Tackling the poverty premium through data sharing #1

I recently had the opportunity to present the ‘Coastal Way’ (AKA the way we do things around here) to the biannual meeting of the four housing federations – Community Housing Cymru, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations and the National Housing Federation.

The presentation covered the efforts we’ve been making to reshape the way we work around two central themes – relationships and data. Essentially, we’ve been creating capacity and skills to build better relationships (with tenants, stakeholders and each other) and embracing new technology, measures and data sharing.

One of the biggest shifts we’ve made is through using the Housing Partners product Insight. This information system shares with us publicly held data about Coastal tenants in an easy-to-use format. One of the key data sets comes via Rental Exchange, which is a collaboration between Big Issue Invest and Experian. This product is designed to tackle the poverty premium that social housing tenants experience due to thin or poor credit files. Sharing tenants’ rent payment patterns with Experian means that if nothing else, tenants immediately benefit from having digital authentication of identity which positively impacts their credit score. Crucially for us, we’re then able to access real time information on tenants’ financial health which means we can target the right people to offer them support and/or signposting to financial advice.

I got some flak for being an early adopter of this product. From questions raised in the Senedd, to being asked to explain our intentions behind using the product to Welsh Government and in the numerous rumours across the sector that Coastal had gone ‘all big brother’. I have consistently spoken out against what I consider to be either outdated or paternalistic attitudes that underpin many of these concerns. The idea that tenants somehow need ‘protecting’ from big bad corporations like Experian is nonsense. Tenants are already living in that world (we all are!) and the sooner we use the data to advantage tenants not perpetuate their disadvantage, the better.

I’m proud to work for an organisation that didn’t hesitate when this product came along, it was one of the reasons I knew I had made the right move from a career in supported housing to general needs. If social housing providers are really serious about making a big contribution to tackling poverty, then signing up to Rental Exchange is one way to help achieve that ambition. That’s why I seized on the opportunity to promote Rental Exchange with the leadership teams of the housing federations because together, imagine the collective impact we could have on payday lenders! High interest lenders are holding people at or below the poverty line to ransom, let’s do something about it.

Serena M.Jones
– Director of Homes, Communities and Services, Coastal Housing Group
(Twitter.com/serenaMjones)