Building a digital future

 

Pippa Bell, Policy Officer at the National Housing Federation, looks at why social housing providers can be drivers of digital inclusion.

Pippa BellThe UK Government is working hard, through its Digital Inclusion Charter1, to ensure that everyone in the country has internet access by 2020. It’s fast becoming a necessity: for example, Universal Credit - which replaces six existing welfare benefits - is being rolled out nationally by 2017 and must be applied for online.

The Government estimates that 37% of those who are digitally excluded are social housing tenants2.Targeted investment and support is needed to make sure that offline households aren’t left behind.

Economic and social benefits

Digital inclusion infographicThere is a clear economic and social rationale for supporting offline households to access the internet and increase their online skills. Home access to the internet can be a life-changing tool for disadvantaged households, as it can:

  • improve children’s educational outcomes
  • boost tenants’ financial literacy
  • help families to save money on bills and consumer goods
  • reduce social isolation
  • open doors to job opportunities.

Driving change

Social housing providers invest in a diverse range of neighbourhood projects that help create strong, vibrant communities. Housing associations are supporting residents to access employment and training opportunities, increase their online skills and improve their financial confidence. The National Housing Federation, an industry body, is working hard to help housing associations learn from work that is being undertaken in other parts of the sector.

For example, the Federation’s Annual Conference and Social Housing Exhibition, which was recently held in Birmingham’s ICC, included a session on the role of digital technology in the future of social housing. The Federation is keen to share best practice by connecting different housing associations and leveraging the experience of those that are already involved in providing digital inclusion support to their tenants.

A number of landlords have already arranged WiFi hotspots or mobile internet dongles for tenants. Many housing associations, in addition to providing the means for online access, are also now running tailored courses to help tenants to gain internet skills and recruiting digital ‘champions’ within the community to help promote the benefits of going digital.

Positive collaborations

Interest and uptake in digital programmes from all parties has been clearly highlighted by the Government’s Digital Deal pilot.

Aimed at encouraging more social housing tenants to get online, improve their skills, and benefit from wider internet services, the Digital Deal brought together twelve social landlords and engaged a total of 63,989 tenants through marketing campaigns and events.3

As a result, 2,093 tenants were enabled to transact online for the first time and a further 3,084 residents with existing digital skills were enabled to access the internet independently thanks to improved infrastructure, such as community WiFi. The impact on participating housing associations was also significant, with Yarlington Housing Group committing £150,000 towards digital connectivity in their 2014/2015 budget and £200,000 in subsequent years as part of their 30-year plan.3

What this pilot confirms is that social housing providers are very well positioned to support tenants to access the internet and increase their online skills. It’s an ambition that has demonstrable economic and social benefits – and working together and sharing best practice will make it achievable.

According to a report by Housing Technology, entitled ‘Digital by Default’4, providing social housing residents with digital access could deliver:

  • £340m in annual savings for landlords in communications costs alone
  • £530m in annual consumer savings to tenants
  • £360m in annual savings to local government.

Footnotes

1. The Charter is at www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-digital-inclusion-strategy/uk-digital-inclusion-charter
2. Source: Government Digital Inclusion Strategy.
3. Find out more about the Digital Deal here.
4. The report is available at www.housing-technology.com/research/digital-default-2012/

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