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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Going digital - where are we now?


Halton Housing developed its 'Digital First' programme in response to the introduction of universal credit. Chief executive Nick Atkin shares the results so far ahead of his CIH webinar on how housing organisations are gearing up for the future.

Our Digital First programme was born out of the transition to universal credit. This is without doubt one of the single biggest risks most housing business models have faced for over 30 years. It quickly became apparent that we needed to develop a strategy to ensure the net overall impact on our business model was nil.

We were also keen to improve the delivery of our services in response to what over 6,500 customers had told us they wanted. These changes were around ease of access as well as us delivering against what we said we would do.

Our strategy focused on preparing and supporting customers to make the transition to universal credit. This included supporting them to access online services as well as being able to manage the online application process. 

What did we want to achieve?

The aim for our Digital First strategy is for 90% of all our customer-generated transactions to be delivered via an online self-serve portal by December 2018. Our approach has fundamentally changed the way we deliver our services to our customers by allowing us to provide access to services in real time, direct into our housing system, 24/7/365.

What have we done to get the results?

Drawing on robust internal data and information provided to us by our in-depth discussions with over 6,600 of our customers has enabled us to target our resources. This has included the provision of intensive tenancy support for those customers whose tenancies are most likely to be at risk of failure in a post-universal credit landscape.

We know that 82% of our customers have access to the internet themselves, primarily through a mobile device. Another 12% don’t have access themselves but know where to get this – usually via friends/family/community Wi-Fi hotspots etc.

The solutions we have developed are simple, easy to use and consistent ensuring an excellent customer experience. These include a customer app, website portal, proactive LiveChat, automated payment lines and intelligent voice queues.


The results speak for themselves; approximately 70% of households are now contacting us digitally with more than 89% of all customer-led transactions now carried out via these channels, 40% of all repairs are now reported digitally and 99.5% of rent balance queries. This has reduced transaction costs from around £15 to less than 10 pence. 

We have also seen a reduction in incoming and outgoing calls of over 60% which has resulted in a 50% reduction in the number of people in our customer service team. These colleagues have been provided with opportunities to move to more fulfilling and better paid roles in the areas of tenancy support and debt recovery.

So what are the implications of this? Only by introducing these changes have we been able to provide more intensive support for the most vulnerable customers. 

What next?

Universal credit has been operating in Halton since 2016 but we are due to see a further accelerated roll-out over the next year. We are continuing to learn about some of the issues customers are experiencing and how we can offer them support. We are drawing close to our December target and are now planning a targeted pay per click campaign to further promote app downloads to customers we know would benefit from using this. It is a continual process of reviewing the strategy and challenging how we do things that will enable us to deliver against our target of delivering 90% of our customer-generated transactions online by 2018.

Want to know more?

  • Sign up for our webinar on 19 July (FREE for CIH members, just £20+VAT for non-members) led by Nick and CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves. Tweet us your questions in advance using #CIHgoingdigital
  • Download Going digital: gearing up for the future - our new report with Halton Housing and Incommunities on what is driving social landlords’ digital development and how they are going about it.

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