Made Tech Blog

Online housing repairs: why no login is the right fix

Imagine you’re a resident with low digital literacy, your kitchen tap has been leaking and you can’t find the number to log a repair. A family member visits and wants to help. They find the council’s online portal where you can log a repair in minutes. Sounds great. However, there’s a problem: you need to login and they don’t have an account…

This is a familiar situation from our conversations and research with over 100 residents across multiple councils in the North and South of England. When we asked residents why they don’t use existing report-a-repair online services, it was often down to one thing – having to remember and enter a username and password.

Better and quicker resolution for everyone

Logging housing repairs is an emotive subject. That leaking tap? You want it fixed quickly so that it’s one less thing to worry about. Having a login is a barrier and that barrier implies it’s easier and quicker to call. However, when a digital service is well designed it’s easier to report online and quickly triage it to offer the resident an appointment slot that best suits them – all in minutes. I’ll throw another number into the mix – calling isn’t quicker, it takes an average of 18 minutes to report by phone (with a 9 minute waiting time) and is often only available 9-5. And we know taps have a habit of leaking outside these hours.

Some of the most vulnerable people in society live in social housing. They’re reliant on others, like family members, wardens or other support networks. Removing the login opens the door for that support network to report repairs on their behalf. 

There’s another inclusivity aspect that came out of the research and testing we did and that’s people who have accessibility needs or those for whom English isn’t their first language.  It’s easier to log something online with accessibility tools such as screen readers, increased font size and built-in translators, especially if the wording and journey has been road-tested with these user groups in mind.  

Compare this to having to ring up. It’s more time, more hassle and more frustration. Of course there are benefits in telephone conversations and this should remain an option. Offering an online option frees up these channels and reduces wait time for those that need it most. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time and a place to use the phone but in the above example it wouldn’t be the easiest or most user-friendly first point of contact.

Misconception 1: Will users abuse the service?

A common barrier to no login is that residents will want to report multiple issues, including non-repairs related ones. So as well as the leaky tap they’ll also ask who their councillor is, when the bins are being emptied and so on. Yet during our research we found that over 95% calls were related to a single repair issue.

Misconception 2: We need a login for security

Then there’s security, another reason cited for needing a login. We’ve worked with several councils without a login process and there hasn’t been a single rogue repair logged. The idea that someone will sit there and log fictitious faults is one that hasn’t materialised. 

One perception is that there will be less misuse and security risks if people have to ring in and speak to a customer service agent versus logging things online. When listening to hundreds of calls, most council agents only asked for an address as verification. Meaning that without psychic powers there’s no additional checks via the phone reporting route.

Login or no login – can the 2 live side-by-side?

Of course there is another point to consider when it comes to login or no login. And this takes me back to one of my earlier points around considering user needs. There will be people who live in social housing who simply want to log a repair and get visibility of this one thing.  

There’s also residents who need to regularly check their rent balances and other council information that from a user experience and trust perspective needs to sit behind a login. This doesn’t mean that if they need to quickly log a repair they can’t access this via the route with no login. The two options can co-exist.

Support people to use the service – promote it!

The final piece in this applies whether you put your repairs behind a login or not. And this is making sure your tenants are aware of the online service. How can you encourage them to use it? What information and help do they need?  

Look at all the usual touch points, like rent statements, tenant sign up, IVR messaging and use these to promote the online service. From user research, I’ve seen that people are more likely to trust a phone call over using an online tool. So explain how this tool can be trusted to get things logged and fixed. Promote the services to others in the community, like the sheltered housing wardens – can they show residents how to use it or be encouraged to use it on their residents’ behalf?  

Also consider the complete journey. If your existing online repairs service results in a phone call to agree an appointment time, this only encourages the tenant to ring up next time. Confidence in an authority’s own digital maturity is built by showing the resident a complete online journey that leaves them informed of what’s happening next.

If you’re thinking of putting in place an online repair service it’s time to weigh up the pros and cons of having a login. The best way to do this is to get out and speak to the people who matter the most: those who’ll be using it. 

About the Author

Photo showing Fraser

Client Partner at Made Tech