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Artificial intelligence in social housing: your virtual assistant

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), as with a lot of recent technologies, seems to be exponential. So perhaps the time is right to start thinking how AI could be utilised within UK housing organisations?

At the beginning of 2017 I began an open conversation with the housing sector around emerging technologies, including chatbots, sensor-based Internet of Things devices and headless user interfaces (UIs) like Amazon’s Alexa or Google at Home.

Since then I’ve been visiting and meeting with a diverse range of organisations who have all started to explore the potential benefits that these sorts of technologies could offer them. I’ve also taken part in interesting debates  around emerging technology including a mini series of blogs which stimulated a great deal of discussion both externally and also here at Capita. The final part was titled ‘Terminator to Robot Amelia: could your next housing officer be virtual…?’

However, when I now talk about AI, I’m going beyond what I began talking about in 2017 with chat bots and the like. The AI I think we need to start exploring is around analysis and diagnosis, in the context of housing.

AI could support more detailed profiling of individual tenants, providing a much more tailored service to specific tenant(s) needs, enabling organisations to target resources much more effectively. AI coupled with IoT sensors could make much more informed decisions around building and asset maintenance, allowing asset teams to design programmes of work to maximise the life of the asset, but also to ensure a safe and pleasant environment for the tenant.

Last year I talked about bots that we could use to guide someone through the process of making a housing application, logging a repair or even providing low level customer advice.
In 2018 Capita’s One will bring its bots solution to the market so it isn`t too soon to think beyond what is capable today and start thinking about what will become reality tomorrow.

I see a future where an AI housing assistant would be available to both tenants and staff alike, tailored to support the individual needs of these groups.

Working on arrears and court cases, your AI could act as your own PA, ensuring that all steps have been followed, that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed, as it were. That appointments have been made and evidence sorted, ensuring all the correct statutory responsibilities and legal protocols have been followed. AI can support this crucial administrative function, freeing the human to focus on the more complex areas of this work.

For a tenant, AI could ensure they’re always on the best energy tariff and ensure, before they sign that hire purchase agreement, that it’s affordable for them. AI can even predict when it’s looking difficult to pay the rent, so that the housing organisation is able to make an early intervention to support the tenant through difficult times, before they actually reach crisis point. With links between your housing management database and the scoring system used by credit reference agencies, you can predict and be presented with a ‘propensity to pay’ score. This is automatically adjusted according to the very latest information, such as whether any loans, including those from sub-prime lenders, have recently been taken out or any credit payments missed.

This means that when tenants misjudge a month, perhaps because they have an unexpectedly large bill to cover, such as repairs to a motorbike or car, you’re able to help mitigate their situation with a reduced rent payment for that month, followed by a manageable payment plan whilst things get back to normal. And if the indicators are that the tenant is in more serious difficulty, perhaps if several loans have been taken out recently, you can intervene with the provision of support, such as referring them to a debt counselling service.

AI is a growth area in the UK and this presents a set of exciting possibilities – could the introduction of an AI housing assistant be only a few years away, or could we see it even sooner?

Photo of Stewart Davison

Stewart Davison

Business development manager, Capita Software

Having worked in UK public sector software, across a wide range of industries, since the early 2000s, Stewart is responsible for introducing new Capita products and services to the marketplace. His background is in process re-engineering, business analysis and software product design, having led the housing software product team in creating solutions across web, mobile and back office.

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