Case Study: ONGO Homes
Equity Housing Group manages 4,500 homes in the North of England, the majority of their stock lies either side of the Southern Pennines in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire.
Equity has been a consistent high performer in terms of arrears, but they were keen to create greater efficiencies and officer capacity so they would be able to mitigate the challenges of ongoing welfare reform and the deployment of Universal Credit.
Arrears Reduction: £500,000 (2018 – 2020)
Average UC Arrears: £70
ONGO Homes, based in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, has reduced arrears by around £500,000 in the last two years thanks to introducing a rent first approach and utilising RentSense.
ONGO initially introduced RentSense to provide an accurate caseload for their income officers, so they were more efficient addressing and working the right cases at the right time.
“Prior to RentSense we struggled to get an accurate caseload from our housing management system, so officers spent time trying to work out which tenants they needed to speak with. At the time it was reactive, however RentSense has helped identify tenancies at the earliest stages of debt and enable us to intervene,” explains Matt Kelly, Income Manager at ONGO Homes.
The introduction of RentSense coincided with a Rent First approach across the organisation. ONGO were keen to eradicate silo working and looked to engender a united ethos to rent collection. This was central to their mitigation plan for Universal Credit. Part of the solution was to get tenants to pay their rent in advance and thus eliminate ‘technical arrears’.
“Tenants were encouraged to get their account in credit, by the frequency they pay their rent. So monthly payers, paying their monthly rent in advance,” explains Matt.
The rent first culture also meant when tenants called in, if their account is in arrears, this is raised on the call and non-urgent repairs are not booked until the issues with rent payments have been addressed. This approach was also keenly supported by ONGO’s Community Voice Panel, made up of tenants.
For many landlords Universal Credit has meant more tenants falling into longer term rent arrears. ONGO used the efficiencies delivered by RentSense to give their officers more time to support tenants on the transition.
“RentSense has given us back the time at the start and at the point of the claim. We can have in depth conversations and set expectations of how important paying the rent is. As a result, we have a decreasing number of people on APAs, and fewer taking advance payments.” Comments Matt.
Successfully mitigating Universal Credit
The approach taken by ONGO has been incredibly successful, as the number of Universal Credit claimants have increased, the organisation’s average UC arrear has continued to decrease.
“We currently have around 2,500 tenancies claiming UC, and at present our average UC arrear is £70. RentSense and Rent First have been instrumental in helping the team achieve this,” comments Matt.
This sector leading performance has continued throughout the Covid pandemic as well, as Matt explains:
“The pandemic has affected 485 of our tenancies, of which 286 are now claiming Universal Credit, the average arrear across this cohort is just £40.”
Helping ONGO overcome Covid-19
ONGO Homes has seamlessly switched to remote working across the organisation due to the lockdown. Officers have been able to access RentSense, as it is cloud based, and continued to work with tenants throughout.
“From a management perspective it (RentSense) has really helped in lockdown. It helps me provide in-depth reports to our Executive Leadership Team, which I am doing weekly at present, rather than monthly. I also use it to monitor workload across the team, so I can see if we need additional resource on specific patches. I am able to check patch configuration in RentSense to monitor the number of UC claimants along with profile of the tenants so we can match the right workers with the right profile of tenancies. Any changes made can be tested first to see what the outcome will be, to ensure parity across the team,” highlights Matt.
This shift in approach and introduction of RentSense has helped ONGO improve performance across the board.
“Our arrears have fallen by around £500,000 since 2018, from £1.1m to £616,000 in March 2020. We have also seen former tenants’ arrears half in this time, and last year our evictions fell significantly as the team are helping sustain more tenancies.” Explains Matt.
The improved performance has continued in lockdown as well, with ONGO achieving their best year on year performance ever for arrears.
“The target for the year end is to get arrears below 1% and we are hopeful that we can still achieve this,” concludes Matt.