Understanding tenants for their benefit

Total Insight Case Study: POBL Group, understanding tenants for their benefit

POBL Group

Pobl group manages over 10,000 homes across south and mid Wales through its Charter Housing, Derwen and Gwalia companies. Its properties range from family homes and single person flats to retirement apartments.

Total Insight is a tenant data tool that collates information from a housing provider’s housing management system, combining it with external data gathered from hundreds of sources. Equipped with this data, housing associations and local authorities are able to proactively profile tenants and target those likely to fall into debt. Pobl Group is using the Insight tool to deliver an improved service to customers of all three housing brands.

Stephen Evans, Director of Housing at Charter, said: “After hearing positive feedback from housing associations using Insight, we realised it fitted perfectly with our vision and the way we want to work. We launched Insight fully in May 2016.”

Welfare Reform

The lower benefit cap, introduced in November last year, meant that more of Charter Housing’s tenants are now affected by the cap. The new policy puts even more households in danger of being short on rent, which is consequential for them and Charter Housing.

Stephen added: “Following the introduction of the lower benefit cap, we’ve been using Insight to identify the tenants likely to be most affected by it and have informed, supportive conversations with them. Charter spoke to 75 of the tenants affected, using Insight for improved advice and support during our visits.

“Insight gives us a detailed picture of their financial situation, including other factors that may make it difficult for them to pay their rent.”

Charter Housing has identified 570 individuals under significant financial stress which equates to 14% of its tenants. It’s vital these households don’t go under the radar and that they can access support as they need it.

Jay Dudley, Principal Partner Manager at Housing Partners, said: “With the recent benefit cap and the new universal credit system of payments, due to welfare reform, social landlords are having to consider new, more commercial approaches to protect income.

We recognised through talking to our social landlord customers across Wales that many would value a more pro-active approach to supporting their vulnerable tenants.

Illegal Lenders

Another part of welfare reform that put further financial pressure on housing providers was the introduction of Universal Credit. The change in system means that housing benefit is now paid directly to tenants, instead of the housing provider, something illegal lenders can take advantage of.

“This can cause serious problems if tenants are in debt”, Stephen said, “Particularly if the debt is owed to loan sharks, as individuals may feel they have no choice but to use their housing benefit to repay these illegal lenders.

“Insight has helped Charter Housing spot the individuals who are vulnerable to such activity and take preventative measures to ensure tenants don’t spiral into these vicious circles before it’s too late.

“Another way in which Insight is helping to ensure housing benefit isn’t spent elsewhere is by signing more tenants up to making direct debit payments.

Stephen Evans said: “Using Housing Partner’s software, we can see the people that are paying utility bills by direct debit. As we know they have the option, we can have the conversation with them and help them switch to paying rent through this more efficient, secure method.”

Charter has identified around 600 people who regularly pay other bills by direct debit. Prior to implementing Insight, just under 1,000 tenants paid by this method.

Using Data to Benefit Tenants

“There’s still a lot of sensitivity concerning data and privacy, and understandably so”, Stephen Evans explains, “Which is why we’re taking a careful, measured approach to rolling Insight out across the organisation. Much of this data is already available publicly, but not in one place, so it’s important we highlight the potential benefits to our tenants and how it can help them.”

Insight connects numerous third party data sources, helping tenants to improve their credit rating simply by paying their rent on time. A more realistic credit score is a plus for residents, housing associations and legitimate lenders.

Charter Housing offered its tenants the chance to opt out of this data inclusion, but only 46 people across its 4,200 homes did so.

Achieving its Vision with Total Insight

With the introduction of the lower benefit cap and Universal Credit, it’s more important than ever, as a main source of income, that housing providers secure rent on time and in full. Insight is allowing Charter Housing to identify at risk tenantsand ask the right questions to help ensure debt and rental arrears don’t get any worse.

Stephen Evans said: “Insight is supporting our ethos and commitment to helping people stay in their homes, whether that be through avoiding rental arrears or illegal lenders. Since implementing Insight, we’ve only evicted four tenants. Of course, that’s still four too many, but in comparison to the average housing provider, it’s extremely low. The data provided by Insight is helping to keep tenants in their homes.

“Insight has given us so much data, and so many possibilities for the future. It’s now about focusing on more ways we can use the information to tailor our services and take informed steps forward to improve the financial situation of tenants, our communication with them and in turn, their lives.”