The short-term cost of funding new devices is a key barrier to digital engagement in the social housing sector, a major new survey of social housing professionals has revealed.
The survey, carried out by Alertacall in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing, sought to measure current perceptions of digital engagement in social housing.
88% of housing professionals surveyed said that digitising internal processes was a priority for them, while 77% said they were keen to develop self-serve portals and mobile phone apps for residents.
However, 37% cited the short-term cost of funding digital devices as one of the biggest barriers to engagement, despite technology offering housing providers the opportunity to cut costs by over 90% in the long-term compared with more traditional channels.
Over 200 housing professionals from across the UK housing sector took part in Alertacall’s survey, with data gathered online over August and September 2020.
The research highlighted the barriers housing providers face in driving digital engagement amongst residents, such as ensuring that residents have a suitable device and access to high-speed internet connections.
While 60% of housing providers planned to provide residents with communal WiFi, only 20% currently have this in place, with just 34% expecting to provide residents with free WiFi as part of their rental costs.
Similarly, while two thirds of providers give a device to their staff to allow them to work from home, only 6% provide devices to residents to encourage digital engagement, although another 40% said they do so on a selective basis.
There was strong recognition among housing providers that residents need digital training to make the most of any new resident portals, with 83% saying they saw digital training as a critical step to increasing digital engagement among residents.
The survey also revealed a potential future problem with digital switchover as only one in six of providers surveyed cited it as part of their longer-term digital engagement projects.
With analogue phone networks set to be switched off by the end of 2025, providers’ failure to make the switchover could not only impact landline phones but also mean that hard wired systems such as smoke alarms, along with door entry and intercom systems, are no longer operational.
Martin Cutbill, director of Alertacall, said: “Our sector wide survey identifies that most housing providers have embarked on their digital journey, with many positives to be drawn in terms of technology and systems provided to housing colleagues.
“However, helping to improve residents’ lives by transitioning to digital services clearly presents many important challenges and risks slowing the move away from the more expensive current channels, if the issue of connectivity and lack of digital devices is not addressed by providers.”