Providing digital support for housing and homelessness

Kent Homechoice aimed to develop three new online, mobile friendly tools for housing applications and advice.

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Kent Homechoice is a partnership of 39 organisations which includes all 13 Kent and Medway local councils and 26 of the housing associations that provide housing in Kent. The partnership is supported by a Smarter Digital Services team, which was created by chief executives across Kent and works with public bodies to improve and increase online services, drive down costs, and most importantly enhance the customer experience.

The bid for LGA funding aligned with three key ongoing collaborative projects across Kent:

Kent Homechoice’s aspiration to improve its online self-service option via the shared Locata housing system. An online housing application form had been introduced across Kent in 2009 but user testing (including videoing) during 2015 had demonstrated it was no longer fit for purpose. As one officer commented: “In theory, 80 per cent of our applications were done online. But in reality the form was so difficult that customer services staff or partner agencies ended up doing it for the applicant.” A working group, comprising housing officers from each council, had therefore been established to jointly redesign the online housing application services across Kent.

Smarter Digital Services’ work programme, sponsored by Kent Customer Services Group, aimed at improving online services by placing the user at the heart of service design. A video of customers struggling to complete the existing online housing application process proved to be a highly effective driver for persuading housing and customer services managers and staff that change was essential.

The joint Kent chief executives’ vision to coordinate approaches to ICT systems and procurement to reduce the duplication in spending and effort on shared requirements. There was also a desire to share business intelligence, particularly around residents at high risk of developing greater needs in the future.

The specific outcome envisaged by the Kent bid was to develop and implement three new online tools, all of which would be available in mobile-friendly versions:

A homelessness triage service – to enable staff and customers quickly to make an initial assessment of a person’s circumstances and, where they seemed unlikely to be eligible for assistance, to signpost the customer to alternative advice and support available to them (including the pre-assessment form below).

An online housing application pre-assessment form – which, by asking a small number of key questions, would give the customer an early indication of the likelihood of their being accepted onto the housing register. The customer would not be required to give personal data at this point. The customer would be offered an ‘action plan’ on other local housing options tailored to their circumstances and updated in line with changing policies and procedures.

A redesigned online housing application form – this form would be a scaled-down and simplified version of the current form and would be ‘intelligent’ in the sense that it would only ask for information relevant to the customer’s circumstances and housing need and would pull relevant details from the pre-assessment form. It would not be possible.

Given the pressures on housing services nationally, the tools developed by the project are potentially a valuable resource for councils throughout the UK. During 2018, the LGA will therefore be funding a follow-on programme of work that will help a small number of nominated councils to adopt and develop the work undertaken by the Kent team.

The Kent councils have also recognised that the new tools could be adapted for use in other service areas where pre-assessment or eligibility checking is required, for example adult social care services. Discussions are underway to explore new areas of activity.

Read the full case study

You can hear more from key people involved in the project via the videos below:

Kevin Hetherington - Head of Housing, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

Ian Hirst - Head of Digital Services and Transformation - Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

Jane Haselden - Digital Services and Website Consultant

Vicky Hodson - Kent Homechoice Partnership Manager