Redesigning Hackney's Benefits and Housing Needs Service
Creating a service beneficial to residents, supported by flexible modern technology
Hackney Council faces similar challenges to many UK local authorities as they respond to the national housing crisis. Their Benefits and Housing Needs service is under pressure to prevent homelessness and deal with the growing demand for housing, now with added complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hackney’s ambition was to create a service which was understood, fair, accessible and beneficial to their residents, underpinned by flexible modern technology. By reducing friction between staff and legacy systems and better managing demand, officers would have the space and capacity to go above statutory duty to prevent homelessness.
FutureGov led a multidisciplinary programme team, supplying design and delivery expertise working closely alongside frontline staff, Hackney IT and MadeTech. Over 12 months the team delivered a suite of products that support changes in working practices centered around the needs of Hackney residents and staff.
Before exploring solutions, we worked closely with the service to run research activities to understand:
- the current experience of staff and residents, pain points and opportunities
- how the service and teams were organised
- existing and planned projects
- a detailed understanding of the technology landscape
With a more detailed understanding of their problems and opportunities, we created a simple vision of how the service could operate in future. Focusing on identifying opportunities where:
- residents are better prepared, active participants in their journey towards finding a settled home
- staff can tailor support to a residents situation, with an understanding of their assets and vulnerabilities
- support is more efficient and joined up for residents when accessing multiple services/teams within the council
We set up agile rituals and governance, working in the open to help us prioritise the work, manage risks and make sure everyone in the service could contribute and be part of delivering change.
As the programme moved into delivery we led a series of projects to explore new digital tools and changes to working practice. We collected feedback from staff and residents whilst measuring the potential impact of each solution.
All digital tools were developed using an API first, serverless architecture to reduce the running costs and promote the reuse of data from the new tools and legacy systems. Taking this approach substantially reduced staff’s reliance on legacy applications. The roadmap of change we delivered also continues to move the council towards its intention to decommission its legacy housing management system over the next 12-18 months.
Staff would often experience frustration interacting with too many outdated systems, resulting in residents having to repeat themselves. To solve this, we created a single view of resident data, supporting staff to understand a resident’s situation and make informed decision-making.
Features of the single view include:
- a partial search that returns resident records with inconsistent spellings of their name
- aggregated activity feed of case notes and documents from five systems
- quick access to crucial resident information such as case information, housing register, council tenancy information, benefits, rent and council tax
- surfaces inconsistencies in data such as multiple addresses across different systems
- system IDs to speed up access in existing systems
There is a potential saving of 3,900-5,700 hours of time a year from staff no longer needing to interrogate multiple systems to build a picture of a residents needs, this time has a value of £85k-£123k. Time saved on administrative activities can be invested into higher-value support and reduces the burden on residents to repeat information about their circumstances.
– Officer, Temporary Accommodation Income Collection Team
Single view has been instrumental in helping prevent the eviction of three tenants during the last two weeks
A web app that enables two-way communication between staff and residents by allowing them to send SMS messages from their desktop to resident’s mobile phones. The tool provides a simple, fast way for staff and residents to communicate with each other, making sure residents stay engaged and take steps to resolve their housing situation.
The SMS tool provides an alternative communication channel to face-to-face or call. Residents can easily update the council on changes and receive reminders. Between March and August, this new service was used to send 4539 messages to residents. The tool is forecast to save 1,100 to 1,700 hours of staff time over the year while providing residents are better prepared for appointments.
A collaborative shared plan of action making sure the right support is agreed with the resident and it’s clear what needs to be done, and by who. By working towards a shared goal, everyone involved is empowered to take action to prevent and relieve homelessness.
Staff working with residents with more complex needs can create a multidisciplinary plan, wrapping the right support collaboratively, and in real time. It allows officers from different services to work together to provide coordinated support.
Residents and officers are empowered to take ownership and accountability. Automated notifications help remind all involved to take action.
– Rough Sleeping Coordinator
It's a more seamless way of working, a much nicer way to work with individuals, putting the torch on small steps people can take
– Resident Services Team Manager
This is brilliant. It amalgamates everything we’re trying to do. It’s a full list of things they’re expected to do and it encourages them to engage and it also gives them an opportunity to understand there are other options apart from social housing
The tool is currently being used across three scenarios:
- a shared plan at triage to share actions with residents before a homelessness assessment
- a shared plan as a dynamic and collaborative Personal Housing Plan
- a multidisciplinary shared plan with multiple professionals to support residents with complex needs
The shared plan integrates with both the Single View and also the SMS tool, automating small nudges and reminders to residents to complete actions.
Waiting time tool
The waiting time tool uses information gathered through interactions with residents to create an accurate picture of their likely housing options based on their circumstances. This tool gives residents an expected waiting time for social housing and motivates them to choose other available housing options that may resolve their needs faster.
The waiting time tool uses data from existing systems to tailor information dependent on a resident’s likely waiting time:
- when waiting less than six months it provides tips on how to bid effectively
- when waiting more than six months giving advice on housing options beyond social housing in Hackney
Long term financial benefits of using the waiting time tool will result in fewer households joining the housing register whilst giving residents the benefit of a more accurate indication of likely waiting time. Testing has shown that 50% of people changed their opinion about their likelihood of getting social housing after using the tool.
People are more proactive after they see the waiting time tool. It makes my process easier, they’re more willing to jump on board and they know that the private rental sector is their only option
If the waiting time tool can support 1.5% of residents currently housed in temporary accommodation to self-source another housing option, temporary accommodation costs of £56,000 could be saved per annum.
The snapshot tool is integrated into the Single View tool and helps staff have better conversations with residents, building a bigger picture of a person when they approach any part of the service.
By capturing strengths, assets and vulnerabilities, staff can determine what level of intervention is suitable and how able someone may be to help themselves.
Snapshot provides a consistent way to capture information on vulnerabilities and strengths. These “snapshots” are saved to the resident’s Single View record, allowing officers to build a picture of need and vulnerability over time.
Suggested resources are matched with the resident’s situation, helping staff and residents know what additional steps can be taken. Results from testing show 63% of staff indicated the tool prompted them to uncover new or unexpected information about the resident. And 64% used the tool to recommend a useful resource or service to help improve outcomes for the resident.
Provides residents and staff with a simple, fast way of requesting, sharing and managing evidence documents. Documents are linked to the resident and automatically surfaced in their Single View record, alerting staff when they’ve been uploaded. This reduces the amount of time staff spend requesting, processing and finding documents while improving the experience for residents.
Residents who already have a case with the service can securely provide evidence documents, avoiding the current lengthy process of document drop off. Viewing the documents in Single View reduces the need for duplication across multiple systems and is a sustainable solution regardless of technology choices made in the future.
Introducing the evidence store into the Benefits and Housing Needs service frees up £44k-£48k worth of staff time per annum, to spend on better supporting vulnerable residents. When scaled further across the council this is expected to increase to £147k-£162k.
Whilst developing new products and supporting staff to embed them in practice, we’ve also helped prototype a range of service interventions that are now being owned and taken forward by members of the service including:
- new ways of running multidisciplinary meetings to support vulnerable residents
- a video created by staff to communicate clearly to residents what support the service can offer
- an online quiz that helps residents understand their housing options
- a calculator designed to help residents understand what accommodation might be affordable for them
- improvements to an interactive ‘find a property’ guide
- a database of resources that can be used to help residents whilst being easy to manage and update
In addition to improving the experience for residents and staff, this programme of work is forecast to deliver benefits of £1.5 million over the next three years across the Benefits and Housing Needs Service. Including releasing staff time from repetitive low-value admin tasks to higher-value tasks supporting residents, avoiding costs associated with expensive temporary accommodation and sustaining tenancies.
The approaches, tools, design patterns, APIs and open-sourced code we’ve delivered are already increasing the return on investment. Hackney’s IT Service is already re-purposing elements of the Snapshot tool, Evidence Store, and Shared Plan to support residents as part of its COVID-19 response, embedding multi-disciplinary working and reducing the cost of providing systems to support new responsibilities. Single View is being scaled to other areas of the council and Evidence Store is being used to help manage collecting documents for the Schools admissions process.
The service team have continued to use our fortnightly show and tell sessions as a way to collaborate and manage change in their service, and continue to have over 170 staff attend every fortnight.