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Can connected technologies help social housing providers?

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Posted by Andrew Dudley on 06 March 2018

Andrew Dudley - Social Housing Lawyer
Andrew Dudley Head of Social Housing

The IoT is quickly becoming part of everyday life for many individuals, particularly in their homes. Connected devices make homes safer, more energy efficient and therefore cheaper to run and maintain. There’s no doubt that appliances are getting smarter and the use of connected technologies is growing at a staggering rate.

In a report from Gartner, they predicted that the number of connected devices worldwide would grow to 20.8 billion by 2020 with almost every single industry sector being affected by the technology, from care homes with companion robots to housing developers using IoT devices as standard on new property builds to benefits occupiers and landlords. 

The benefits of the Internet of Things for the end user and businesses are clear. The most obvious advantage for the social housing sector is that the IoT makes buildings safer, secondary to this, it can benefit the health and well-being of residents. For a sector that often houses the more vulnerable members of society, this has to be a key consideration. From smoke detectors that are capable of calling the fire brigade in an emergency to devices that detect damp and water leaks on pipes before it becomes a significant issue, there are many applications where the IoT can more than prove its worth for housing providers.

Smart data patterns

In a report from BT, they highlighted how smart meters give insight, and big data can see patterns in an individual’s daily behaviour which can be used to alert on well-being issues. For example, if a person’s usual evening routine changes or there are no spikes in usage on certain well used appliances like the kettle, it can indicate an issue and help can be alerted.

IoT can also be used for residents with health and medical issues, sensors can now be fitted to prescription bottles collecting patient data on medication regimens, and again offering insight into an individual’s health and well-being.

IoT devices can literally be life-savers, there are carbon monoxide and smoke detectors with sensors that reduce false alarms and are capable of alerting emergency services to an incident. Sensors are also readily available to alert allergy suffers of increasing pollen counts so they can adjust their medicine regime accordingly.

It’s clear that connected devices can drastically improve the lives of tenants making them safer, more comfortable while saving them and the housing provider money. A win-win all around.

Cost efficiencies

For housing providers there are also clear cost benefits to using IoT devices by making tasks more efficient and reducing the need for emergency call outs, thus reducing maintenance costs. IoT devices are capable of detecting damp, air quality, leaks and voids and alerting housing providers to faults in equipment.

In pilot case studies using smart technology for detecting leaks five out of the seven properties used in the experiment had an issue that was identified and alerted via the connected technology, including a toilet with a faulty flush and a leak on a washing machine. They also found additional cost benefits of using motion sensors in empty properties in terms of managing the maintenance workforce and their timekeeping.

The IoT changes the approach for housing providers; it helps build better relationships with tenants. A tenant no longer has to call to report they have no heating or hot water; the smart boiler sends an alert that prompts the maintenance team to the issue before the boiler stops altogether and the tenant has no heating. For tenants who are elderly or vulnerable this early intervention could offer a real difference to their health. 

Barriers to use

While the benefits are clear, there are still barriers to utilising the technology fully across the sector. As with many data enabled technologies, there are concerns at board level over data protection and privacy, even more so with the GDPR on the horizon for May 2018.  Different devices collect different identifying information so the implication of the enhanced rights for individuals covered by the GDPR should not be underestimated. There is also a lack of understanding across the sector on the devices that are available and how they can be effectively utilised efficiently across housing stock.

However, the benefits outweigh the risks if the implementation of connected technologies is project managed and maintained correctly. Having housing stock that is connected improves tenants experience, reduces costs and improves efficiencies. 

About the author

Andrew Dudley

Head of Social Housing

Andrew specialises in property development and stock transfer for Housing Associations.

Andrew Dudley

Andrew specialises in property development and stock transfer for Housing Associations.

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