With technology already beginning to transform how services are delivered to social housing tenants, 6G Internet founder Tahir Mohsan was one of a number of experts invited to speak at this year’s Digital Housing Conference in Manchester.
Part of Salford University’s ONECPD programme of professional development, the annual event brings together industry leaders and academics to highlight innovative approaches to digitalising housing services.
This year’s Queen’s Speech announced new reforms in social housing, with newly-digitalised services having important role to play in the government’s strategy to bring digital inclusion to all. From the use of artificial intelligence for housing repair requests, to analysing data to predict future tenant behaviour, this year’s conference provided valuable insight into how housing providers can make the most of the digital revolution.
However, Tahir’s message was a simple one: If tenants aren’t connected, they can’t be included. Speaking to delegates from across the housing sector about 6G Internet’s own experience working with Leeds City Council, he highlighted the significant percentage of social housing that has no permanent internet connection at all. In Leeds it’s estimated to be 25% of all social housing, while the government’s own national digital inclusion strategy estimates that 38% of people without a permanent connection live in social housing.
This is not just a hindrance to providers wishing to digitise their own services. Having no home internet is recognised as a marker for living in poverty, with tenants unable to access the best deals on shopping, utilities or credit. It significantly impacts their ability to manage their money through online banking, apply for jobs or government support, access online training or even simply keep in touch with family and friends.
In Leeds and nationwide, 6G Internet’s solution is to work with local authorities and housing associations to connect social housing to wireless broadband that tenants can access for free. In addition to uncapped access to government websites, tenants receive a permanent 1 Mbps connection with the option to upgrade to unlimited internet and faster speeds whenever they want.
During trials in two Leeds tower blocks, 35% of tenants accessed the free internet every day, with one resident finding a full-time job online four days after being connected. He had been job-searching offline for more than three years.
Yes, the digital revolution offers housing associations a tremendous opportunity to engage better with their tenants while providing more inclusive, efficient and cost-effective services. But more than that, it can offer people living in poverty a route to a better standard of living.