Smart home technology is a whole range of products that are changing the way we interact with our home and enable us to control factors like heating and lighting to even the functioning of doors. Coupled with the Internet of Things it includes sensors to monitor everyday household objects. All of these technologies will be enhanced by the roll out of 5G networks from 2019.

An increasing number of housing associations are engaging in pilots to review the potential of this technology. The benefits to both housing associations and their residents run in concordance with one another; providing reductions in maintenance costs to landlords and enabling residents to monitor energy usage and conditions more easily whilst providing them with more security and creating healthier conditions within the home for residents to thrive, altering the entire customer experience.

Promising signs
Pilots set up by both Zurich and Capita show that by monitoring pipes for leaks and installing sensors, problems can be dealt with before they are even encountered. Stopping the tenant having to get in contact with the landlord and improving the customer experience in the process. Humidity sensors were found to be effective and revealed the ideal conditions for mould. These can have negative health effects on the more vulnerable, so such sensors are effective for both cost saving by reducing claims and creating the best conditions for residents.

Smart boilers that have the capacity to ensure errors are addressed before complete malfunction and shutdown have great potential. They will help to avoid expensive replacement by addressing minor systemic issues as they arise.

Is it cost effective?
Many believe that smart home technology is the future, and that the housing sector should begin to incorporate these (expensive) ideas. However, the potential for economies of scale has been emphasized by Helen Rogers, Head of Housing Products at Capita: ‘what might cost £10,000 in a single home can be scaled to under £300 per home when you look at applying the same technology to 1,000 properties’.

As Davies Hickman discovered in our report on the Internet of Things there is a reluctance to move with the times, with uptake not being as high as was previously hoped. There are clear endemic issues within these innovations needing to be addressed before these systems are able to flourish and some onus will fall upon housing associations to enable these to be the case.

How ‘Smart home’ technology will change the landscape
An excellent example of the way that smart technology will change the way Housing Associations engage with their tenants is that Castle Rock Edinvar have already created an energy team which will provide bespoke energy advice for their tenants. This was in response to the increasing usage of Smart Meters helping tenants to manage their fuel bill. Landlords can identify those who are most likely to run into arrears, especially useful since the roll out of the Universal Credit system abolished direct benefit payments to landlords.

Creating new teams of data analysts reviewing the new data is just one potential way Housing Associations should approach these new innovations. Others include:
• Clear guidelines laid out of who is in charge of what upon installation of new tech
• Landlords should educate residents on the capability and potential of the smart technology installed
• Provide skills training to ensure new innovations are optimized Minimise usability issues, as when implementing the new technology we must account for the most technophobic amongst us
• Involve residents in the decisions and projects to enable the transparency necessary for the plans to take root and foster trust.

Data Privacy, Security and Liability Concerns; the dark side of the Smart Home revolution
A more murky area that needs to be addressed is how technology affects the liability of Housing Associations towards residents. With the availability of this additional data, the boundaries between residents responsibility and landlord responsibility are murky. Andrew Dudley lists one of the immediate benefits as that people can be dispatched to residents upon analyzing energy data if this deviates away from normal usage. However, is the landlord to check every time this occurs or do they assume the tenant has gone on holiday or is staying with family elsewhere? What if they do not check on the tenant and the tenant has been hurt? Will any liability fall upon the landlord who had the data to tell them something was amiss? Therefore, it will be vital that guidelines be developed and all parties informed.

A further issue to consider will come with ‘zombie devices’ which are no longer used. No longer offering updates for preventing malware attacks or servicing may become a threat.

Housing Association actions and the Recent GDPR
Fortunately, data shows that in spite of concerns, Housing Associations are increasingly planning to incorporate the technology into their housing stock and although only 6% have an IoT strategy, a quarter are considering it. As more begin to move in this direction, it will likely get traction and prompt a stronger movement. Many will likely view those moving now to inform their future decisions as 34% find the technology is too new and unproven as a main barrier to their deployment of the technology.

Overall then, for successful implementation, housing assoications need to address the key issues of consultation (with residents), data security, integration of devices, economies of scale and customer support for residents who will need reassurance and advice.