Case Study: Worthing Homes
Worthing Homes, a housing association with around 3,700 properties, is situated in and around Worthing on the south coast of Sussex.
Worthing Homes initially invested in RentSense in 2017 to help them focus on the right cases and enable them to intervene at the earliest stages of debt, as the organisation was mindful of the impact that Universal Credit would have on resources.
Arrears Reduction: 14.8% (Apr 2019 2.7% – Apr 2020 2.3%)
Arrears Reduction in Lockdown: £25,072 (Apr 20 2.3% – Sept 20 2.2%)
“Prior to RentSense our income team were spending time looking at cases that required no action. We needed a system that could present an accurate caseload, but also identify cases at their earliest stages, as we knew we would need to be more efficient for when Universal Credit was deployed.” Commented Simon Anderson, Head of Customer Services at Worthing Homes.
The initial investment in RentSense was viewed as a solution to help mitigate Universal Credit whilst maintaining performance and the same size income team, rather than reducing arrears. The results over the last 18 months and more belie the initial reasoning of maintaining performance as arrears too have fallen.
“At Worthing we currently have around 850 of our tenancies claiming Universal Credit. With that number across three income officers we would have expected to see arrears rise but all our KPIs are improving. For example, arrears for non-UC residents have dropped to an all-time low of 1%. RentSense is at the heart of that, it is ensuring we get to the right cases at the right time, helping to nip any potential issues in the bud.” comments Simon.
In the last financial year, despite welfare reform Worthing Homes successfully reduced their arrears from 2.7% (April 2019) to 2.3% (in April 2020).
“RentSense helped us reduce our arrears in 2019/20. But, it’s not just our arrears that are improving the average arrear is falling. There has been a 12% reduction in tenants that owe 3 months of rent or more. And again, this at a time when the Universal Credit roll out was being accelerated. RentSense helped our officers support the right tenants at the right time.” Comments Simon.
Pandemic forces shift in approach
Worthing’s approach to income collection pre-Covid was focused on being active in the community, visiting customers. The pandemic forced Simon and the team to re-shape their approach, but it has paid dividends for them and their tenants.
“Often you can get more from speaking to customers face to face than you can over the phone. Our approach was very much geared around visiting customers before March. But there has been some real positives from the changes we have made. Officers have been able to speak to and support more customers than before, and now they are completing all their cases every week in RentSense. As a result our arrears have dropped since April from 2.3% to 2.2% at the end of September (a reduction of £25,000). This is helping us protect our financial position, and in turn this supports our hardship fund and we are sustaining more tenancies.” Explains Simon.
As an organisation Worthing focused on speaking to all their vulnerable tenants when lockdown was imposed in March 2020. And staff, redeployed from other positions, were regularly calling customers to check everything was ok. Where they can Worthing also support their customers through their own hardship fund, so if tenants are struggling or having specific issues, they can help address it.
“If we know customers do not have money for food or heating we give them supermarket vouchers or put credit on their gas and electric from this fund,” comments Simon.
This approach and support has helped both customers and colleagues alike. Many colleagues have commented on how speaking to tenants and the interaction and conversations have helped them as well.
In what has been a challenging time for many, the income team were able to revert to working from home seamlessly, as RentSense is cloud-based and can be accessed from any location. It also continues to help from a management perspective with the information it offers.
“RentSense gives us added insight to the arrears, so we have a granular level of what is going in, and from a management perspective it is easy to access so we can monitor performance.”
Worthing Homes management team were a little surprised, however very pleased that their performance improved through lockdown.
“RentSense has really helped with this, and of course huge credit goes to the income team who have been able to deliver,” comments Simon.
When asked if he would recommend RentSense to other social landlords Simon responds:
“Absolutely it has been invaluable in the success we have had in terms of keeping arrears low and driving them down. There’s no doubt we would not be where we are today if we did not have RentSense, our arrears, processes, team would look very different. We have kept a team of just three income officers which we’ve had for about five years now, despite Universal Credit. Without it the team would certainly be bigger, and without the early intervention, we would not be getting to support those tenants that fall into arrears or miss payments so we are able to maintain more tenancies.”