Introducing a discovery into Royal Greenwich’s leasehold services
Senior Product Manager, Dan Harper-Wain writes about our work with housing colleagues and leaseholders in the borough to explore residents' experience of our leasehold services.
A few weeks ago, we began a project to explore the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s leaseholder services. When we talk about leaseholders, we mean residents who own property in the borough, where the council is the freeholder and owns the estate that the property stands on. Our goal is to improve the experience these residents have when they interact with us, and make things quicker and easier for our staff who support them.
The project is one of the ways we are implementing our digital strategy, which was published last year. We expect it to contribute to several areas of the strategy, most notably our commitments to create user-centred services that are online by default, and to give our staff the right tools for them to excel in their work.
A joint “discovery”
The project is being run by a blended team. One half comprises housing experts from within the council (such as Dewbien Plummer, who heads up Royal Greenwich’s housing strategy). The other half is made up of digital and user-centred design professionals, who are part of our growing digital team. By bringing these complementary skillsets together, we believe we can harness the potential of user-centred design, whilst ensuring it is rooted in the context, challenges and priorities of our existing service landscape.
We’re beginning with a discovery phase. That means taking time to build a shared understanding of the current services, who uses them, the technology involved and any constraints there might be. We won’t be implementing or changing anything immediately. Instead, we will work to identify problems that residents and staff experience with the existing service, so we make the right decisions about what to change later on. This includes establishing which of these problems are the most valuable to solve, whilst ensuring that they are feasible (from a technology and design standpoint) and viable (from a policy and cost standpoint) to address. We’re doing a range of things to achieve this, including interviewing leaseholders and staff, analysing data, and mapping out the steps and interactions that make up each service.
Scoping our work
There are several areas of Royal Greenwich’s housing services that we’d like to focus on. We decided to start with leasehold services, because we know that leaseholders don’t always have an excellent experience. Royal Greenwich engages with its leaseholders regularly through the Leasehold focus group. In the past, this has highlighted areas that residents would like us to improve, like simpler communication, clearer invoices, and deeper engagement in major works.
After reviewing this existing evidence, we began our discovery by building a list of the whole range of services that Royal Greenwich offers its leaseholders. We identified 16 separate services, from the initial transaction to buy a leasehold property, right through to registering a pet dog with the council. To make sure we could have a real impact, we needed to tighten the scope of our discovery. We worked with the Home Ownership team to prioritise these services, using criteria such as:
The volume of transactions in each service
Our knowledge of existing pain points for residents
The internal complexity of delivering each service
This exercise gave us a clearer focus for our work, which will concentrate on four services:
Understand and pay for my service charges
Request and pay for a repair
Understand major works proposals, and respond and pay for them
Ensure my building and estate is kept clean and tidy
Seeing the services we provide through our leaseholders’ eyes
Speaking directly with leaseholders has been one of the most valuable parts of the discovery so far. The team’s user researchers interviewed a range of current leaseholders, to build up context about their lives and experiences of interacting with the council about their property. We were able to speak to a wide group of residents, from all parts of the borough, and ranging in age from 32 to 81 years old.
We learned that leaseholders have slightly different expectations and experiences of dealing with the council, depending on whether they bought their property directly through Right to Buy, or on the open market. Residents who bought through the Right to Buy scheme tended to feel a deeper connection to the borough, often due to being long-term residents: “I’ve lived here 61 years, in the same flat in Woolwich - my Mum owned it and then I bought it off her when she was very old.”
Leaseholders who bought via the open market tended to feel less connected and were less likely to contact the council about issues. Some even went as far as organising repairs and improvements to common areas of their building themselves, to avoid delays and increase their level of control over the process “I don’t really contact the council as we tend to sort out things in our building between us. We have a WhatsApp group and we’re all happy to chip in.”
Common to both groups, however, was the sense that residents lead busy, hardworking lives. We heard valuable stories about interactions where unclear letters or difficulty reaching the right member of staff left leaseholders with a sense of disempowerment. This underlined a need for their interactions with us to be as clear, straightforward and quick as possible.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll bring together what we have learned from these conversations, with insights from interviewing a range of council staff. We are mapping out each of the four services, to understand the user journey and articulate the opportunities and pain points residents and staff face. Once we can articulate that clearly, we’ll be able to decide, through conversations with housing staff, where to focus our attention first.
If you are interested in learning more about our work, or would like to share your views, please get in touch.