Housing Jigsaw: A year with PRAH
One year ago, on the 3rd April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force. This was the single biggest change to homelessness policy in 15 years and required local authorities to fulfil new duties in addition to the statutory rehousing duty; specifically, to prevent and relieve homelessness.
Responding to this, our team at Housing Partners, in partnership with the National Practitioner Support Service developed PRAH (Prevention Relief Accomodation Homelessness), the flagship module of our Housing Jigsaw suite of solutions. PRAH is an innovative automated HRA solution, built to relieve the new administrative burden associated with the Act and ensure that LA officers are compliant with the legislation at all times.
Whilst we’ve been working in the social housing sector for many years, Housing Jigsaw was our first system built specifically to support the local authority sector. Building an entirely new system from scratch was no mean feat but was achieved by listening to exactly what it was that LAs really needed from the solution, working alongside our partners NPSS to deliver a truly intuitive platform.
The partnership has been key to the success of PRAH, with Gay Lloyd from Wychavon District Council noting: “For me, it’s not about the cost, it’s about Practitioners and an IT company working together; that’s what’s different. It’s very unusual to be able to influence a system, usually it’s just handed to us – we’re in a unique position here.”
We spoke with our colleague Greg Andrews, Head of Customer Operations at Housing Partners about what the last year working with PRAH has entailed. For Greg as well, it’s that foundational partnership that really puts the system head and shoulders above: “It’s been really exciting to build software from scratch with an organisation like NPSS. When experts in two different fields come together to meet the needs of brand-new legislation in such an incredibly short space of time, its hugely challenging but hugely rewarding.”
Re-joining Housing Partners in October 2017 when the first pilot customers began coming on board, Greg was placed straight into the thick of it, implementing new customers on PRAH. He recalls, “We had to get 68 LA customers live by April, which meant more than just getting them on the system. We were setting up their service, providing training by going on site to hold onboarding sessions, recording webinars, demos and writing user guides; it was massively challenging – the most incredibly busy time because our customers needed the system to be in place with their staff fully trained.”
Having arrived by 3rd April, PRAH was the only fully automated system on the market that was ready in time; a mammoth effort from all teams. But it didn’t stop there. “Since then, we’ve been working with customers to enhance the product. We’ve deployed 22 major releases to date since April 2018, the majority of which are based on customer feedback fed in through NPSS or Housing Partners directly speaking with customers about what they’d like to see. Since ‘go live’ in April the most important thing my team have been working on is configuring each customer’s system to allow them to tailor forms, document types and PHP actions within PRAH. This has been really quite rewarding because you’re making the system fit each customer’s specific requirements.”
The tailoring of our system in line with communications we’ve had with users is seemingly one of the elements our customers appreciate the most about the PRAH system. London Borough of Hillingdon recently told us: “We like the commitment to [Housing Jigsaw] customers, accepting enhancement requests and regular development. There’s no ‘get what you’re given’ model and Housing Jigsaw continue to work with us to shape the system in this ever-changing environment.”
The Help Desk team managed by Greg has also been integral to the customer feedback we’ve gathered and to the high level of customer service employed for Housing Jigsaw. Despite a high volume of tickets to respond to as the legislation came into force, their response rate has stayed at an average of 16 hours. A representative from Halton Borough Council noted that: “I have found the support for the Housing Jigsaw system, provided by Housing Partners, to be excellent. During a huge period of transition for local authorities, their commitment to providing both prompt and quality support has been invaluable. Housing Partners’ positive working relationship with NPSS is also of great benefit to LAs using the Jigsaw system where the lines could be blurred between queries being technical and legislation based.”
In addition to the customer-led enhancements to the system, PRAH was also updated in line with the various changes to the H-CLIC reporting requirements that occurred throughout the year. H-CLIC is a fundamental requirement of the new legislation and every change has significant implications for LAs and the system itself. For Greg, “H-CLIC was a big challenge. In the space of six months, we made 13 major enhancements to the schema in PRAH following MHCLG changes, and each time we reacted incredibly quickly; faster than any of our competitors. My team were then supporting our customers to get their uploads in by the deadlines.”
For Thurrock Borough Council, this quick action has been crucial: “We have been using Jigsaw from the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act; without the system we would have struggled to provide the service and would have been unable to provide the crucial H-CLIC returns. Thanks to the helpful Housing Jigsaw support staff we are now also making the bespoke changes to deliver an effective service to our residents.”
Following the initial launch of PRAH, Greg’s Implementation Team have also been conducting ‘customer success’ visits. For Greg, these meetings are about “understanding how the system is being used, how it can be used better, the challenges customers have faced and the support that a customer may need going forward. They’re also an opportunity to pull together any ‘wish list’ requests for future development. Through these meetings, not only have we enhanced PRAH to customer needs, we’ve also heard their challenges and other requirements, which has enabled us to build new products to support the sector.”
H-CLIC and legacy cases
It was during one of these ‘customer success’ visits that the concept for our Legacy – Advanced Management (LAM) module came about. In conversation during a visit to a customer, Greg’s team realised that there was a big challenge on the horizon for LAs, in the form of the new H-CLIC requirement of reporting on all legacy cases. Greg tells us: “We left that meeting and headed to the nearest cafe, where we immediately began sketching out a solution to what was clearly going to be a big concern for our customers. By the time we left, we had the bones of LAM planned out, which we took back to the office to be shaped further.”
It’s meetings such as these and the responsiveness that comes out of them, that really sets the Housing Jigsaw suite of modules apart and has helped to ensure a 100% renewal rate for PRAH, whilst new local authorities continue to join us. Greg tells us, “I really enjoy meeting our customers and hearing them tell me how good the system is and how much it’s helped. The biggest thing customers have said is that it’s kept them compliant with the legislation and that’s a massive comfort blanket for them. It’s really made a difference to people working in the homelessness sector – and more than that, it’s helped the applicants themselves; with the Customer Portal they’re able to engage more easily with the local authority.”
The scale of the work of all the teams working across Housing Jigsaw has been beyond impressive – and we’re only one year in! So, what’s next for the Housing Jigsaw team? “We’re doing onsite reporting training with our customers and one of the most common things they want is the ability to have more tailored reports and to answer FOI requests through the system. Based on this, we’re about the deploy the new version of our reporting module. We also look forward to bringing more customers on board!”
It’s certainly a year to be proud of and for Greg, “I’m most proud of the product itself and the team at Housing Partners. Our organisation’s Vision is: ‘Working together we can do the right thing’. I think Housing Jigsaw more than anything else proves that; every single part of the business has been involved in the success, we’ve all worked together and we’ve done the right thing.”