Down the line: the role of digital in housing advice

Each year, more and more people come to Shelter for help.

An affordable homes shortage, sky high housing costs, cuts to welfare and an unstable private rented sector mean that last year Shelter saw record numbers of people calling our helpline and visiting our website with housing problems. 

We want to help everyone, but we simply don’t have the resources to answer every call.

That’s one of the reasons we work hard to provide high quality digital advice. We need to look at how we can best get information, advice and support to people facing housing problems in the right way, at the right time.

To do this, we asked the leading research agency TNS BMRB to talk to people who’ve been homeless or in bad housing, to help us understand the different roles face-to-face, telephone and online advice services play in getting people the help they need.

We found that:-

Individual needs are complex

The context of people’s lives is critical for understanding the role that digital can play in housing advice and support and, just as importantly, where it can’t.

Three factors are key in determining what help people need:

  • What their housing problem is and how severe or urgent it is;
  • Their personal, emotional and practical circumstances, such as mental or physical health problems, or relationship difficulties; and
  • Whether they have the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle the problem they are facing

Face-to-face, telephone and online services all have their own advantages.  Someone that is facing losing their home imminently is likely to need emotional and practical support and advice, and therefore will be more likely to need to speak to someone.

To address everyone’s needs, we need a multi-channel strategy

The research clearly showed us that person-to-person services are vital for people with more severe and urgent housing problems.

It showed us that developing digital services can play a role in helping people with housing issues:

Digital can be a preventative service

Some people with housing issues don’t get help until crisis point – online services could help us to get to people before they get into a crisis.   

People liked the anonymity and convenience of digital services. Allowing people to get advice and information online in their own space and time, without the pressure of speaking to someone, can help resolve problems at an earlier stage.

We found that the complexity of the problem faced, particularly around legal rights, meant people felt out of their depth. If digital can help to build people’s confidence around housing rights and responsibilities, we can also help people to become capable of resolving issues themselves.  

Digital can help us be more efficient in how we deliver our face-to-face and telephone services.

They could enable clients to “self-triage” online before their contact with a Shelter adviser, saving valuable adviser time and meaning that we can answer more calls. 

Digital can give us new ways of providing that person-to-person contact

Those who sought face-to-face or telephone help really valued Shelter’s support, and the reassurances person-to-person contact was able to give them.

Digital gives us a different way to offer this.  For example, video calls could provide face-to-face advice to those with housing problems who don’t live near our support services. 

We’ll be using these insights to trial online and offline services, aiming to improve the efficiency, impact and reach of our services, and ultimately: to help even more people.

One Comment
  1. A system whereby information is available is useful however it is very limited as a resource if what people need is actual advice to interpret and apply the information that is available to them.

    Simple factual situations may be sorted by accessing information but often a tenant needs the back up to present themselves to a landlord or agent. Having been an adviser and enforcement officer in housing, more often than not, tenants had made their own representations of factual information, or by a friend or relative on their behalf, but to no avail.

    Tenants in my experience tend to seek representation as a last step, rather than as is commonly believed, as a first step in resolving a problem.

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