Will the carrot or the stick help get social housing tenants online?

I’ve blogged before about the importance of getting social housing tenants online, and it’s at the front of my mind at the moment as I’ve been working with a lot of providers to help them get their digital strategies in place.

This week, I was asked by one of the senior management team at Bracknell Forest Homes whether the stick or the carrot was the best approach, which is nicely illustrated by Solihull Community Housing entering tenants into a draw to win £10,000 if they pay their rent by direct debit – you can have a look at the competition here.

In all honesty, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Lots of people see the introduction of Universal Credit as a stick to coax people online, but I think it’s also a carrot for many people – if you’re claiming you can claim your benefits more quickly, get them paid to you all at once and have more control over your own money, which is a pretty big selling point. Universal Credit mimics the way you would get paid if (or when) you’re in work.

I was foolish enough to offer a free day of my time to any Social Housing Provider who wanted my help. I’ve now run about 15 sessions with the senior management teams of different housing providers, and let’s just say I’ve learned a lot.

Obviously I’ve been preaching to the converted somewhat in these 15 sessions, as they’ve all actually wanted my help and asked me along, but it’s been amazing to see how a relatively short session can have such an impact. Before the session organisations don’t know if they want a digital strategy, and one or two hours later it’s unanimous that they do. Or they don’t know where the digital strategy should sit within the organisation, and suddenly they know it’s cross-departmental and everyone should be involved. Even those who have felt really confused about how to get going have worked out the place to start, which is often all it takes.

Universal Credit, and the direct payment of rent to tenants rather than providers, is a pretty big incentive for social housing providers to get a digital strategy. There’s a burning platform if ever I’ve seen one! But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some providers who will ignore the benefits going digital can provide to both them and the lives of their tenants. It’s been great to work with organisations who are taking steps, however small, to embrace the digital world and to share it with their tenants. For me, sticks and carrots aside, this is the most important thing.

The sun in shining so I won’t go on any longer, but in the next couple of weeks I’ll share my ideas of what should be in a digital strategy – as it feels pretty consistent across the 15 organisations I’ve helped so far. And if there are any housing providers out there that want to chat more, please do get in touch.

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