NW Housing Conference 2013 Summary - Digital technology can ease burden of welfare reform on social landlords

Buying into the digital revolution can ease the burden of welfare reform on social landlords and help to secure the future of the sector, according to Nick Atkin, Chief Executive of Halton Housing Trust, and a keynote speaker at the Mitchell Charlesworth organised North West Housing Conference which took place in Liverpool on Friday 22nd November.

NW Housing Conference 2013 Speakers
Pictured Above (L to R):
Paul Beardmore - Manchester City Council,
Councillor Ann O’Byrne - Liverpool City Council, Alistair Fletcher – Brabners,
Rob Warm - National Housing Federation, Paul Wainwright – Mitchell Charlesworth

Mr Atkin addressed delegates on the way Halton Housing Trust is transforming its services with a new digital strategy in a bid to make better use of its resources in the face of welfare reform.

The trust is currently implementing a digital strategy which provides incentives and training for its customers to access its services using its website and smartphone applications.

Mr Atkin was keen to point out that this would not result in job losses at the trust but would free up a number of staff to move into providing more intensive support for those customers who really needed this as well as collecting rent as Universal Credit is implemented.

Mr Atkin also spoke about preparing for Universal Credit by increasing customer self-service and reducing digital exclusion. In April 2014 the trust is launching a campaign to provide its customers with hand held devices on condition that they use its on-line services for the next two years. Mr Atkin explained how the trust is aiming to get 90% of its customer base on-line by 2018. With regards to the other 10% of its most vulnerable customers who will be unable to use the on-line services, a specialist team is being expanded to provide more intensive support.

As public services continue to move online, and with the growing use of mobile and social media, Mr Atkin touched on more radical ways of achieving digital inclusion, such as incentivising on-line services or even going as far as to make on-line the only option available to customers as evidence from other sectors such as retail clearly shows when incentivised many will find a way to access via this route.

Over 250 delegates gathered at the annual North West Housing Conference, titled ‘Beyond Bricks & Mortar’, at Liverpool’s BT Convention Centre to hear from a range of experts who examined the economic realities facing the sector and considered the impact of spending cuts.

Councillor Ann O’Byrne, Assistant Mayor and Cabinet member for Housing, Liverpool City Council spoke of the need for a shared long term strategic vision and commitment, with organisations engaging with each other to form partnerships and address issues around welfare reform and empty properties to protect the future of the social housing environment.

Paul Beardmore, Director of Housing at Manchester City Council spoke about the city’s economic growth strategy which aims to reduce dependency on public services and how a residential growth plan has been created which supports its economic growth strategy. He advised registered providers and Local Authorities to work together to put a development strategy in place and to use it as the basis for developing a funding strategy which doesn’t rely on chasing different funding programmes.

Social housing specialists also presented a series of workshops, offering practical advice on a range of topics specific to the sector including housing management, finance, development issues, the European Funding Programme, wellbeing and welfare reform.

The event was chaired by Rob Warm, Head of External Affairs and Member Relations at the National Housing Federation.

Brabners and Mitchell Charlesworth hosted the conference with financial and tactical support from a project group made up of Liverpool Mutual Homes, Plus Dane Group, Symphony Housing Group, The Regenda Group and Your Housing Group – and partners Maxmedia and Procure Plus.

Alistair Fletcher, Partner at Brabners and head of one of the largest social housing specialist legal teams in the North West said: “It was great to see so many delegates at our annual North West Housing Conference. It is crucial that all of us look beyond bricks and mortar and create sustainable and vibrant communities. This conference demonstrates the commitment of North West housing providers to delivering these communities.”

Mitchell Charlesworth Partner and social housing specialist Paul Wainwright (Pictured Right, with Mitchell Charlesworth Housing Expert Harry Winsor) said: “From its humble origins over a decade ago, every year the North West Housing Conference has gone from strength to strength. Our aim has always been to organise a high quality event for our attendees and our efforts appear to have been justified, as this year saw a record number of delegates and exhibitors. We firmly believe that this is now the premier conference in the North West for all those involved in the housing industry and we are already planning for next year’s event.” Paul and Harry at NW Housing Conference 2013

For more information about Mitchell Charlesworth's specialist Housing services, contact Paul Wainwright on tel: 0151 255 2300 or email: paul.wainwright@mitchellcharlesworth.co.uk. Alternatively, complete a quick enquiry form and we will get back to you.

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