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Data analysis technique claimed to help target support to tenants at risk of debt

A number of social landlords in Wales are using new data analysis technology to identify tenants most at risk of spiralling debt and illegal money lenders.

Four Welsh housing providers are now able to build and engage with 40,000 tenant financial profiles, allowing them to quickly identify those most at risk to dangerous levels of debt.

This new approach is particularly significant in January as thousands of households face up to the reality of seasonal debt – and the potential stress and poor decision-making that can follow.

One housing provider taking proactive debt identification to a new level is Pobl Group, which manages over 10,000 homes across south and mid Wales through its Charter Housing, Derwen and Gwalia brands.

Charter’s director of housing Stephen Evans said: “Illegal lending is an ever present threat in our communities, and the effects on peoples’ lives can be devastating.  Tenant debt is something we take very seriously at Charter as it can cost people their wellbeing and homes, and unfortunately January is always the most difficult time of the year in this area.

“In the past, Charter has often had to help people pick up the pieces of Christmas debt, but this year we decided to try a new proactive, data driven approach, Insight, to identifying those at risk of debt and loan sharks.

“For the first time we combined our own data resources with data and intelligence gathered from external sources, to build a picture of a tenant’s financial situation, including factors that are likely to cause debt.

“The key to helping is early intervention, the sooner we can engage the more likely we are to find a solution. Once debt gets out of control it gets much, much harder.”

The organisation has identified 570 people in what it terms “high financial distress”, which equates to 14% of its tenants.

“This allowed our officers to use their time as effectively as possible – visiting the most vulnerable families first and knowing what questions to ask; warning them of the dangers of illegal lending, and suggesting alternatives,” Evans added. “Understandably there’s still a lot of sensitivity concerning data and privacy, but Insight isn’t about playing ‘big brother’ with our customers. Much of this data is already available publicly, but not in one place, and we’re making sure we take a careful, measured approach to ensure we help those who need it the most.”

Insight is developed by housing software specialists, Housing Partners. The company’s principal partner manager, Jay Dudley said: “We recognised through talking to our social landlord customers across Wales that many would value a more pro-active approach to supporting their vulnerable tenants.

“Insight combines external data from hundreds of sources, many of which are unique to Housing Partners, with the social landlords’ own information, so the provider is able to see and crucially, act on, all the relevant information.

“With the recent benefit cap and the new universal credit system of payments, due to welfare reform, social landlords are having to consider new, more commercial approaches to protecting income.”

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