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  • Writer's pictureTom O'Connell

Staff satisfaction: Improving morale within income teams through SMART working

SMART Working - S: Staff Satisfaction

January is a time for reflection, so for those working in social housing it bears considering the current state of tenancy management in the UK. What struggles do tenants face, what obstacles prevent housing associations from doing more to help people, and how can these issues be tackled in 2023?

These questions have been posed and debated by a number of organisations and publications over the past few months, including the UK Government’s 2022 Risk Report and Social Housing Residents Survey, the Better Social Housing Review’s 2022 Report, and Inside Housing’s Ten themes that should dominate the housing sector in 2023, to name just a few.

While the precise nature of the recommendations changes between each report, there are clear overriding themes: the cost-of-living crisis, energy prices, overworked housing association staff, higher borrowing costs for providers, the cap on social housing rent increases, decarbonisation commitments, necessary but expensive investments in technology, struggles to maintain updated quality and safety standards, and improving tenant wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, these are the same themes we’ve been hearing from tenants, housing directors and sector experts for months now.

With these points in mind, Occupi wanted to start 2023 by reevaluating our mission to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the sector and aligning with our own core values. Our SMART technology is always learning and adapting, and we need to make sure that we do the same as an organisation.

As such, we will now go through what it means to be SMART in the social housing sector in 2023, exploring each of our five values and how they relate to the issues faced by the industry, the underlying causes of these issues, and how Occupi is a step towards solving them.

S: Staff Satisfaction

The first of Occupi’s five values is Staff Satisfaction. The current state of affairs in housing associations is troubling for tenants and housing associations, undoubtedly, but it’s also challenging employees in income and financial inclusion teams. As these people are fundamentally responsible for improving the lives of tenants and recuperating arrears for their housing association, it’s essential to ensure that these teams can work effectively, efficiently and happily.

While surveys conducted by HQN and other organisations have shown that income teams enjoy helping people manage their finances and plan for their futures, they have also shown that most income officers are feeling increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs. This is largely because they are unable to contact and properly manage the arrears of the tenants in their patch. Weekly caseloads for many income officers have reached impossible sizes, yet these caseloads are expected to keep rising without extra support likely to be provided.

These exhausting caseloads are the result of a number of compounding factors. Firstly, existing housing management systems are unable to properly identify which tenancies need to be contacted, and which don’t. A very common issue is that technical arrears cases are not removed from income officers caseloads. (Technical arrears cases are tenancies that are in debt only because the tenants receive their monthly income after their rent is due, meaning that they appear to be in arrears for a few days.) On top of this, the cost-of-living crisis and the unexpectedly-high rental increase cap of 7% are pushing more people into arrears.

With increasing costs for housing associations, including those linked to decarbonisation commitments, hiring new employees to take on the additional workload is, for most, prohibitively expensive.

However, with Occupi, no additional staff are required. Occupi’s AI technology is able to remove all technical arrears cases from an income officer's workload, resulting in an immediate reduction in size of 30% to 40%. Past this, Occupi is able to prioritise the remaining cases based on those who are in the most need, so that income officers’ are able to offer the most support and limit additional arrears for their housing associations.

Occupi allows income teams to get back to what they do best: helping people manage their finances and plan for their futures. Staff satisfaction should be placed at the forefront of any organisation’s goals, but this is particularly true for the social housing sector today.

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