Case Study: Stonewater
Stonewater was formed in Jan 2015, from a merger between two former housing associations - Jephson Housing and Raglan Housing. The newly merged organisation manages 30,000 homes across England, providing homes for rent, shared ownership, leasehold retirement living and supported accommodation. It provides housing and services to vulnerable young people and women fleeing domestic violence.
Stonewater is a strong and ambitious organisation with £1.6 billion in assets and a turnover of £172 million.
The merger saw the creation of project ‘Unite’ – this aimed to bring together the current IT systems that each company brought to the new organisation. The creation of Unite was a major step forward for Stonewater as it brought a wealth of benefits to futureproof its services. It also provided the opportunity to deploy an automated arrears process and income system in order to gain good business efficiencies moving forwards. A single housing management system would increase efficiency, improve customer service and deliver digital enhancements. Stonewater’s digital strategy guides its path to transform the way it works as a business, and the way in which it delivers services to its customers.
Having one Housing Management system provided the opportunity to deploy an automated arrears process and income system in order to gain good business efficiencies moving forwards. The legacy systems moved onto one platform and allowed a complete rewrite of processes in order to automate debt recovery removing the manual checking of accounts whilst reassuring residents that there was a level playing field and complete ‘fairness’ when it comes to debt collection.
From an efficiencies point of view, the reduction of manual checking has removed wasted time in terms of trawling those accounts that are up to date and allows staff to dedicate time to debt management and be proactive about debt recovery.
Raglan Housing was already using MIS ActiveH housing management software and it was decided that MIS AMS’s system was the most appropriate to adopt as it would scale with the new larger Stonewater organisation. It needed a solid system that could be automated and would grow with the business and adapt to new legislation.
“External factors are changing, so you don’t get the same results from doing the same things,” explains Rebekah Terrell, head of income maximisation, Stonewater.
“The Government’s Welfare Reform Act meant we needed to move forward with a system that could support us in remaining stable in light of the changes to Universal Credit which has resulted in a significant increase in social housing rent debt. That debt needed to be better managed through a new automated process.
“As part of the new organisation we’ve implemented ActiveH as our merged housing management system and have dedicated teams to help our residents and efficiently manage debt collection.”
Stonewater uses ActiveH CRM, housing management, void management and the repairs partnering gateway for direct links to external contractors, as well as the customer portal and SMS solution.
The introduction of a single housing and asset management system has improved efficiencies and has released more cash to build more homes. It has also laid the foundation for Stonewater to launch its digital ambitions and brings it closer to achieving its aspirations of being one of the country’s most significant social housing providers.
The newly merged ActiveH system went live across Stonewater in September 2016 and is already paying dividends.
The organisation is experiencing value for money savings based upon its ability to redeploy staff where the most gains can be made. Automation has wiped out the weekly manual task of trawling through resident accounts, the majority of which were not in arrears. This process has been automated so time is not wasted – only those in arrears are now highlighted and staff can spend time in debt management.
“We’ve been able to create specialist teams,” explains Rebekah Terrell.
“The legacy organisations worked in a different way – they had staff who managed income collection combined with doing other roles too. We are now able to create a team that is solely dedicated to debt collection – they have much greater in-depth knowledge and understanding of the issues as well as empathy and solutions for residents. This is a major step forward in terms of the specialist service we are empowered to provide.
“The new systems has supported Stonewater in remaining stable in the wake of housing reform – the increase in rent debt due to universal credit hasn’t impacted us yet, and some of that will be as a result of better debt management on our part.”
Feedback from staff has also been extremely positive. They report that processes are smoother, more modern and assist them in doing their day-to-day job much better.
“Changing a system at any time is hard and especially when some of the staff weren’t used to ActiveH previously – so I see it as an enormous positive that we’re getting great staff feedback so soon,” said Rebekah Terrell.
“The key thing for me is the opportunity that ActiveH opens for us – we’ve very much started on our digital journey – ActiveH will support us through that and continue to bring about more efficiencies and ultimately help Stonewater to provide a better service for its residents.”