What are the risks of using AI in social housing?

  • Housing associations are increasingly using digital technologies to find more efficient ways of working and improve the way they interact with customers
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) in particular is being used for a variety of customer-facing and back-office functions
  • We discuss how registered providers of social housing can balance the risks of AI with the rewards

The developing role of AI in social housing emerged as a key theme in a report we published earlier this year, based on a series of interviews with senior leaders in the sector.

One interviewee revealed their organisation was looking to introduce AI across a number of functions, from voice chatbots in their call centre, to various aspects of their rental process, including chasing arrears.

Why are housing associations using AI?

Like other organisations in the public and voluntary sectors, many registered providers of social housing are facing increasing demand for their services at a time of intense financial pressure.

AI offers the potential to help organisations use limited resources more effectively and improve how they deliver services. For our senior leaders’ report, we spoke to one housing association CEO whose workforce has shrunk by more than 50%. Digital technologies have been instrumental in allowing their organisation to deliver services and carry out back-office functions in a less resource intensive way.

Do housing associations have a clear strategy for AI?

Organisations must understand and assess the possible financial, ethical, cultural and data risks before embarking on AI or other digital projects.

AI and other digital innovations, such as predictive analytics, rely on the collection and processing of vast quantities of information, much of it personal or sensitive.

Many of the tech companies developing AI applications for the public sector are start-ups. Housing associations planning on using such applications should be prepared to ask themselves, and any third-party partners they are working with, searching questions about how robust their processes are for safeguarding personal data.

4 key questions when embracing AI

In our latest report, which focusses specifically on AI – Artificial intelligence in the public sector: the future is here – we set out four key questions organisations should ask themselves as they develop their digital strategies and embrace AI and other digital technologies.

  1. Does risk feature in your digital strategy?
  2. Who is accountable for digital risks in your organisation?
  3. Are your risk and governance frameworks future proof?
  4. Who has oversight on ethics and morality?

It is clear many in the social housing sector have a good understanding of some of the potential challenges presented by emerging digital technologies. They are particularly aware of the risks of going down a path of designing services and functions, such as call centre chatbots, that are “digital by default”, rather than “digital by choice”.

One CEO we spoke to for our senior leaders’ report said it was important customers have a choice about how they interact with their organisation.

Human oversight is another key consideration. “With technology,” said this CEO, “you have to make sure the human is dominant and that you are not just using technology to cut costs.”

This chimes with public concerns about how AI is being used in the public sector. A YouGov survey earlier this year revealed nearly half (45%) of the public don’t like the idea of humans not being involved in decisions that affect them. A quarter also said they were worried about reduced human accountability and an emphasis on logical rather than ethical decision-making.

How Zurich Municipal can support housing associations on digital initiatives

We have a team of specialist risk consultants who would be happy to discuss the challenges you could face in your organisation as you embark on new digital projects, including AI.

We can help with:

  • Reviewing your digital innovations and checking your ethical and governance frameworks
  • Reviewing compliance with legislation
  • Risk assessment analysis for specific AI projects and your digital strategy
  • Cyber risk assessments and cyber security health checks

You can find more information about the support we can offer, as well as our approach to insuring AI projects, in our AI whitepaper.