Why we are developing UK-wide data standards for the sector

Data in social housing is often inconsistent, incomplete and incoherent – we need better standards, writes Andrew van Doorn. Andrew Van Doorn is chief executive of Housing Associations' Charitable Trust.

Mr Van Doorn joined HACT in 2003 and has worked in homelessness, supported housing and wider social exclusion policy and practice for 19 years.

He has worked for HACT for 13 years although for 18 months he was seconded to the National Mental Health Development Unit at the Department of Health as the national housing lead. He is a non-executive director at London North West Healthcare NHS Trust and chair of Stonewall Housing.

When people ask me, "what's the next big thing?", my response for the past few years has been "data and digital".

That won't surprise you. There have been countless articles, discussions and seminars with the title, "Data: the next big thing".

Data runs across all of our workstreams, from insights and value, to local and digital.

Data is at the heart of Community Insight, our online tool that enables housing associations and developers to plan and deliver the services their communities need.

Data is also at the heart of our forthcoming report about customer satisfaction (spoiler alert). This highlights the need to turn the data we collect into the actionable insights that can drive business transformation.

"Without standards, data won't work."

Yet, there's still something missing in social housing's data journey.

We don't, as a sector, have the in-house skills.

We don't have the tools to diagnose our digital capability.

And we don't have data that's fit for purpose.

And that's why, as well as digital apprentices, professional development programmes and Digibite, we're developing data standards.

Because without standards, data won't work.

We know – and those of you working in social housing know all too well – that the state of data in the social housing sector is inconsistent, incomplete and often incoherent. And that's being polite.

We've encountered bad data that includes tenants who are over 118 years old, occupants listed as children with dates of birth that precede those of their parents, and repairs completed on properties for which the housing association had no responsibility.

I imagine you'd be able to add to those examples of bad data.

"We think the answer is the development of a UK housing data standard by the sector, for the sector."

So what's the answer? We've talked with colleagues in the sector and we've looked at the experiences of other industries.

We've visited and learnt from experts who've successfully introduced housing data standards in Holland.

We think the answer is the development of a UK housing data standard by the sector, for the sector.

Building our core data infrastructure means we can embrace a digital future. It will bring us closer to the benefits of automation and artificial intelligence, and help transform our customer services. It will reduce costs, it will enable quicker, better business decisions and it will improve your business intelligence.

Earlier this year, we published version one of the UK Housing Data Standard. Developed in partnership with 17 leading housing associations, version one focuses on core customer data, and the voids and allocations process. Since then, more than 300 housing associations have downloaded the standards.

Now, we're developing the full UK Housing Data Standards.

"The next stage will be focused on repairs."

We're being backed not only by Housemark, who prides itself on being the social housing sector's data warehouse, but also by some of the largest housing associations across England (and, by the time this goes to press, possibly in Scotland and Wales as well).

With them, we've agreed that the next stage will be focused on repairs. It's not, however, too late to be part of this development.

Being part of the project gives you the opportunity not only to increase internal awareness about the importance of data, but also to shape the future of data in the sector.

Data standards might not be particularly sexy, but they are essential if the sector is going to be able to make data work.

Our aim is that by 2022, the social housing sector will be able to say with confidence: "in data we trust".

Andrew van Doorn, chief executive, Housing Associations' Charitable Trust