Homelessness is on the increase. The Government have enhanced the duty on local authorities to give advice to everyone with a housing problem. Increasing demand does nothing to reduce the challenge of giving often complex information on tight timescales. Many of the advisors and housing managers I have spoken to are reluctantly having to compromise on the quality of advice they give to their residents in order to meet demand.

“The provision of up to date, comprehensive, tailored advice and information will play an important part in delivering the housing authority’s strategy for preventing homelessness”

Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities

The benefits of providing tailored and effective advice at the earliest opportunity are clear. The economic and social cost of homelessness is high. For local authorities, the goal is reducing the number becoming homeless and the demand for temporary accommodation. Empowering customers to resolve their own issues has got to be the objective. This requires a more diverse approach than the traditional advisor only model – yet maintaining a consistent message is paramount.

Accessing services

Most local authorities are taking a leaf out of the successful work of the Government Digital Service which has elevated the UK as a global leader in offering connected digital services (if you have applied for a passport or renewed your Vehicle Excise Duty recently you will know exactly what I am talking about).

For example, Dorset County Council reduced their blue badge application process from a two-week process to 2 minutes! Bristol City Council have made their car parking data available to third-party app providers, enabling motorists to monitor where spaces are available via Twitter. There is a big push for councils to sign up to the Local Digital Declaration. Has yours?

In addition to the expectations of your customers, moving services online has many benefits from improving accessibility (available 24-7 from any device); reducing demand on specialist officers; and, saving costs on call centres and customer services staff.

The start of an obsession

This is where the story of AdviceAid begins. The year was 2009, in the housing options team I was based, officers were charging from case to case – always caught up in managing the latest crisis. Creating order from chaos involved building a new advice framework over a period of four years, with astonishing results. I began to ponder how technology might improve things even further.

I created the first prototype of an advice-giving tool in 2014, built in Excel. As you might imagine it was pretty limited on what it could do. Yet it pushed me to continue to develop the idea. In 2016 I joined forces with two other ‘problem-solvers’ who between them had over 25 years of experience developing services in and around homelessness, both digital and non-digital. This collective became AdviceAid and we haven’t stopped obsessing with solving the problem of providing quality, tailored and consistent advice at scale. The national housing charity Shelter were impressed with our vision and offered to be our initial content partners.

“AdviceAid is a must-have tool for housing authorities. It turbo charges your advice whilst freeing up resources.”

Harinder Birring, Shelter

As part of this journey I have spoken to hundreds of housing advisors and managers from across the country. They have confirmed the appetite for a tool that increases their capacity to deliver advice whilst maintaining quality, tailored and consistent offer.

I believe that it is the turn of advice services to benefit from the sort of digital innovation we have seen in other service areas.

This Spring we are proud to be launching AdviceAid SelfServ, a self-service application that is accessible from your website providing tailored, quality and localised housing advice in response to your customer’s needs and circumstances.

Advice covers tenant rights, benefits, harassment, S21 notices, mortgage arrears, domestic abuse, rights of occupation, welfare reform, illegal eviction, rent arrears, housing disrepair and much more.

To explore the benefits for your customers and council, click here to find out more.

Peter McGuire is Co-Founder and CEO of AdviceAid. He has worked in housing services for over 15 years in the private, voluntary and public sectors. He is an incessant problem-solver and has been at the forefront of leading a number of innovative local authority programmes to improve the quality of advice services. Peter usefully has a degree in computer science.

Connect with Peter on LinkedIn and Twitter