Bristol City Council manages over 27,000 homes within the local authority area, and with this comes a long list of responsibilities – one of which is to collect rent arrears from tenants. In previous years, their income officers worked from spreadsheets, manually calling or sending letters to those in rent arrears. This process was time consuming and costly – and as households continued to fall into debt due to the pandemic, it was no longer a sustainable approach.
Read on to discover how the council is now collecting debt…
COVID-19 had a considerable impact on local authorities. During the worst of the pandemic, Bristol City Council saw rent arrears increase by £1 million. Naturally, their officers prioritised high level debt, but this meant that those who owed lower amounts were not contacted as frequently.
The council had no choice but to increasingly target its approach to the support they offered. But this proved difficult to do at the required scale with limited in-house resources. Suspended enforcement during lockdown also meant they couldn’t operate as they had done previously. Yet, it provided a unique opportunity for the council to rethink their approach to collections.
Mark Kempt, Income and Leasehold Manager at Bristol City Council, recognised the need for a solution to allow the council to automate outbound resident engagement.
“We wanted to modernise our approach to collections and stop sending letters. We previously spent around £80,000 per year just sending invoices and letters in the post without seeing any reduction in rent arrears.” – Mark Kempt
Mark visited landlords who were already using – or in the process of implementing – Voicescape Collections. He realised that the engagement solution was being used in better-performing organisations and wanted to learn more about the technology.
“The landscape has changed significantly, so you need to modernise the way you manage debt now. You’ve got to do the legwork to ensure you can justify the action you take.” – Mark Kempt
How it works
Voicescape Collections automates outbound engagement so your officers can focus on having more productive inbound conversations that drive positive outcomes and secure sustainable resolutions. As reminders are sent out via voice message and supplemented by text, there’s a clear audit trail that outlines each engagement attempt – which is essential if legal proceedings are necessary. This is something you simply can’t do with paper letters.
The solution means that Bristol City Council can evenly distribute workloads to take the pressure off their customer service centre, reducing stress and improving well-being. Mark Kempt also noted how simple it is to implement the solution. In just one month, you can go from manually calling every resident in arrears to prioritising manual assistance for the most vulnerable whilst relying on Voicescape Collections for larger scale engagement tasks.
“It’s really simple!” – Mark Kempt
Since implementing Voicescape Collections in June 2022, Bristol City Council has been able to engage with residents more efficiently and set up affordable repayment plans for those in debt. This has allowed the council to increase its collection rate by 1.3% and reduce its current tenant arrears by £105,000.
“As a local authority, we recognise the important role we have to play in engaging with both Council leaseholders and residents across the city. That level of proactive engagement extends across all our services and is vital in helping us to address the growing issue of current and former rent arrears to reduce our overall debt portfolio. Importantly, we need to tackle this issue in a way that is sensitive to environmental challenges, such as the rising cost of fuel, energy and food, which is profoundly affecting residents across the city.” – Mark Kempt
Voicescape Collections has also enabled its team of income officers to work more collaboratively.
“Voicescape allowed us to take that next step. Where we had vacancies in our areas, we were able to load it [the system] up with those cases to pick up work when people were on leave. We haven’t had to get extra staff in to cover those patches.” – Mark Kempt
Having realised the worth and diverse potential of Voicescape Collections, , Bristol City Council is now exploring other ways to utilise it. Acknowledging the financial struggles faced by many due to the cost-of-living crisis, the council is looking to launch a pension credit eligibility campaign to support their residents.
“Voicescape has changed the way we operate in Bristol. It’s been fundamental to resetting our relationship with residents and has supported our ethical approach to managing arrears. It has become a key tool in our day-to-day work, freeing up capacity for officers and providing cover for annual leave and any vacant patches we have in the city. We will utilise the system more in the coming months working on UC and Pension Credit campaigns.” – Mark Kempt
Modernise your collections process
The cost-of-living crisis is set to worsen as inflation rises to record levels. By taking advantage of modern tools that drive inbound calls, your council will maintain a solid financial position – even in the face of financial pressures.
Book a demo with one of our social housing experts to learn more about Voicescape Collections.