We built and launched a new online service which made £3.5bn of affordable homes funding available via a more efficient grants application process.
Homes England’s Affordable Homes programme plays an important part in the provision of affordable housing around the country.
Working in partnership, we made the application process for strategic partners (large scale home builders) more transparent, easier to understand and use. This meant fewer frustrations and delays for applicants and a reduced administrative workload for staff. As well as a simpler and more effective process to build affordable homes.
What problem were we there to solve?
There were several factors that made it difficult for investors and partners to submit a proposal:
- home builders who were interested in becoming strategic partners didn’t understand the programme requirements
- the application process used an excel spreadsheet to collect the proposal information
- tight timescales to prepare and modify proposals
Guidance for applicants wasn’t always clear and lots of clarifications were needed between organisations and the Homes England team. The information provided by applicants was often incorrect and sometimes sections were missed by mistake. This meant a prolonged and inefficient process. It was hard for staff to validate data and there was no version control so changes to applications couldn’t be tracked easily.
What we did
In alpha, we explored different solutions by co-designing and iterating new approaches for submitting proposals. We proposed a web-based service which would improve the affordable homes application process for existing, and new, strategic partners.
We also identified the importance of guidance, so that users knew what to expect from the process and had time to prepare applications and should help reduce errors when submitting a proposal.
In addition, we recognised that it was important to users that they have an opportunity to present the qualitative aspects of their proposal so that they can demonstrate the unique value they can offer.
In beta, the team had 3 months to build and release a working service where strategic partners could submit proposals for grant funding in time, when the 6 week bidding window opened.
To meet the tight deadlines, it was essential to take a ‘minimum viable’ approach to make the work a success. This timeline also included creating and publishing the new user-centred guidance.
By working in a blended team which brought together our service design and technical expertise with Homes England’s domain expertise, we were able to build a solution for a complex issue to a tight, fixed deadline.
The new guidance was published on GOV.UK 6 weeks before the application window opened, which gave the strategic partners time to familiarise themselves with the programme requirements. The new web application was launched in time and was available for submissions throughout the application window.
Following the launch of the service, Homes England received 54 applications for funding which was double the previous number. Only 3 clarifications were needed, in contrast with the previous system where many applications needed multiple clarifications before funding could be granted.
The service also has the potential to be re-used on for another funding programme, which is another funding route within the Affordable Homes programme.