One of the main hurdles Housing Providers encounter when managing their properties is a lack of resident engagement. With the average cost of disrepair claims being between £1000 - £30,000, it is the added legal costs that most affect social landlords. The current system puts the onus on residents to raise issues with their Housing Providers but with updated Fitness for Human Habitation laws this can leave landlords vulnerable to lawsuits. It is difficult, if not impossible, for Housing Providers to ensure their homes are properly maintained if they cannot establish clear lines of communication with their tenants. With the current Covid-19 climate, this issue has become even more prominent.
But how can digital channels help solve this issue?
How Digitisation Can Help Improve Resident Engagement
As TIS research shows, the restrictions brought about by the spread of Covid-19 have made traditional methods of engagement unsustainable. This had led to a greater demand for online support, through social media and other digital channels. An increased move towards digitisation is a useful way of bridging this communication gap as it provides more outlets for tenants to raise problems or concerns with their landlords. This new form of communication can help identify problems before they take root, lowering the overall repair cost for Landlords.
An increased online presence is also useful for Housing Providers. By creating an active Social Media presence, Housing Providers can show they are being proactive in supporting their residents and in ensuring that their properties meet the outlined standards. Social Media accounts and Blogs can also help share information across the Housing Sector. It allows providers to share valuable research with one another, allowing them to workshop and implement effective solutions that help improve the standard of living for tenants.
Social Media channels are not the only form of digitisation that can help raise engagement levels. The installation of Smart Technology can save money for the Housing Provider and the residents alike. Smart Technology, like the kind offered here at Switchee, can act as a simple and intuitive way to lower household costs. These boast plentiful advantages. For example, the installation of Smart Thermostats can save residents 15% on their energy bills, which can help lower the risk of Fuel Poverty in low-income homes. Smart Technology allows Housing Providers to remotely understand internal property conditions, ensuring that the properties are in line with the current Government standards. Smart Technologies work by collecting household data, such as the average temperature and humidity. This information can then be accessed by maintenance and support teams, providing them with updates in real time. This can help identify potential household concerns quickly, giving maintenance teams time to implement solutions before they can spiral into a high-cost issue.
In the current Covid-19 climate where physical visits are difficult to negotiate, an increased reliance on digital channels allows Landlords to maintain clear lines of communication with tenants. Through the usage of Smart Technology, Housing Providers can carry out virtual check-ins and digital viewings, giving them the ability to manage their properties remotely. Research carried out by CIH on behalf of Mears showed that they had an average of 31% no access appointments, costing them £2.4million per year. Without the assistance of Smart Technology, Housing Providers are reliant on written correspondence and email which can easily go unanswered.
The time it takes to resend communication can affect maintenance response times and lead to excessive repair costs for Landlords, this is where Smart Technologies are a key asset. Technology, such as the Smart Thermostat offered here at Switchee, takes this to a new level. Through the use of digitised screens, the Smart Thermostat alerts residents on upcoming maintenance visits and allows the resident to respond directly, eliminating the need for letters or emails, and ensuring that there is no miscommunication between the tenants and their Housing Provider.
Why is Resident Engagement Important?
Resident Engagement plays a vital role in the maintenance and upkeep of Social Homes but, with a growing shortage of social housing, many tenants are reluctant to raise issues even if they are dissatisfied with their Landlords for fear of losing their homes. This is important because, as Paul Hackett states, residents are not like typical consumers – they cannot vote with their feet and take their custom someplace else. Regulation expert, Professor Martin Cave, argues that the perceived ‘imbalance between the provider and the consumer’ is what prevents residents from coming forward and raising issues with their Landlords, causing a severe drop in resident engagement levels. This is where digitisation can help.
By creating a dedicated online presence, Housing Providers can offer full transparency and access to necessary information which helps regain resident trust. Online forums also allow tenants to voice their concerns in a flexible and informed manner. Through regular online updates, Housing Providers can explain how resident feedback has been reflected in their policies, giving the tenants assurance that they are heard and listened to. New measures as described in the government Green Paper, are meant to address the pitfalls in current housing policies such as overly complex complaint procedures and are helping to implement more resident-friendly measures.
If Housing Providers want to increase the efficiency of their homes, as well as reducing the carbon output of their properties to meet new Net-Zero initiatives, then they need to provide residents with an outlet in which to speak their minds without fear of retribution. Internet surveys, social media polls, and other forms of digital data can be a great way to anonymously collect resident insights. These are effective as they prevent residents from being identified which, in turn, allows residents to speak their mind without the fear of negative consequences.
Through a combined effort of virtual resources and digitised data, Landlords can strengthen communication between themselves and their tenants which, in turn, minimises the risk of complaints and legal suits. Digitisation also opens the way for more transparency within the Social Housing Sector, showing residents that their feedback is valued and implemented into the day-to-day operations. This works to build resident engagement by increasing their overall trust in their Housing Providers, and helps empower residents.