London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
Council’s Housing Registration transformation
Barking and Dagenham Council’s housing service was facing extremely high demand with an ever-growing waiting list for social housing and paper-based application process that resulted in a poor customer experience and overworked, stressed-out staff. Some days the queues at the housing needs office were stretching out to the street and 60% of phone calls made were abandoned by residents; the workforce were unable to cope with demand.
We worked Barking and Dagenham Council to streamline and digitise its housing register application process, including the creation of an online housing register application form, supporting content for the website and scripts for frontline staff.
When we began working with Barking and Dagenham Council the housing waiting list stood at over 7,000, yet only around 600 properties become available each year.
The causes of housing need and homelessness are varied and complex, and many of the users of this service are vulnerable so we knew an empathetic approach would be key to successful digital design. Simply creating a new form was not the answer; we looked at the user journey in its entirety including web content and interactions with staff at the housing needs office and contact centre.
As a former homelessness advisor, our project manager, Jenny, worked closely with the service to observe staff and better understand the nature of enquiries. Importantly, Jenny’s background meant she was able to win the confidence of the housing needs team early on.
It became clear that when a person presented as having a housing need, they were told to fill in an application for the housing register, regardless of their circumstances. The website also encouraged residents to join the register.
Working with subject matter experts who understood Housing Act Law, we wrote web content to explain the realistic chances of a user securing a council property via the housing register and Choice Based Lettings scheme. We also considered the housing needs of those who stand little chance of getting a council property, by providing housing advice on private-rented accommodation, alternative housing schemes and links to helpful services.
This content is now used as the source of truth for the contact centre and frontline teams so residents get a consistent message throughout the user journey.
The online housing register application form was co-designed with the housing needs team. We built key eligibility criteria into the front end of the form to tell ineligible residents not to apply, therefore managing expectations and improving the efficiency of the service itself. We also implemented an upload documents function to enable users to take and upload photographs of evidence documents, instead of queuing at the office to scan them.
The supporting web page content also helps to prepare eligible users before they start the form, explaining how long it will take and what information and evidence they will need.
The new online form was tested in Alpha with a range of users. We used guerrilla testing to observe testers’ body language and reactions to the web content, as well as understanding any friction points for the user.
When the form was released in beta, we added a customer feedback button so we could continue to iterate. Thankfully, our hard work in Alpha paid off as the feedback led to only a handful of minor tweaks.
By truly collaborating with the service and spending time identifying and understanding complex user needs, we were able to implement digital transformation that has seen real impact. Not only has the new housing register application form and process helped to better manage residents’ expectations and needs, it’s improved the efficiency of the team by giving them information and tools that add value to their work.