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More efficient service charges at Poplar HARCA

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Results & ROI

  • 19% reduction in account adjustments 
  • 46% of invoiced income collected in 4 months  
  • 5% reduction in failure demand in 3 months

The client

Poplar HARCA is a housing association in the East End of London with around 9,000 properties, of which roughly 30% are leasehold.  The relatively new Home Ownership Team are responsible for the collection of service charges.  The team have improved performance across their processes for the past 18 months and in 2015/16 they collected an impressive 140% of the income owed for the same period, with significant amounts of historic debt recovered.     

The challenge

The team has a strong continuous improvement culture and was reaching the limit of improvements they could make on their own. Remaining problem areas occurred at points where their processes intersected with other services, or where technology was limiting potential advancements. In addition, the team needed to make changes in line with new internal policies and a changing regulatory environment, in a swift and collaborative way.   

The approach

A project team included members of Home Ownership, Finance, IT, and other business teams.  The diagnostic confirmed, unusually, the problems were not with the calculating and billing of charges, the collections process, or the major works consultation process.  The main problems were however: Property set-up (on systems), adjustments, and the time-consuming process of creating inspection packs.  The team created Value Stream Maps then added detailed workplace observations to get to root causes of the problems in these areas.  The outcomes for which ultimately led to the design of new and error-proofed processes, using a combination of technology, removing additional sources of data (spreadsheets) and reducing handovers.  Finally a new RACI Matrix was agreed to clarify and formalise roles and responsibilities across the service charges process.   

The benefits

In addition to the tangible benefits to service charges, the teams report much more stable relationships between themselves and others across Poplar HARCA.  A baseline survey to measure team satisfaction, within 3 months overall team satisfaction increased to 73% (a 5% increase) and satisfaction with relationships increased by 18%.  The difference in culture was noticeable not only to the team themselves but to other staff and managers.

The Head of Business Support reported that: “It has to be noted how relationships between teams who participated in the review has improved significantly. Issues which usually would’ve taken time and effort to resolve are now resolved through a quick chat or a meeting, almost immediately.”

“The Lean review has been a great step forward for the team. We’ve found efficiencies and better ways of doing things across our whole service, and it’s also helped us to work much more closely with our colleagues in other sections to provide a joined up service. It’s also been great to see the enthusiasm of the team at the information centre meetings, and the way our whole team have stepped up and taken part in the improvements.”

Ben Whiteside | Head of Home Ownership