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Revolutionising customer service in affordable housing – Network Housing Group

House prices have doubled over the last decade. Combined with a lack of new build, this has led to a shortage of affordable and social housing which is particularly acute in London and the South East.

Network Housing Group is an innovative partnership of six local housing associations working together to help plug the affordable housing gap across London and the Home Counties, with responsibility for over 16,000 units.

For eight years, the Group has been at the forefront of the social housing sector in pioneering systems and processes that improve the service provided to tenants and deliver more efficient housing management. This includes overhauling its own outdated systems.

The customer service challenge

As the range of services provided by the members increased, and the drive for better customer service continued, the Group found that its housing management system, on which its operations had been based since 1996, was no longer able to give the necessary support.

Members of staff across the Group were finding it difficult to access up to date information in a range of areas, including rents and arrears, housing allocations and repairs. For David Murray, project director at Network Housing Group, this was something that needed to be addressed before the Group could move forward:

“Our system had been in place for many years but was struggling to adapt to the increased range of housing and services we offered”.

Network Housing Group embarked on an eight month project to evaluate alternative solutions. Led by a team that included representatives from all areas of the business, they worked together to determine requirements and oversee the selection and evaluation process. The Group was looking for a system to standardise and improve administration across a range of areas whilst maintaining flexibility for the individual members.

“This wasn’t a decision that the IT department could make in isolation”, says Murray. “We needed direct guidance from the users themselves to ensure that we selected a solution that would meet all our requirements.”

The solution

Following a rigorous selection process, Network Housing Group selected Northgate Information Solutions to provide a new solution to meet the Group’s needs.

“Rather than simply upgrade with our existing supplier”, says Murray, “we decided to take a strategic approach and review the other options open to us.”

Northgate’s Housing solution is enabling Network Housing Group to better manage its properties and standardise administration across the organisation. Staff are given easier access to accurate information, enabling them to deal with customer queries more effectively and provide a speedier service. It allows the day-to-day management and maintenance of all properties, regardless of type, through a series of different services such as estates management, rents and arrears, repairs, and housing allocations.

Northgate’s Housing solution first went live with the largest member of the Group, Stadium Housing Association, in November 2004. Willow Housing and Care followed in May 2005 and London Strategic Housing in June. A new system for managing complaints has also been rolled out, and all remaining housing associations will go live by the end of 2005.

David Murray believes that Northgate’s housing solution has already increased efficiency across the organisation as a whole, whilst giving members enough flexibility to meet their individual needs:

“Northgate Housing is changing the way we operate and has already allowed us to become far more responsive to customer needs and enquiries.”

A partnership approach that will continue to deliver

A team of 13 experienced staff has worked on the implementation programme, and training has played a key role in the successful roll out. To date, nearly 300 users have been trained, ensuring that employees are well-equipped to use the system from day one.

“The fact that employees were involved in the whole selection process means we’ve had buy-in from day one. That, and the training and support programmes we’ve been running, ensures that users can make the most of the system, enabling them to better meet customer needs,” says Murray.

Northgate has developed a new service for the Group, which will allow it to manage and support its private sector leasing. The Group is looking to add additional services, including planned and cyclical maintenance, service charge management and customer services, and is also considering enabling the system to offer internet access to customers so that they can log repairs online, check their progress, and check and pay rent accounts. Northgate Housing is browser-based, so users can easily access the system via the web updates to the software can be rolled out quickly.

Concludes Murray: “With the upgrades we’re working on with Northgate, we’ll be able to build on these improvements and continue to offer high quality, customer-centric services as Network Housing Group goes from strength to strength.”

Notes to editors

About Network Housing Group

Network Housing Group comprises London Strategic Housing, Mitali Housing Association, Riversmead Housing Association, Solon Co-operative Housing Services, Stadium Housing Association, and Willow Housing and Care.

The Group offers rented, sheltered, supported, key worker, shared ownership and leasehold accommodation in London and Home Counties, with a combined responsibility for over 16,000 units.

About Northgate

Northgate Information Solutions is a leading provider of innovative software solutions and services to the public services and utilities markets. Northgate’s task is to enhance public value through the intelligent use of people and technology, and to share in the economic and social benefits that this brings.

In the UK, Northgate works with four out of five local authorities and every police force, and supports the management of 1.5 million local authority and housing association properties.

With divisional headquarters in Hemel Hempstead and Belfast, Northgate has 25 major offices across the UK and six international offices. Founded in 1969, the company has over 3,300 employees.

For further information:
Naomi Stevenson
0207 849 3508
Vincenzo Rampulla
0207 849 3489