Housing repairs online - improvement

Full Application: Funded

This discovery aims to define a common service pattern for housing repairs and understand: barriers to adoption of digital repairs services

  • The elements best suited to self service
  • Optimal uses of technology to improve user satisfaction, reduce costs, which may not be the initial logging of the repairs
  • Work on digital repairs services & user research already undertaken by councils
  • How service pattern can be mapped to the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) repairs data standard

From this a kit will be produced to accelerate development of digital repairs services.

Indicative annual cost of call management based on councils in this bid are approx £19-£27 p/property.

Councils are responsible for providing repairs to socially rented properties. Most users access the service by phone and it is typically the service with highest volumes. The service is attractive to provide digitally, however when an acceptable telephone channel exists take-up is often low, possibly due to:

  • Failure demand, with users calling for updates on existing requests
  • Lack of clarity as to responsibility for repairs
  • Complex diagnosis
  • Urgent/dangerous repairs not suited to digital channel
  • Preference to speak to agent
  • Demographics of tenants same as those likely to be digitally excluded

Consequently providers don’t always realise expected savings from channel shift and digital repairs services that meet the service standard may not be economical for smaller providers.

Discovery will be delivered by the partner councils, working with specialists with experience of repairs services procured through the Digital Marketplace & funded by the Local Digital Fund.

1) Key Milestones

a) Procurement & Inception: 10/12/18-28/12/18

Appoint external partner to be supported by staff from digital & repairs teams at participating councils, to coordinate research with residents.

b) Research sprints: 7/1/19-22/3/19

  • Internal/external users of service
  • User needs problems throughout process
  • Repairs diagnosis process
  • Review of existing digital repairs services & lessons learned from other councils
  • HACT data standard and reference process

c) Synthesis

  • Identify common themes across different local authorities
  • Define standard service pattern, using existing GOV.UK patterns where possible
  • Map service pattern to HACT data standard & reference process

d) Final report & documentation: 25-29/3/19 (to be delivered by partner)

  • User research report highlighting common elements, barriers to usage & key opportunity areas for application of technology/solutions
  • Curated user research from multiple organisations for inclusion in public/open research libraries
  • Benefits case to help councils calculate size of various opportunities based on their call volumes
  • Proposal for development of an alpha product incorporating the service pattern & data standard.

e) Publish outputs 1/4/19

2) This project will be run using agile methods & we expect the project to last between 4 & 5 two week sprints, with valuable insights delivered and shared at the end of each sprint.

3) For objectives of discovery to be met we must have confidence that the service pattern produced is applicable across multiple authorities. This will be ensured by consolidating user research from organisations to identify common findings and verifying the service pattern against the reference repairs process HACT created with 7 housing providers for the repairs data standard.

Local authorities provide responsive repairs to 1.6m socially rented properties in England, in addition to repairs to communal areas and blocks also impacting on leaseholders. Current annual costs of repairs call handling for councils involved in this bid are:

Southwark, 53k properties, £1m

Lewisham, 18k properties, £500k

Gravesham, 6k properties

Lincoln, 8k properties, £150k


Extrapolating these the national cost of repairs call handling could be estimated at >£30m p/a and a large financial benefit in creating a digital service so good, people prefer to use it. Based on our experiences however only ~50% of calls are for new repairs implying significant levels of failure demand. Additionally, the demographics most likely to be digitally excluded are also most likely to live in social housing, so the reach of a project investigating only online logging of repairs would be limited. This discovery project will therefore seek to create a pattern for the end-to-end delivery of repairs, improving resident satisfaction.

Many other authorities will be able to view our user journeys, and user research reports and use these as a base for getting their repairs service online.

Collating and publishing user research from multiple sources, including our own will help councils that manage smaller numbers of properties and lack budgets large enough to do their own in-depth user research by providing a broadly applicable body of knowledge, not specific to the needs of any one provider.

Mapping this service pattern to the HACT data standard will enable more granular performance benchmarking at different stages of the process.

Staff at each council will gain experience of user research that can be applied to future projects.

The project will also promote user research as a way of improving a high profile service by embedding user research as a critical starting point for decision making around service delivery.

There’s 4.1m social rented properties in England with 1.6m being managed by LAs. Discovery work carried out for this project & subsequent outcomes can be shared not only by LAs but with housing associations & private sector. We will ensure this work is relevant to others by sharing regularly. Each partner will contribute, provide information & share learning. We will create a series of blogs, to share with the sector about our discovery work & how we are progressing. We believe this work will be transferable to wider sector.

We are planning to run in 2 week sprints, insights will be delivered, shared at end of each sprint with partners drawing feedback and inform priorities for next sprint. In addition to regular blogs through discovery, outputs will be published for wider community to share the findings, stimulate debate & ensure that any progression to alpha will meet common needs across councils. We will aiming to use tools such as Google’s GSuite, Trello to collaborate.

Business case

In addition to the points raised in Q2 the external company will provide a business case for all the partner councils, which can be reused by other local authorities wishing to transform their housing repairs service. It will enable the authorities to move forward with potential delivery methods to allow us to satisfy the customer demands in the most efficient manner. We expect the business case to quantify:

  • The current volume of repairs reported, the type of repair and the costs of chase up requests, unsatisfactory repairs etc.
  • The user needs that we need to meet.

User research report

The report will draw on best practice throughout the private and public sectors and will outline:

  • Who our users are and their expectations of the service.
  • What the user need is and how we’re meeting those needs
  • What user needs we’re not meeting

Draft report

A summary report will be drafted that outlines the options for moving forward. The report will consider the customer journey and their expectations of the service, include methods for tracking progress and resolution to their reported problems. These conclusions will be drawn from extensive customer research and by analysing the methods currently used and their associated issues and costs. The report will include considerations for developing delivery standards that could be deployed into the wider public and private sector in the future.

We will use a proven specialist supplier who has expertise and experience in local government. We expect them to engage fully with:

–        Residents, leaseholders

–        Staff – who takes calls

–        Service matter experts (SMEs)

It is anticipated that the chosen researcher would advise on best practice methodology to achieve the required engagement and outputs outlined previously in this document.

Our proposed user research objectives are;

  • What data is available?
  • How accessible is the service is to users?
  • What user needs are currently being met?
  • What user needs that aren’t currently being met?
  • What other work has been done by others around reporting a housing repair?
  • What problems do users face when reporting repairs online?
  • Identify negative customer experience when reporting a repair online
  • Identify failure points in the online repairs reporting process
  • Understand the touchpoints between the customer and repairs service
  • What savings might be generated by better meeting user needs?
  • What technology already exists that may help deliver the service?
  • Gauge insights on experiences with post-visit communications follow ups

We do not anticipate any significant direct support would be required at this stage, however links to any other providers that have already created digital repairs services would help maximise the value of the discovery.

No previous funding for this type of project in any authority before.

1 thought on “London Borough of Southwark

  1. As Systems & Performance Manager, Adur and Worthing Councils:

    At Adur and Worthing Councils we went through a process of discovery in 2017 and we built our own repairs system using low-code in 2017-18. I would very much support this work and would be interested in seeing how this discovery – and proposed solution – compares with our own.

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