Case Study: Poplar Harca

Poplar HARCA (Housing and Regeneration Community Association) is a resident-led, social landlord in East London, who own and manage around 9,000 homes in Poplar; the majority of houses were from a stock transfer from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, all of which have since been refurbished, in addition to that Poplar HARCA has also built almost 1,000 new homes.

Key Stats

Properties: 9,000
Caseload Reduction: 42%
Arrears: from 4.5% (Oct 15) to 3.7% (Sept 16)
Arrears Reduction: £339,136

Before RentSense

Prior to using RentSense Poplar HARCA relied on their Housing Management System (HMS) to flag arrears cases to their income team. The performance and effectiveness of the team was however being compromised as they were spending half of their time looking at cases that required no action. To compound the issue, the cases being presented to officers were not in any priority order, so officers could not prioritise their workload. In addition to that the HMS was also missing cases too, as Poplar HARCA’s Rents Manager, Dawn Box, explains:

“The missing cases that the HMS was not picking up were hugely important, as they were simply going into oblivion, as no one was looking at them. When we first started (with RentSense) we had a quite number of high level cases appear that nobody had looked at.”

Why RentSense

There were several reasons for looking at RentSense but for Dawn it boiled down to getting the right cases in front of the officers in the right order.

“I wanted the team to work cases they needed to look at and in the correct priority rather than working aimlessly through a list and not knowing which ones to look at first. They needed some structure.”

After Mobysoft had analysed Poplar HARCA’s income systems and processes (which forms the basis for every consultation Mobysoft carries out with social landlords), it became evident that RentSense could help deliver and embed efficiencies.

In Mobysoft’s initial business case it was reported that RentSense would help reduce Poplar HARCA’s recommended arrears caseload by 39.2%. To put this in context this would slash recommended cases from 2,968 per week to 1,804.

“Initially there was some scepticism about these figures,” explains Dawn. “But we were reassured when we visited and spoke with other RentSense users, and we got a greater understanding of how RentSense works and how it is very different to Housing Management Systems.”

The decision was made to invest in RentSense and after a simple and straightforward deployment and go live RentSense reduced Poplar HARCA’s weekly arrears caseload by 1,251 cases per week, equating to a 42.1% drop, which was ahead of the predicted forecast.

Caseload reduction was just one of the benefits for Poplar HARCA, RentSense also gave the management team detailed reporting tool that enabled them to monitor performance, something the HMS could not provide.

“Before (RentSense) I could not get an immediate oversight of what was going on, what the team were working on. Whereas now I know exactly what the team have done, what each person has done, when they did it, how many cases have been recommended, how many they did and what days did they do them.” Comments Dawn.

Driving Down Arrears

Poplar HARCA have been focused on driving down their arrears, of which RentSense formed part of their plan. Another element of this was to target the prevention, and not cure, of arrears. This meant the income changed how they work and they created five low level officers and one high level officer. The low level officers focused on cases with arrears less than £500 trying to reduce and prevent arrears in the first instance. Other tactics have also been employed which include recruiting a court officer which has successfully accelerated cases to court in turn speeding up payments. They also have focused on NOSP (Notice of Seeking Possession) blitzes, on all accounts which are four weeks in arrears and has a notice on it, this has generated additional payments.

This change of approach and introduction of RentSense has helped drive down arrears by 17.56% in twelve months. In October 2015 (when RentSense was deployed) arrears at Poplar HARCA were 4.5% by September 2016 they had dropped to 3.71%. This has helped them collect an additional £339,136 in rent.

This has also helped Poplar HARCA ready themselves for the full roll out of Universal Credit. They have already been heavily affected by the benefit cap, which has been alleviated temporarily by Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). At present they have relatively few tenants on Universal Credit, but they are focusing on getting residents to pay via Direct Debit (DD). A recent initiative has proved hugely successful which resulted in an additional 2,500 tenants signing up to DD. RentSense will also help Poplar HARCA mitigate the effects of Universal Credit, as Dawn explains.

“It helps catch cases much sooner whereas before cases could be £500, £600, £700 before they are even looked at but now we are catching them and looking at them at £50 and it is a lot easier to collect £50 than it is £500. It is allowing us to identify and work those cases a lot quicker.”

No More Missed Cases

With RentSense in-situ the income team are more focused and according to Dawn “much happier…as they are working on the right cases.”

The results of which are significant. The arrears caseload reduction in itself was 42%. But of the weekly caseload RentSense is now presenting, just under 50% of these cases are missed by the HMS. On average the weekly value of these missed cases equates to over £250,000 which is a ticking time bomb in terms of arrears.

With the team focusing on the correct cases and arrears falling Poplar HARCA’s new approach to arrears is working and key in helping the organisation mitigate the welfare reform challenges it faces moving forward.