Could intelligent asset management help to solve the social housing crisis?


Social Housing

The social housing landscape has, and continues to be, shaped dramatically by a number of shifting elements, including central government policy, wider economic trends and of course the unknown impact of Brexit. This web of pressure is mounting, and radical transformation is required for social housing providers to cope with the financial demands placed upon them. To address this head on, a different approach is needed.

Asset management is currently one of the biggest issues for housing providers. This is because most housing associations don’t have access to the most effective applications and tools. They also lack the expert knowledge to get the most out of existing technology to efficiently manage their portfolio and make informed decisions. But being able to better match tenants with suitable properties and monitor usage and behaviour patterns would be invaluable for decision making. Thankfully, all of this is now possible thanks to the IoT and predictive analytics.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest asset management challenges the sector faces, and how the innovative use of technology can help to overcome them.

Asset Challenge #1 – Reducing the cost of routine maintenance

In spring 2019, it was reported that housing associations’ spending on repairs and maintenance had risen for the first time in three years.  The largest chunk of spending was on routine maintenance – day-to-day repairs work carried out in response to problems reported by tenants. Total routine maintenance spend was £1.94bn, or 59% of the overall spend. But in a time when housing providers are being forced to cut costs, day-to-day repairs present one of the biggest opportunities to save costs.

Currently housing providers are reactive when it comes to addressing maintained issues. Take boilers for example, the only time most housing providers perform maintenance on tenants boilers is when they break down. Not only is this costly, but it also puts resident’s health and safety at risk if the problem isn’t addressed quickly enough. But imagine if the boiler’s performance was being monitored around the clock by a sensor. Thanks to the combination of IoT sensors, deep learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, data can be collected which can be fed into a dashboard, giving you real time access to reports and visual representations of the assets you are monitoring. For instance, the sensor could notify the maintenance team that a fault had been detected allowing a repair to be carried out before the heating and hot water ever stopped working, in turn reducing related cases of ill health in the elderly or vulnerable and reducing the cost of fixing the boiler.

Sensors could also be used to monitor other common maintenance problems. For instance, damp sensors could be deployed to monitor temperature and humidity data to identify properties at risk of condensation and mould growth as well as detecting the early stages damp. With this information, housing providers can act to proactively prevent damp worsening and combat mould in afflicted properties. Tackling problems before they escalate is much more cost effective, allows for better planning and creates better outcomes for residents.  

Asset challenge #2: Making best use of stock to match tenants with the most suitable properties.

Last year, 1.15 million households were on waiting lists for social housing, yet only 290,000 homes were made available. Almost two-thirds (65%) of families had been on lists for more than a year, while 27% had been waiting for more than five years. To add to this, fewer households are leaving the social sector, meaning houses aren’t being freed up for new tenants. But improved mobility for existing tenants could help housing providers to make better use of their stock by reducing under occupation, improving satisfaction and quality of life for tenants.

In an attempt to improve mobility, housing providers have traditionally used surveys to gather tenant feedback and cross referenced this with waiting lists and other standard tenant data to make a decision on whether a tenant is best suited to a property. This can be a cumbersome, lengthy and unreliable process but the IoT could provide a solution.

IoT sensors around homes can monitor humidity, temperature, CO2, noise and movement through an IoT network which feeds data to a dashboard enabling the management team to better understand property usage, behavior patterns and detect under or over occupancy so they can make more informed decisions on whether tenants may be better suited to other smaller or larger properties.

Asset challenge #3 – Ensuring all properties are safe and comply to health and safety regulations

The Grenfell Tower tragedy put health and safety in social housing into sharp focus, highlighting the obligations for landlords to ensure their properties meet the highest possible standards. Safety and compliance are now the cornerstone of all asset management projects and therefore ensuring all tradesmen and contractors meet specification is crucial for housing providers. Meanwhile, new technology provides opportunities to make homes healthier, greener and more efficient.

Today, sensors can alert tenants when fire doors are open and remind them to keep them closed. Smart home systems can also link a fire alarm or carbon monoxide detector with home appliances, such as the boiler or oven. If the system detects a fire or carbon monoxide, it can automatically shut off these ignition sources.

But it’s not just fires that could be prevented and better managed by IoT sensors. Environmental sensors could be used to monitor unauthorised activity in vacant properties and parking sensors could alert staff to illegal parking in front of emergency exits.

While the sector can’t be expected to overcome their myriad of challenges overnight, the IoT presents a huge opportunity to tackle a lot of these problems by making properties safer, more comfortable and less expensive to run. 

To find out how connected devices are helping to build the future of social housing, click here.

Posted by Helen Thomas