Case Study: First Choice Homes Oldham

First Choice Homes Oldham have around 11,000 properties in and around Oldham, in Greater Manchester.

This is a short interview with First Choice Homes Oldham’s (FCHO) Head of Income, Sarah Aldred.

Key Stats

Properties: 11,000
Arrears Reduction: £70,000  (FY 2020/21)
Collection Rate: 100.49% (target was 99.7% F/Y 20/21)
Automation Efficiencies: 165 cases per week (equivalent of 2 FTE)

Since Using Rentsense

Mobysoft:

“How has income collection changed since 2012 when you first started using RentSense?”

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“The environment has changed completely, it has become more difficult to collect rent with the huge reduction in Housing Benefit, and the fact that Universal Credit (UC) cases take around 3 times as long to manage. In Oldham we were at the forefront of the pilot UC and full service roll out. That coupled with the last twelve months has made it more important than ever to have strong relationships with tenants and to have the time to have quality conversations.”

Mobysoft:

“How has RentSense helped give you more time for those conversations?”

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“The accurate arrears caseload means we are speaking to tenants at the earliest opportunity. But, also the automation we have with RentSense, it has freed up even more time to have in depth conversations with customers.”

Mobysoft:

“Could you explain what you mean by automation and how it helps?”

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“The automation element identifies where every arrears case is within our process, and it helps automate the cases that need a text or letter in the background, without officer intervention. This has helped the team to have over 55,000 phone calls with tenants over the last 12 months, and these (calls) have been focused on building stronger relationships with our customers.

Mobysoft:

“That’s a huge amount of calls, how have the stronger relationships helped?

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“We can see how tenants are becoming more self-reliant, but also they are talking to us and asking for support when they need it and it is improving relationships. One officer called a customer last week just to ask how a job interview had gone, as it had come up in a previous conversation. Another customer called us about an upcoming operation, which meant they would not be working and would struggle to cover their rent in the short term. She told us about it beforehand and proposed her own re-payment plan, which has since covered the arrears.”

Mobysoft:

“Has it helped FCHO maintain efficiencies?”

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“Despite having 4,800 UC claimants (just under half of FCHO’s tenancies) we have not had to increase staff levels. Thanks to RentSense and the automation we are lean and as efficient as possible.

 

The caseload for officers is around 80 per officer, (it was around 300 back in 2012). The automation processes around 165 cases per week, which is the equivalent of 2 FTE. So, despite all the changes the team have been able to absorb the additional UC workload.”

Mobysoft:

“What has been the biggest change for you and your team in the last year because of Covid?

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“Definitely the focus on relationships with customers and the importance of having the time to do this.”

Mobysoft:

“Has RentSense and automation helped with this and the service you deliver?”

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“Without a doubt, it has helped us build relationships and personalise the service. It gets officers away from process and enables them to spend the right time with each customer.

A customer rang up in lockdown to say there had been an issue with their van (the officer knew the customer was a delivery driver). They needed to get it fixed, but to do that they needed to reduce their rent payment that month, and they said they would make it up the following month, and they did.”

Mobysoft:

How have the income team coped in the past year?

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“Everyone has been incredible, and it has brought the team closer together. They have showed incredible resilience. What they have done is probably best summed in the following quote from one of the team about the last 12 months.

 

‘I’ve been a financial advisor, social advisor, a mum and teacher, we are not just income officers, we have become this one stop shop for help support and advice.’

Mobysoft:

“Has RentSense and automation also helped to improve performance as well?”

Sarah Aldred (SA), Head of Income, First Choice Homes Oldham:

“It is key and it has helped us change our approach, we are not chasing arrears, we are building relationships, and that is what RentSense has enabled. We have had compliments from customers in the past year about the support we have offered.

 

“And despite all the challenges we have reduced arrears by over £70,000 and our cash collection was 100.49% which exceeded our target of 99.7% and automation is delivering the equivalent of 2 FTE each week as well. However, I think the real standout statistic, is that the income team contacted 55,000 in the last year, this is just 10,000 less than our service centre. And those calls have made all the difference.”