The story of SwapTracker
Product development is most effective when it’s done in partnership with an organisation’s customers. Communication is key to evolving and at Housing Partners, we pride ourselves on working closely with our customers in the development of our products. In speaking with our HomeSwapper landlord customers over the past year, the most pressing solution that they wanted to see was a system to be made available to landlords and tenants to facilitate and track the mutual exchange process. Responding to this need in consultation with landlords, we built SwapTracker, an end-to-end case management system. Nigel Carter our Lead Systems Analyst spoke to us about the process.
Our flagship software, HomeSwapper has been helping social housing tenants to find a mutual exchange swap for many years as the biggest mutual exchange site in the UK. Tenants register their home and needs so that the HomeSwapper system can match them with potential swaps. Once a swap is found tenants then get in contact with their landlords to organise the mutual exchange; this is where HomeSwapper’s support ends and it is from that point forward that landlords are relied upon to complete the majority of the swap.
There is currently no standardised method of completing a swap across the social housing sector. “What happens right now is once a tenant finds a swap, the process is all done offline by the landlord,” Nigel explains. The “landlords all have various ways of doing that – some may have a spreadsheet and some do it on paper. There is no real software as such to do that for them.”
One of the biggest challenges that landlords told us they face is having tenants contact them, sometimes on a daily basis, checking on the progress of their swap. It is, of course natural for tenants to want to see continual progress towards the completion of their swap. However, this can represent hours of work for landlords, as well as being a frustration for tenants.
Here at Housing Partners, our customers lead product innovation; we achieve our customer-led approach through our Help Desk team, along with Business Development Manager Eddy Irvine – known in the office as ‘Mr HomeSwapper’ – both of whom communicate with HomeSwapper landlords on a daily basis. Their aim is to find the pressure points and daily stressors that they face. Nigel tells us, “What came through were the different processes landlords had. So we started asking them; ‘If we had an online system, which guided people through the mutual exchange process would this be useful to you?’”
It quickly became clear to us that developing SwapTracker would concretely assist landlords with the challenges mutual exchange presents, as well as adding real additional value to HomeSwapper. The next steps Nigel and the team took were to “ask individual landlords whether they would be interested in joining a pilot group to help us shape the first version of SwapTracker and develop a roadmap of how we move forward with the software. Around 25 landlords agreed.” From the pilot group we gathered a set of requirements that landlords deemed the most pressing, which became the features that we developed for the launch version.
Using SwapTracker, tenants will be able to ‘self-serve’ through the mutual exchange process, freeing up housing professionals from the admin involved in current practices. This is part of a larger trend of digitising services across the housing sector, which aim to give housing officials more time to focus on looking after residents and safeguarding vulnerable tenants. Streamlining these services was a top priority for the landlords we spoke with. At first “we deliberately kept the launch product group quite low for key landlords. We aimed to give them a test site to play around with prior to the launch to get more feedback” and identify any areas for improvement.
The must-have functionalities SwapTracker includes are a fully digitised application form, followed by a countdown timeline that both case officers and tenants have access to. Nigel told us that one obstacle those we spoke with had in common was with the process feeling inaccessible to the tenants going through it. “When a tenant applies for a mutual exchange and the landlord has received all of the forms relating to it. The landlord then legally has 42 days from that point to approve or reject the swap. Confusion can come about through this, as some believe they have 42 days until the move happens.” SwapTracker clears up tenant expectations; alongside complete transparency, the system allows users to schedule meetings and inspections, upload forms and documents, such as driving licences and contracts and see what paperwork the application may be missing.
End to end
SwapTracker is designed to provide an end-to-end service presented in a user-friendly Tenant Dashboard and Landlord Dashboard. The Tenant Dashboard is designed to show the swapper all the relevant information in one easy-to-understand screen. It shows them exactly where they are in the swap process; the tasks that have been completed and those that are still outstanding, as well as how long is left in the swap process. The Landlord Dashboard clearly shows each housing officer’s swap workload and where in the swap cycle each of those cases is, along with actions and prompts for which tasks are due, pending or overdue.
In 2018, 10,700 local authority lettings were made through mutual exchange schemes. Landlords legally aren’t able to charge for mutual exchange, so it’s important that swaps don’t consume too much time or resources. SwapTracker will significantly reduce the administrative hurdles faced when tenants apply for mutual exchange and because it has been developed in collaboration with landlords, it’s tailor-made to alleviate the time-consuming process of mutual exchange. The system puts the tenant and the landlord on the same page, bringing about a more transparent process that builds trust between tenants and landlords.