Medway Council Rents Online (MEROL)
Tom, Interim Housing Manager for Medway Housing Landlord Service introduces the new online service for Council Tenants.
What needed transforming and why
Before transformation it was not very easy or convenient for Medway Council tenants to get information about their rent account, as they would need to phone or email the team. This meant they could only find out information during working hours. This wasn’t convenient for either the tenants or officers as their time was spent dealing with routine enquiries when they could have been supporting tenants in other ways.
There was an online facility for tenants to pay their rent, but not other charges. They also had to know their tenancy numbers, which were often long and difficult to remember. This meant that tenants chose to phone the team. The calls added up to hundreds every month, which took up a lot of officer time.
Who was involved in the transformation project
Lee, Tom and Pete led for the Housing Team, working closely with Sverre and Gillian from ICT to develop the product. This is a complicated product involving pulling in data from different sources, and enabling financial transactions, so numerous other colleagues were involved in developing and testing the service including Justin and David.
We followed the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Which meant that we had clear objectives, but our processes were flexible. If someone came up with a good idea or something wasn’t working, we could quickly change it. It meant that the software developers and the housing team could share ideas and solve problems together and positively.
We held 10 minute stand-up meetings every day to check progress and quickly resolve any issues, whilst still having time to get on with the day job. The stand-ups were very effective in preventing the project from drifting, which can be a problem when everyone is busy with many tasks.
Many people in the Landlord Services Team were invaluable in helping with the original design and functions of the product, and with testing and feedback.
Alysia from the digital team was really helpful in connecting MEROL to the main council website.
What has happened
Medway Council tenants now have access to an exclusive area of the main Medway Council website where they can:
- check their rent balance, and any other housing related balances
- view, download and print a rent statement
- make a payment via Sagepay
- contact the housing team
- find out how much rent they owe today, and the following Monday (when the rent is due).
Following a secure registration process, users can now login with just an ID and password. We know that not all tenants will be comfortable with ICT, so some of the housing team have been trained to assist tenants with the registration process and to deal with user enquiries.
The service has been designed to be mobile friendly, as we know a lot of our tenants have mobiles but do not have access to a PC or laptop.
What affect have the changes had on employees
It is still early days, and the new service was introduced primarily as a benefit to our tenants, but we are anticipating
- reduced telephone traffic to the Housing team, freeing them up for other duties
- staff can promote the service, and can use it to encourage tenants to check their rent balances and statements regularly to ensure their rent accounts are kept up to date
- reducing the risk of payments going to the wrong account
What affect have the changes had on our customers
It is early days and we have so far not promoted the service widely. We had a soft launch to iron out any teething problems.
Early feedback has been very positive, even without us promoting it. Tenants are finding their own way to the service and registrations are higher so far than we expected.
As consumers, we all expect more and more information to be available to us 24/7 and our tenants are no different.
We have been inviting feedback and below is a quote from a customer:
“It is so much better now that I can check my balance as I'm never sure how much I am in credit by. This way it can help me to keep track of my payments as I want to pay extra so that I can still take payment breaks at certain times like Christmas and this will let me do this without worrying I may be in arrears.”