Enabling a digital approach in response to the Right to Buy scheme offers great potential to simplify the current complex and lengthy process - discusses Jackie Gill, IEG4’s Product Manager
Right to Buy has been a pathway for people living in council-owned properties to purchase their homes since the scheme was passed in the 1980 Housing Act. It offers a more affordable house price and it has proven incredibly popular.
However, Right to Buy sales dropped by 35% in 2020/21 to the lowest yearly figure in eight years, according to newly published statistics from the Government. Although this dip is likely attributed to the pandemic, it is still a concern for councils who generate revenue from the scheme.
In March of last year, it was announced that the time councils would have to spend money received through the sales of homes through RTB programmes would increase to five years from three. The idea behind this extension of time is to encourage the use of the money to be spent on more modern affordable housing and towards improvements within the community.
This means that there could be a larger incentive for councils to encourage people to use the scheme.
Challenges for councils
Like buying any house, the Right to Buy process follows multiple stages, which are difficult and lengthy to complete. In some cases, the entire process lasts over 12 months.
This timeframe, when combined with the fact that the RTB form, as available on the GOV.UK website, is over 15 pages long, cumbersome to complete, and with a lot of information to digest, and with no fast way to get support if the applicant has questions, means that there is a growing feeling that people are deterred from using the scheme.
Once the form is completed and posted there is often a lengthy waiting period to see if it’s been received, and then approved or denied. This can be very stressful for the applicant, who naturally chases the progress of their application through calls and face-to-face visits to the council.
There is a simple fix to this issue. The use of online forms has accelerated within local government as digital transformation is embraced within the public sector.
Everyday applications, such as council tax registration, have been vastly improved by moving from paper-based forms that need to be printed and posted, to an online form that can be completed directly on the website, and sent with the click of a button.
By its nature, a digital Right to Buy form is a lot more sophisticated than a registration form, and would likely require tailoring for each local authority to reflect local policies.
However, the benefits are many. Automatically the Right to Buy application becomes a much shorter form for the applicant, as it reflects only those areas required by the circumstances of the applicant, and completion can be much quicker, and much simpler to navigate. It also means that all the guidance on how to complete the form and all the statutory wording for the applicant to read through is all in one easy to access location.
London Borough of Southwark move their RTB process to digital
Taking the digital form concept further, to make it truly transformational, we are working with the London Borough of Southwark to create an online Right to Buy application environment, which includes the form as well as a portal, which can track the application with information on how to complete it.
The council’s previous Right to Buy application process was delivered through a housing management system with an integrated module, but Southwark found this to be inflexible, so we were approached by the council to see if we could co-develop a new Right to Buy system.
When we started working with the council we decided that a state-of-the-art Workflow and Document Management system was the best approach to meet their requirements.
By simplifying the current paper-based method with a digital solution, we expect Southwark to soon start to see an uptick again in people considering the scheme, which could lead to increased revenue for the council to improve its local community and provide more affordable housing to their residents.
But above all, by providing a digital solution to the Right to Buy application process, it will improve the resident experience, keeping them informed on every step on the status of their application, avoiding unnecessary contact to the council in progress tracking. Digitally transforming the process takes the complex and makes it simple and provides citizens an easier path to owning their own home.