Predicting the Unpredictable

How do you navigate your way through the COVID19 crisis in social housing? How do you measure success or survival in uncertain times?

I returned from a short-break holiday three weeks ago. The number of UK deaths at that time was 10. It is now over 6,000. The day before I returned Boris had delivered his “I have to level with you” speech and he now in intensive care! Three short weeks!

Being a bit of a data geek, I looked at the leading indicators and patterns of data that were available at the time – the now infamous logarithmic graphs. I extrapolated the mortality growth rates from Italy, Spain, France, Germany and UK and estimated that without any mitigating checks what the numbers of deaths could be. If you want to know how it is working out see my graph at the end of this article.

When I shared the data with some of my family and friends, I got some surprising responses:

  • Friend A: “Don’t be ridiculous, the numbers will be below the normal death rate from influenza”
  • Friend B: “If the RAF thought like you Steve, they’d have surrendered to the Luftwaffe before the Battle of Britain”
  • Family C: “These are not numbers, these are people. I don’t want to know the details”

I don’t consider myself as either an optimist or pessimist – more of a pragmatist and a realist. I think it’s better to consider what might be a good and bad scenario and then test the actual results against the predictions. And it’s not just about measuring the mortality rates, these need to be set against economic (FTSE), social (crime, travel, compliance) and political (confidence in government) measures.

So, applying that thinking I think there may be some additional measures that are useful for social housing providers, over and above the existing KPI and financial measures. Most commercial organisations are looking at liquidity and cashflow. But the sector has around £4.7bn in reserves and ratings agency Moody’s says that it does not expect material credit impacts for the sector amid the virus.

So, here’s my five measures to consider:

  • Growth in rent and service charge arrears: most providers are suggesting that contact from tenants about money worries are increasing. So, looking at how the actual arrears are increasing on a week-by-week basis and then extrapolating the results for the next 3 to 6 months would estimate the likely range of results. Monitoring actual rates would then show how effective you have been in mitigating the worst-case scenario.
  • Number (and %) of staff working “as normal”: this is more difficult to define and capture and might need some creative thinking. This would be a good measure of resilience. One CEO I spoke to told me the exact number of staff who had been deployed to work from home. You may need to tweak you definition to account for sickness, isolation, care duties and “abnormal activity”, Those with larger corporate support teams should be able to develop a survey monkey questionnaire or even an App via you HR system.
  • Welfare and morale of staff: the next step and even harder to capture. This is the equivalent of the “testing” for virus. The message I’m hearing repeatedly is about the concern about the mental health of your people particularly those with their own caring responsibilities and those isolated from wider family. My predictions suggest that “lockdown” is far from over. What are you doing to take care of your teams?
  • Customer support: you will have some data from contact centre data reports and monitoring social media channels. For those of you with CRM logs, I suggest you find a way to analyse the comments and detect the underlying emotions and sentiment. Look for key words like “unhappy, angry, concern, frustrated”. The only statistic I have seen so far was published in 24 Housing last week which suggested that 65% of social housing tenants had not been contacted by their landlord and only 18% are satisfied with the information. This conflicts with the feedback emerging from round table discussions. It may be worth putting some resource into ringing around your customers and “taking the temperature”?
  • Supplier resilience: if I’m right then the Accounts Payable phone will be ringing constantly as small suppliers try to manage their cashflow. Your reputation as a key community organisation will be tarnished if you delay or miss payment terms. It may be sensible to try and establish a measure of supplier concern and resilience.

If you have introduced additional measures the navigate the crisis we’d be interested to hear. We are running weekly Zoom breakfast briefing with a small group of CEOs for small-medium sized housing associations. You’d be welcome to contribute your best practice or listen in to what others have to say. It’s practical, informal, friendly and unattributable. Our approach is to support the navigation of this crisis for the long term.


Please contact Steve Dungworth at or call 07989 383531.


COVID19 data

And the results of my predictive data analytics as at [updated 14th April]. We appear to be following a similar path as Italy, Spain and France.

So maybe a few weeks and we will start to see a downturn. In the meantime: stay safe and get well soon, Boris!

Data source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

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