie these systems together so you can gain an understanding of what repairs and maintenance needs to be done and when.
Repairs are a necessary but costly part of property management for housing associations. The most recent data from the Regulator of Social Housing shows that maintenance costs £4,120 per property, rising by 7% from the previous analysis in 2017.
Repairs fit into three categories: responsive work, planned work, and cyclical work.
“Like uncollected rent arrears, you’re losing money when you have empty properties”
Jobs such as a yearly service of boilers across your properties are huge tasks to manage. Of course, this is of tantamount importance because if a boiler explodes and someone gets hurt, you’re liable. That’s a huge amount of risk.
Using powerful analytics programmes, you can predict and plan when these works will take place and view important information including:
- Completed repairs
- Overdue repairs
- Repairs in progress
- Scheduled repairs
- First-time fix rates
- A visualisation of repair locations
If you work with many subcontractors for repairs, you can give them the relevant information on their jobs by providing secured access to your dashboard.
Many housing associations struggle with the same issues when it comes to managing repairs, arrears, void properties, and more. The fact that there are no software solutions that take care of all aspects of social housing management adds to the issue, because housing associations have to rely on multiple, often disparate, systems.
Implementing an analytics solution will not only allow you to bring all your data together into one accessible source, but also drill down into it to help you identify and resolve a number of issues.
Your business holds and produces mountains of valuable data: it’s time to make it work for you and to make smarter decisions.
Main image: Stephen Dawson/Shutterstock
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