How self-service is taking the hassle out of social housing allocation

Locata Housing Services (LHS) provides the software that over 135 local authorities use to register people for social housing and match them with suitable properties. Once registered, users can go online and view a list of approved properties – which are usually let by registered social landlords (RSLs). This system, known as ‘choice-based lettings’, works on the basis that if people are given a choice in where they live, they are likely to be happier and stay longer. However, LHS noticed that the existing process for identity checking, a vital part of the service, was not fit for purpose.

How an outdated procedure caused problems for everyone

As things stood, most local authorities would only verify a client’s identity once they had been matched with a property. And, because the existing verification process was slow and labour intensive, this would cause delays in getting people housed, create unnecessary work for the council, and result in a poor customer experience for applicants and landlords.

A typical identity checking procedure would involve the client either presenting their documents to the housing authority in person or sending them by post. The postal option would often delay things further – especially if there were errors with the client application. And either way, the check would then rely on council staff looking over the document by eye – which, unless they are a trained document expert, is subject to error. Alternatively, local authorities would use a third-party identity checking service. This was an improvement but could be costly and because councils were using many different services, there was no standard procedure.

LHS therefore wanted to make the process faster, more efficient, more secure, standardised and, ideally, paperless. To achieve these goals, the company wanted to enable individuals applying for social housing to self-serve by submitting their identity documents during the registration process – rather than waiting until they had chosen a property.

As Peter Riley, managing director of LHS noted, “Imagine a large local authority scheme of multiple councils where you might have up to a 100,000 people on the housing registers. If you can get 90,000 of those people to self-service, you can save a lot of work. You might still need to manually check the identities of 10,000 people, but that’s still a huge efficiency gain.”

A meeting of minds

As part of his job, Peter regularly attends housing and counter fraud events, and hosts national user groups for local authorities and housing associations across the UK. Tony Machin, CEO of TrustID, is a regular speaker at these events. Having heard Tony speak, Peter realised that TrustID’s approach to digital identity checking, and app integration was exactly what he was looking for.

The two elements of TrustID’s identity checking service that particularly impressed Peter were its Guest Link facility (which enables users to upload their own documents) and its API. Peter realised that he could use the API to integrate the Guest Link facility into LHS’s own software and enable applicants to upload identity documents themselves, during the registration process.

LHS and TrustID worked together on the integration, consulting with several local authorities to ensure a good end-user experience. Applicants using the LHS system are now presented with a drop-down list of official government identity documents to upload – such as a passport or driving licence. Once they have registered and chosen a property, the local authority can either check the identity document themselves or, at the click of a mouse, send it to TrustID. In the latter instance, TrustID’s software will scan the printed security features within the document and, if legitimate, send confirmation – usually within minutes.

The process is fast, paperless, and reliable.

A win for everyone

The new system is perfectly aligned with the Government Digital Service standard, which encourages public sector organisations to replace labour intensive, paper-based processes with more user-friendly digital practices. Anne Duffield, Head of Housing Access at Manchester City Council, said: “The document management upload system we implemented with Locata transformed the way we receive and process information from applicants. The vast majority of applicants now provide the proof of identity we require through this system – greatly reducing paperwork and speeding up the application process. And because we were already using it when lockdown started, our housing officers were able to make a smooth transition to working from home.”

Peter Riley, managing director of LHS says of the new self-service facility, “Council’s really like it, we really like it, and the users really like it because it’s so much easier for them. They can go onto a secure website and upload their identity documents, all within a few minutes. It simplifies the registration process, standardises the procedure, and helps people who urgently need social housing get into their chosen property more quickly.”

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