Data: is a golden record the silver bullet for social housing?

Posted: 28th February 2024 Bekah Ryder, Research & Insights Manager

Data. Not a sexy subject. Only grabs headlines when there has been a cyberattack or large-scale personal data breach. But successful recording, management and use of data is vital to the success of social housing providers.

In this blog, I explore why data is important to social housing, some of the challenges around data, and what Altair advises to manage risk and make the most of opportunities.

Sector risk

The English Regulator of Social Housing’s sector risk profile for 2023 notes data, data integrity, and cyber security are significant sources of risk to providers’ delivery of regulatory standards. They make clear that “accurate, up-to-date, complete, and reliable data” is essential for boards to monitor operations, including tenant needs and expectations, and health and safety.

The Regulator considers failure to manage data integrity to be indicative of a poor internal controls assurance framework, while failure to provide the Regulator with timely and accurate data puts providers at risk of non-compliance. Access to data is fundamental to the proposed Transparency, Influence and Accountability Standard, one of the key consumer regulation reforms. While we await details following the closure of the consultation in October, this standard will likely include provision of information to allow tenants to influence decision-making and hold their landlord to account.

Serious service failings and data

As well as non-compliance, poor knowledge and information management (such as record keeping) is a feature of many of the recent service failings within the sector. Many maladministration findings by the Housing Ombudsman relate to such issues. Landlords fail to record information or record it incorrectly, including terms of tenancy, appointments, or actions. Customers can get lost across multiple contact points or due to staff being unable to access relevant information.

Investigations, such as Altair’s independent report into the death of Sheila Seleoane, have shown that poor access to, and sharing of, data and information across teams and services contributes to such tragedies, as well as issues being poorly managed or overlooked. Whilst this can be down to processes lacking clarity or appropriate adherence, there is a fundamental challenge of processes being consistently designed in isolation, without due consideration of data capture, flow, or integrity.

As stated in the Ombudsman’s recent spotlight report, two-thirds of cases upheld against landlords have “some issue or other with the data and information available to assess”. The Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, notes that “poor information management is such a strong and reoccurring theme across service areas that it is the closest thing the sector could get to a silver bullet“.

Integrating data and systems

The sector, to varying degrees, is some way off having integrated and intelligent business systems. This is particularly true for organisations that have undergone mergers or stock transfers and are running legacy systems whilst pursuing integration. A recent survey found that 20% of senior housing professionals use between six and 10 systems to manage their view of customers (2% used more than 20).

Multiple systems lead to duplication of data, creating the potential for inconsistency, inefficiency and inaccuracy, as well as problems in accessing, analysing and reporting data. In our work, we have seen evidence that staff, perhaps overwhelmed by the complexity of management systems and lack of process flow, end up recording information on a spreadsheet that only they can access.

If organisations want to take advantage of their data, including opportunities around Artificial Intelligence, it must be accurate and accessible. Systems, processes, and reports are only as good as the data fed into them.

The best way to integrate data is to practice master data management, with the goal of creating a single copy of master data (the “golden record” or “single source of truth”). Essential to this approach are staff roles and skills (such as data owners and data stewards), data processes and technology.

There have been moves within the sector to harmonise data to enable better integration and sharing, such as HACT’s UK Housing Data Standards and Knowing our Homes, the latter of which is part of the action plan for the Better Social Housing Review. Harmonised field attributes could help organisations create their golden record.

Data protection

Data protection can also be an area of concern. Where staff feel uncertain about working within the General Data Protection Regulations, they may be unduly restrictive in terms of sharing data concerning a tenant. Further training might be needed to ensure staff fully understand the requirements of the law and do not see it as an impediment to recording, sharing or acting on information.

Staff must ensure details of interactions with residents are appropriate and sensitive, making clear what is a statement of their opinion and what is fact. Systems can also be set up so that staff can access appropriate levels of information, from flags that a case is in progress to further details of that case.

What we advise on data management

Data management is central to many recent issues around service failings and non-compliance. Download the document below to discover what we advise for consideration and resourcing of data management, which could reduce costs by preventing issues (re)occurring.

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