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A solution for rent arrears

The team at Housing Insight has rolled out a third iteration of RentsConnect, the arrears management module within PanConnect.

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By Katrina Heyworth, Head of Sales, Housing Insight and Ann Foy, Business Development Manager, Housing Insight

The team at Housing Insight has rolled out a third iteration of RentsConnect, the arrears management module within PanConnect. Offering a completely new way of working, the changes to RentsConnect have created standout advantages for organisations seeking to address rent arrears.

RentsConnect began as a basic solution designed to help new customers who approached Housing Insight because their existing rent arrears recovery system wasn’t fit for purpose. When it came to releasing version two, we wanted to deliver above and beyond what was already on the market, so we asked customers for detailed feedback about what they needed; we translated their responses into focused algorithms and other functionality.

A different mindset

RentsConnect version three is a game-changer. We realised that while it’s useful to sit down with CEOs and Heads of Services, who certainly appreciate the money-saving potential of our products, it was even more valuable to listen closely to the grassroots end users. Our goal was to iron out implementation niggles, but it quickly became clear that we could make upgrades that had a transformative impact on how housing officers manage the entire rent arrears process. The changes we’ve now incorporated will make a positive difference to a lot of organisations - and the best part is that all upgrades are free for existing customers!

The latest version of RentsConnect helps staff on the ground to work in a better way. It doesn’t just facilitate efficiencies in collecting arrears but, significantly, it offers an intelligent filter that generates a real-time priority list that we believe is more accurate than anything else currently on the market.

Cost-of-living interventions

Most rent arrears tools have a monetary threshold below which they don’t recognise debt as problematic. In the current cost-of-living crisis, at a time when the average weekly rent in social housing is now an eyewatering £106, across England, we would argue that early interventions have never been more important. Any and all debt needs to be addressed straight away.

Vulnerable residents can be overlooked if the intervention threshold is set too high. Debt can quickly spiral and if a resident is relying on wishful thinking to get themselves back on track, they may choose not to get in touch with their landlord at this stage. Early interventions are vital in limiting the level of debt accrued. And while we recognise that some rent arrears will never be repaid, our system also allows residents to repay what they can afford right now, from as little as £1 per week, which gives them dignity and a sense of ownership over the debt.

An intelligent filter

However, simply removing the arrears threshold would not be a particularly helpful solution if it resulted in additional cases being added to the workload of already hard-pressed housing officers. That’s why we have devised an intelligent filter within RentsConnect that uses data an organisation

holds in its back-office system to predict the financial behaviour of their residents, determining how and why they get into arrears. Using this filter, which relies on our in-house formulae and algorithms, social housing providers can now generate what we believe to be the most effective priority rent arrears case lists available in the sector today.

We use a series of lifestyle indicators to trigger early intervention home visits – which may even occur before the first rent payment is missed. And because our priority lists are updated in real time, housing officers can be sure that their overall task lists are not only shorter but that they also reflect the most urgent cases, every day of the week.

Streamlining screens

A further benefit of liaising directly with the end users when developing RentsConnect version three has been screen simplification. When additional functionality is added to a system over time, it typically adds extra layers to the navigation process. We have worked hard to retain all system benefits and add new ones, while also reverting to a three-click scenario that makes life as easy as possible for our end users – for example, if a housing officer has 15 visits on their list for the day but they have advance knowledge that one of these residents is going to pay their rent, we wanted to make it easy for them to update the system without having to complete a lengthy process.

And, as part of our listening process, we replaced some of the language within RentsConnect with non-technical words that more closely reflect terminology used by housing officers on their visits.

Despite this drive for simplification, we were also able to add much more data to the system, taking the functionality far beyond a report or reconciliation of accounts. Our RentsConnect analytics engine integrates fully with an organisation’s housing management system; the user-friendly graphical interface is now searchable by organisation, patch, street and individual property, for any user who wants to view charges, payments and true arrears.

Everyone benefits

All RentsConnect customers automatically benefit from the improvements we’ve made in version three. Upgrades are always included in the annual fee for our products, so there are no hidden charges. As a small company, it’s easier for us if everyone operates using the latest version: we can minimise the number of support tickets that arise, which allows us to focus our energies on developing new products and features.

Gary Naylor, Chief Executive of Thenue Housing, commented: “The feedback from staff has been great. They are embracing the change, and the ease of accessing and updating accounts. We made the decision to choose RentsConnect as it fully integrated with our back-office systems, reducing duplication and increasing our efficiency. RentsConnect makes it easy for our staff to access the full information they require to carry out their role - whether they are on site, at home or in the office.”

A genuine collaboration

We’re delighted that RentsConnect version three has already made such a difference for staff on the ground. Our customers own the project as much as we do, because it’s their feedback that has

enabled us to evolve, using a process that’s robust yet rapid. RentsConnect is like having an extra staff member on your team: it’s digital technology but with a human mindset.

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