How are housing services approaching the transition to digital?

Radius Housing (opens new window), in association with Tunstall Healthcare, provides housing, care and support to over 33,000 homes, and manages 12,500 properties in 80 towns across Northern Ireland. The social enterprise employs over 1,000 people and its response centre, Radius Connect24, provides reassurance to around 20,000 customers. 

One of the core principles of housing provision and other related services is supporting independent living and driving investment in communities. At Radius this is no exception, and as we pointed out when we gave evidence to the TAPPI Inquiry (Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation), we provide both general and sheltered housing with telecare alarm services. It’s always been important to us that our service provision is ethical, sustainable and has our tenant’s welfare and requirements at its heart.

Connect24 is an essential part of our model of care, providing 24hour support as the name suggests. Technology is central to the way we deliver our services. We engage with thousands of people; around 10,000 living in sheltered housing, approximately 5,000 people pay for the service privately and over 3,000 have enhanced telecare funded by the local Health & Social Care Board as their care needs mean they require more than a basic telecare system. 

Connect24 is often the first line of support for people who need help. This kind of low-level support can be invaluable in helping people to remain in their own homes and maintain tenures. We’ll provide help in an emergency, but also often signpost to other services, such as support for falls, dementia or frailty. We also try to help unpaid carers, using technology to give them some respite and reduce burnout. It’s just as important for them that they know they have 24 hour support too, and a source of advice. 

Becoming proactive

Increasingly though, we are trying to move to a more proactive and preventative model. Our service enables timely intervention, making sure we can provide help where and when it’s needed most. 

We’re increasingly transforming our service model from inbound to outbound calling. Something as simple as a wellness check call can identify any issues at any early stage, and enhance the service user’s feeling of wellbeing. During the pandemic, our proactive calling service was invaluable to the people we support, but even now this kind of regular contact really informs our engagement with clients and helps us to meet their needs more effectively. 

In my view, this approach should become accepted as mainstream, and its value more widely recognised by commissioners. The phrase health and social care is often used, but it’s sometimes forgotten that housing providers, and indeed technology, can play a key role in working across all of these services to provide more integrated support and upstream interventions, which can mitigate the effects of acute events and help to support wellness as much as responding to emergencies.

Working together

The importance of co-production shouldn’t be forgotten. The move to digital is a big change, and to get it right we need to involve tenants and genuinely listen to their views to help us all navigate the cultural shift. For example, many tenants have been used to the traditional concept of scheme coordinators being onsite. 

Changing the service model to become more agile by enabling some calls to be handled offsite can initially cause some apprehension, but our experience is that the tenants are more than happy with this in practice because there’s no reduction in human interaction. We’ve found if you present the options and explore the potential of different approaches, our tenants and colleagues are very embracing of change. Which means we can work together to empower them to make the most of a more digital future based around their needs and aspirations. 

The future

I think we’ll see an increasing amount of people choosing to pay for their own technology support. It gives them more choice and control, and we’re all so much more used to having technology, such as smart speakers in our homes. I often hear from our residents that the most important point for them is that the technology is simple to use and reliable. As families move further away from each other, tech can help to connect us all. And although we have an ageing demographic, the next generation of ‘older’ people will be digital natives and we shouldn’t forget this. 

The UK’s move from an analogue communications network to a digital one is also influential. It’s given us an opportunity to audit our technology estate and how it’s used to help us create a comprehensive upgrade strategy that keeps robustness and reliability at the heart of what we do, but also recognises the potential for digital technology to enable us to better tailor our services for individuals. We’re in the process of upgrading our Connect24 monitoring centre platform to PNC IP to enable us to receive calls over the new digital network, and over the next three to four years we aim to have replaced all of our analogue Lifeline home hub devices with digital ones. 

Find out more about the TAPPI Inquiry and the latest phase of developments with this Housing LIN/TSA programme, funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust.

Also find out more about Radius Housing (opens new window) and Tunstall Healthcare (opens new window).


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