Maintaining a 100-year-old promise: embracing technology to build new homes

As July celebrates the centenary of the Addison Act, how can the industry maintain its promise to build “homes fit for heroes” in modern Britain?

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In 1919, Parliament passed the Addison Act, the very first housing act introduced as a commitment to improving housing availability in post-war Britain through building 500,000 safe and comfortable homes.

100 years on, at this seminal point in the history of social housing, the sector is forced to look at how it can continue to provide the homes that the country and its people need. Technology may provide the answer.

Ambition

When it was first introduced a century ago, the Addison Act was ambitious pledging to build 500,000 new homes. Sadly, it fell short of its initial promises and was only able to deliver 213,000 new homes. Perhaps what is sadder still, is that the picture 100 years on is a similar one. The demand for social housing has only increased over the past century, with 1.11 million households on local authority waiting lists in 2018; supply is still not meeting demand.

While demand appears to remain a consistent issue, perhaps too is the ‘homes fit for heroes’ promise. Today there remains a critical need to ensure homes are safe, secure and maintained to the highest order for tenants.

21st century tenants are modern consumers who expect to receive a consistent, straightforward and good quality service from councils, at any time of day. As demands and needs have changed throughout the last century it has been key for local councils to evolve their own approaches and adopt solutions which allow them to deliver safe and comfortable homes now and into the future whilst also delivering against increased customer service expectations.

Evolution

As council’s property portfolios have grown through the decades, they now have vast teams of office staff, operatives and contractors tasked with maintaining today’s homes and providing customer support that meets the demands of the modern-day tenant.

Relying on paper systems to manage such extensive housing portfolios, as well as their corresponding services, is no longer feasible. Councils today are under increasing strain and handling more data than ever; it is time for them to harness the benefits of today’s technology to help them improve their efficiencies and deliver better a better service to their tenants.

Change

Councils are doing incredible work for residents despite their stretched resources. The latest technologies can help them to streamline and simplify processes, yet a 2019 PwC report found 80% of councils say they are not currently embracing the opportunities which new technologies offer. Councils should take advantage of developments such as cloud-based solutions which enable businesses to store and utilise their data more effectively and offers flexibility for continual development and therefore improvement.

Despite the benefits, the rate of cloud adoption is still slow in councils with 80% of councils relying mainly on on-site IT systems. Change is especially challenging in councils owing to their extensive services and having had legacy processes in place for many years.

In a sector that appears to be struggling to deliver today as much as it was 100 years ago, the most efficient councils today will be those that partner with technology providers and implement a system which streamlines processes and enables the whole business to work together seamlessly, so that tenants receive a service that is compatible with modern day expectations.

Increase efficiencies for better customer service

Islington Council is one of the 20% of local authorities who have embraced technology to improve its service delivery. The council maintains over 25,000 properties and deliver essential services to its residents.

Through implementing a field service management solution which enhances visibility and allows all staff to easily access and edit jobs, the council saw their first-time-fix rate for out of hours jobs increase to 97%. This is vital progress given that one of the biggest challenges for councils is maintaining 24/7 support for tenants in what has become a 24/7 society.

The latest digital tools empower councils to deliver their services to tenants quickly and efficiently. Optimised job scheduling within field service management software enables councils to ensure that the right qualified field teams are scheduled as quickly and efficiently as possible. This helps operatives to complete more jobs per day whilst reducing waiting time for tenants. Indeed, Gravesham Borough Council has seen its first-time-fix rates increase by 20% since implementing such software and its customer satisfaction has risen to 97%.

Generating cost efficiencies is also a critical factor for 21st century local authorities and Gravesham Borough Council were able to reduce their costs by a fifth, cutting £1 million from their budget through implementing field service management software to schedule all their operatives’ jobs. These cost savings can be used to improve the quality of tenants’ homes; such efficiencies are the type of opportunity which, as the PwC report mentioned, councils can benefit from through embracing new technologies.

We must celebrate the work which councils do for residents but also help them with the best solutions which makes their working days easier. It is clear that if councils work in unison with technology providers, a better future for social housing residents can be created.

100 more years of great homes

While much has changed since the first Housing Act, delivering safe and high-quality homes remains a consistent objective. By harnessing the power of 21st century technology and working with partners to help them maximise solutions and improve efficiencies, councils are putting themselves in a strong position to achieve this goal. Simplifying and streamlining their processes enables them to deliver a better service to their customers and look ahead to a bright outlook for the next 100 years of social housing.

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