The ‘Nudging your way to reduced rent arrears’ project was the first time that Behavioural Insights methodology had been applied and tested within the social housing sector.

Leveraging a collaboration with housing expert, Anna O’Halloran and 10 social housing providers across the UK, the scope was considerable and the ambitions were high. The project was designed to test how BI could be effective in changing the behaviour of social housing tenants. The project started in March 2015 and was driven by the impending challenges represented by welfare reform generally and Universal Credit in particular.

We ran 10 randomised controlled trials with over 7000 tenants and achieved some fascinating results, including:

  • 46% increase in revenue through minor changes to an envelope
  • 12% increase in payment rates by including just one extra message in arrears comms
  • 24% increase in tenant engagement by redesigning one letter


Segmentation. Our first question was to ask which tenants were currently experiencing rent arrears, and to then look beyond the resultant segmentation to understand behavioural drivers. Over 5,500 social housing tenants were involved in the trial and their data was used to inform the intervention trials

Behavioural Insights. Our second question was to ask why different segments seemed to behave differently, what were their attitudes to rent payments and what might trigger behaviour change. This was achieved through depth interviews and focus groups in a way rarely achieved before – truly engaging with tenants who use the rent arrears ‘service’ and understanding barriers to rent payment, along with what might encourage future payment.

Nudge. Building on the data from the segmentation and the attitudinal research ‘nudge’ principles were then used to create many different interventions that were designed to trigger behaviour change; ambitions ranged from encouraging payment on time, increasing payment amounts, increasing (and reducing) engagement, through to keeping arrangements and paying more quickly.

Rigorous Evaluation. All the interventions were tested for impact through the use of randomised controlled trials, aiming for the highest level of rigor possible. If organisations were going to change the way they tackled arrears then they needed to know that the results were reliable.


As well as the involved organisations learning about behavioural insights and its application; the results were extremely convincing and demonstrated that not only could the methodology be applied successfully, the impact it had was significant in terms of increased income from rent payments.

“The wider impact will be a change in the way we use data and profile our tenants, moving away from outdated segmentations using arbitrary information, into a more sophisticated and valuable system that will lead to reduced rent arrears and increased customer satisfaction”– Karl Maple, Network Homes.

“Skills and knowledge from the project (will) be shared and replicated in other teams and of course a reduction of rent arrears’”– Richard Garnham, bpha.

‘First Choice Homes can see the potential for applying behaviour change across the organisation and not just in the area of rent arrears……from the session of process mapping our interactions with customers we are already starting to understand the impact of some of our key interventions and are now starting to analyse the cost of each of these so we can further drive value for money both in terms of cost and outcomes’ – Chloe Fletcher, First Choice Homes, Oldham

Final report

The final report can be accessed here: