There's a serious lack of affordable housing in the UK and this national housing crisis is reflected in Coventry. For families across the country, not just in Coventry, homelessness is a real risk for many people and as we move through the current pandemic it is probable that the issue will only worsen. Our ultimate goal within Housing and Homelessness at Coventry City Council is to prevent homelessness in our communities and reduce the number of residents we have living in temporary accommodation.

Developing the work we do around our online presence will put Coventry in a leading position for self-service and online advice tools. This will allow us to spend more one-on-one time with residents who have more complex and sensitive cases, providing them with early intervention options and preventing situations from escalating.

To achieve that we’re focusing on the information we give out and how we present it, so residents who are willing and able to support themselves through the service, can. Within that, we’re eager to signpost people to the support and self-service prevention services across the city.

Eighteen months ago, we decided we needed to review our website. We knew a lot of the information was out of date and we'd developed it as a service. FutureGov has helped us focus on bringing a real user-led service design approach not only to our content and digital tools but also to our ways of working so we can deliver the best experiences for our residents.

This is some of what we’ve achieved together in the last few months:

A new way of working

The housing and homelessness service is good at creating things, we know this requires testing but until recently we didn’t have the capability. FutureGov has taught us the best way to do that and the best way to introduce change through collaborative support and multidisciplinary working.

We’ve been introduced to agile, where every meeting has a distinct purpose, you know your focus for that sprint and the right people are in the room, whether that’s a stand-up or synthesis session. Show and tell sessions have been a great way for us to share what’s going on with the wider team, whilst engaging staff. Making these meetings interactive has made sure the project is a two-way street and each member of staff has got a voice in the impactful work we’re doing as this is absolutely essential in securing buy-in and support from front line staff.

We’re also testing new ways of working with our partner agencies and simple, lightweight tools to support collaboration. Through our Vulnerable People’s forum, we’re prototyping a new referral form, sharing information and making a plan of action at crucial points in the resident journey.

Thinking big and starting small

My favourite part of the project has been the synthesis sessions, where we unpack the insights from our research and testing with staff and residents. We’ve been designing, talking through concepts, experiences of work and what's happening in Coventry to provide more holistic support around the needs of our residents. It doesn’t feel like any one person is leading the conversation, rather it ensures we’re having the conversation.

This new agile mindset has allowed us to think big and start small. As a multidisciplinary team, we’ve been able to get a better understanding of resident attitudes around self-service and the type of information they're looking for.

To start small we’ve begun implementing the changes we can make right now, which includes the user-centered content on our website. Previously our website was very wordy and not accessible, which resulted in many residents calling us to get a simple answer to their questions. We’re now focusing on understanding how residents will access our website, what they’ll search for and how we can present the information where it's usable to them.

One of the changes we’re prototyping is introducing a new move on officer role as part of the Temporary Accommodation Team that are focused on supporting residents to move onto settled accommodation. Officers maintain regular contact with households in temporary accommodation, building a plan for moving to settled housing. They continue to work with residents for a period of time to make sure they sustain their tenancy.

Housing options, quiz and video

Screenshots of the housing options video.

We’ve introduced a really quick and easy first iteration of the housing options quiz. It takes less than a minute and helps our residents understand the situation and how many people are waiting for social housing. It also acts as a myth buster, helping manage expectations and provide realistic information and advice.

Our new first iteration of the housing options video is a great way for residents to meet the team, where they explain the service and what the next steps are. The current steps in the process surprised people, they didn’t realise they have to go through an assessment - which can cause concern for people in the community at risk of homelessness. The video helps reduce that concern, puts people at ease and explains what will happen during their time in the service.

The future in Coventry

I've always found that using our website is an example of the way we think about things, we were always very traditional and I think that’s the case for many local authorities. But what this project means for the future of Coventry is having services and tools set up for residents to support themselves, so we can assist those who need it most - the most vulnerable in our communities.

We can already see the potential in translating this into different services across the council that also work with vulnerable residents. There's now a different way to look at things, and the first step in that change is recognising what to free up internally. This work brings us longer-term, to more up-to-date ways of thinking that the residents of Coventry can buy into, giving them confidence in their local authority. But ultimately, it means better outcomes for our residents as we continue to work towards preventing homelessness.

Mandeep Chouhan is the Customer Services Manager within Housing and Homelessness at Coventry City Council.

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