13:39 PM, 10th May 2012, About 10 years ago 48

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My article this time is more of an open question to which I would like your input. Background first.

I was listening to ‘In Business’ on Radio 4 the other day, a programme about something I had not heard of- the business concept of “Frugal Innovation”, currently much in favour with many huge corporations and even David Cameron.

The idea was first put forward in a book by the late C K Prahalad “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. He took his inspiration from the ingenuity and inventiveness of the Indian rural population in devising solutions to problems in their community when the average wage is 50p a day. Hardly enough to allow them to go around making prototypes and also not a normal market for corporations looking for people to sell to.

Frugal Innovation itself grew out of an Indian concept ‘Jugaad’ which is a Hindi word meaning “To fix-around”, originally used to describe the mad variety of vehicles you see on Indian streets. I’ve been to India twice and it’s my favourite place on earth. You see motorised push bikes adapted to carry bricks or old taxis with elongated chassis that somehow become charabancs. They take what they have around them and turn them into something else they need.

This mechanical flourish also extends to general thinking and innovation in a community strapped for cash. Just like the UK at the moment.

It’s as much a way of thinking as anything else. Flexible and improvisational. Unlike the big top-down corporations, Jugaad thinking can respond very quickly to immediate situations on the ground without having to hold endless meetings or test phases. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

My favourite Jugaad story to illustrate this point concerns the Chinese white goods manufacturer Haier. They made cheap washing machines for rural communities in China. One day an engineer got a call that a farmer’s waste pipe was constantly blocked. When he visited he found that the farmer was using his machine to wash the dirt off of his potatoes and the mud kept blocking the pipe.

Instead of moaning that the guy was an idiot and his warranty invalidated, the engineer asked around the community and found that all the farmers did the same thing, so he called head office who acknowledged that the customer’s needs weren’t the original intention and responded to that. They started putting wider waste pipes on the machines.

This led to the design of new machines that could not only wash clothes and potatoes but also peel potatoes too. Now before you think that is a quaint rural story, bear in mind that because of thinking like this Haier is now threatening to take over the American market of GE and Whirlpool. It’s bottom up stuff.

What has fired me up about Jugaad thinking is my increasing frustration with the government’s policies on housing. Obviously for us lot who work directly in it, by which I mean landlords, tenants, housing advisers etc, we can see the problems face-on and the solutions are often fairly obvious but government, all governments, not just the current lot, will only ever respond with solutions that fit in with their over-arching plan for the country, so politics gets in the way of real work.

Cameron is inspired by Jugaad and is most probably the drive behind the Localism concept, which I am actually in favour of, with overnment getting out of the way and letting real people sort things out.

Localism is to a certain extent laying the ground for more Jugaad thinking and as more councils go down the route of the Social Lettings Agency model we can all expect more improvised and responsive solutions and partnerships being found.

For example, last week I went to meet the manager of my local Credit Union about how we could partner up to find local solutions to housing problems in my borough. He suggested that we could encourage tenants we meet to join the Union, its only £1 and get their LHA paid into their account, which is then ring-fenced so they can’t touch it and a standing order is set up for the rent. These regular payments contribute to re-building credit ratings and take away a landlord’s fears of direct LHA payments, making, theoretically, LHA tenants a possible consideration.

I also had a meeting with a new team set up to run a 2 year pilot to offer hands-on support for people where the whole family is on benefits, not only helping them with financial intelligence but also in getting work.

For my part I am about to run tenant training courses to educate them about rights and responsibilities. This is being done in Harrow council and making tenants more attractive to their local landlords as a result. Off the back of this I have been meeting with a few independent letting agents that we can work with who have agreed to help us promote our tenant prospects in the knowledge that rent is sorted, the tenants trained in responsibilities and ramifications, and the backing of my team in giving free legal advice to landlords and the family team with hands on guidance and mediation.

Talk about frugal innovation. All this cost any of us was an hour of our time to connect up.

My question to you is, thinking freely and with no “Yeah but”s, what solutions would you propose to your most pressing or annoying problems as a landlord or agent? I mean not suggestions that would involve new government laws, it ain’t gonna happen.

Alternatively, are there any Jugaad or partnership solutions that you know of that work well?

The more things we gather together as an online community and then circulate amongst the wider housing community the better chance there is of pulling off some radical solutions.


by Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:43 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Haha brilliant, a 4th category.

The meeting I had at our CU the other day was held by the massively enthusiastic Liam Carlisle and discussion points were incessantly punctuated by him leaping out to greet his customers and ask how they were getting on. At one point he wheeled a bemused lookig fella into the meeting room who had just come in to pay some money and found himself doing an impromtu presentation to us council bods on how the CU helped him out haha

Our meeting had to fit around the needs of the customers which is exactly as it should be.

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle? the 80%/20% split which can be applied to so many things in life. I reckon
80% of the time meetings contribute only 20% to a solution.
20% of effort expended at a proper meeting would produce 80% of the solution.
80% of any given time during a meeting 20% of those around the table arent actually listening.
80% of the time only 20% of the attendees find the meeting useful = if there are 5 people around the table only 1 is impressed.

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:51 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Oh and the penultimate point also implies that 20% of the time 80% of the people arent listening

by Mary Latham

14:09 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

In my opinion EVERY meeting should begin by stating the objective of the meeting and end with Has that objective been achieved. If it has not WHY?

I am infamous for throwing my dummy out of the pram if the meeting turns into a talk shop. I raise my already loud volumn and ask "what on earth are we doing here?"  You can imagine how that goes down with some officers Ben but I don't care - they may have all day to tell use how busy they are and how the "cuts" mean that they cannot get through their workload but I need my time to actually get through my workload.

I have the attention span of a gnat - lets just draw the blood and fly away. 

To be fair most of my colleagues in local authoritities are focused these days and we do get some great work done.  I can think of at least one officer who would like to take a contract out on me because he has been in post for 25 years and I am asking him to make changes - silly me.  When I ask for a summary of action points at the end of a meeting he looks at me like I speak double Dutch - there will be tears before bedtime with this authority. I really hate confrontation but more than that I hate inactivity.


14:14 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

It will most probably be on Channel 4 and it was George Clarke who did the Empty Property programme

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

16:05 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

I burst out loud at the conclusion of the last project meeting I attended. 1 delegate rasied the issue that we wouldnt be able to really take any plans forward without full backing of senior officers and members. The chair of the meeting said "Yes, well lets hope that sorts itself out" hahaha

I dont wish to sound conceited but I have set up more things in the past 2 weeks than the committee has in 9 months of fortnightly meetings, just by making phone calls and meeting people and not telling anyone on the committee what I am doing, lest they turn it into a meeting topic, consequently sucking the life-blood out of any idea.

I wanna keep this thread Jugaad focussed. Jugaad isnt just about having ideas, it is a specific way of working.

The best description I have read is here http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/adapting-to-survive-the-key-to-jugaad-and-other-styles-of-innovation.html

in which the author states:-

"Given their propensity for improvisation, jugaad innovators don’t rely on forecasting tools like scenario planning, as many Western companies do, to assess future risks. They believe in Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong will go wrong—so what’s the point of anticipating every single obstacle that might appear down the road? Jugaad innovators don’t have a Plan B, let alone a Plan C. Rather, when confronted with an unexpected hindrance, they rely on their innate ability to improvise an effective solution to overcome it, given the circumstances at that time".

Council meetings want everything in place before they will make the first move, which means, as ever they get left behind saying "What happened", the polar opposite of Jugaad thinking.

The CU thing we have been discussing here is just a tiny part. The main principle to bear in mind is this on the spot, flexible fix around response that Jugaad promotes


18:09 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Don't the military have a saying that every plan falls apart at first contact with the enemy.
I think the military;  particularly special forces are fine exponents of the Jugaad principle.
The concept of thinking on one's feet is probably an alien concept to some of these colleagues.
Always remember a marketing colleague at my former workplace, saying as a bit of a laugh, don't bring me problems give me solutions.
You seem to be carrying out similar methodologies!!
Clearly you manage things a bit like special forces do and they tend to be quite successful don't they!!?


19:04 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Great piece Ben very inspiring.  My brother and l run an agency in Wolverhampton and we are also  Landlords, currently we have 500 LHA tenants which keeps us fairly busy l assure you.  But not that busy where life is miserable to the point that you cannot bear the working day.  l like to think our office is a tranquil place to work, we're asked many times by visitors, With the volume of tenants we have how is it so calm ?  It didn't always used to be this way.
Simple when LHA came in 2008 me and my brother had a problem, how do we collect our rents off some of our more vulnerable tenants.  The one thing we both were very uncomfortable with was tenants having housing benefit paid into their bank accounts to pass across to us.  Initially we adopted LHA by insisting tenants have fortnightly LHA cheques sent to them, where once endorsed (signed on the back, dated with name and address) we could bank them in our company bank account.  lf memory serves me correct we were the first Lloyds customer to ask for this arrangement and the bank set this up nationally a Third Party Indemnity especially for this.  So at this stage our risk was tenants receiving these LHA cheques and cashing them and spending the rent on Debts, TV's, Mobile Phones, Drugs, Booze or whatever !!  This did happen only very occasionally fortunately.  We were lucky using our experience as landlords for 15+years, we've got the knack of spotting a bad egg very quickly.  The cheques landed on tenants door mats every Monday fortnight, which made that Monday and the Tuesday unbearable going round collecting these cheques in or relying on the tenants to bring them into our office.  In most cases if they weren't collected they'd be spent.

We stumbled across a credit union in a neighbouring town Walsall which was providing a service to landlords where tenants could have LHA paid into an account and the credit union would send it direct onto the landlord.  The payment would appear in the landlords bank account 7 days later.  The cost l think was £1 or £1.50 per transaction with a £5 joining fee for every new member.  

This was brilliant and something that we were crying our for in Wolverhampton.  After meeting the local credit union who unfortunately were not very forward thinking or dynamic we quickly devised a system where they'd receive LHA fortnightly for our tenants and pay this across to us every 4 weeks, to mimic council safeguard payments, paying landlords 4 weeks in arrears.  So in affect we had all the benefits of safeguarding with minimal cost and less risk.  The main advantage of this was we could never be challenged by the council for an overpayment as the tenant was being paid direct.

However after quickly opening 50 or so tenant accounts the credit union got cold feet as they couldn't resource the operating of this system with such little remuneration, so they decided to put a stop to it.  It was only after constant badgering and showing the manger of the credit union how to become more entrepreneurial, we were successful in showing him how both Walsall and Sandwell credit unions had thousands of LHA tenants accounts each producing a minimum fee income of £5 per month to the credit union which was substantial enough to employ a full time member of staff to deal with this element of their business and some.  On top of this the credit union would benefit by selling low cost loans to their target market and collecting loan repayments directly from the most secure benefit of all.....Child Benefit.

The only problem left at this point was that we had no way of checking all our tenants claims were in payment throughout the 4 week period.  Remember the tenant is being paid direct so the local authority will not inform the landlord of a cancellation or suspension.  So the only way to check this was a member of our admin team would phone each council every 2 weeks to check the payment had been sent to the credit union and then the amount of this payment.  We could have phoned the credit union for this information but they were not happy as once again they couldn't resource this. Making hundreds of phone calls to the council each fortnight was very time consuming and not a good use of resource, but we had no choice.  We needed to check the middle payment in between the 4 weeks had arrived a credit union, thus we knew of a problem quickly for any of our LHA tenants.  Eventually the call centre staff of Wolverhampton Council got fed-up with fielding these calls.  With the help of the head of housing benefits we developed a service exclusive to us where the council called our office at the when one of our tenants claims being affected in anyway, whether that be suspension, tenant leaving, change or circumstances etc.  Right up to this day, this has been excellent, so as soon as we get a call informing of a problem with a tenants claim, the 30 day time clock is ticking to get information from the tenant and back to the council to get the tenants claim back up and running, lets face it, if we rely on tenants to do this it never gets done.  I am pleased that after trialling this for 3 months with our company, Wolverhampton Council rolled this service out to every landlord to every LHA claimant.

After realising what an important income stream we were to the Wolverhampton credit union, working with their IT consultant we devised a way in which they could email us a spreadsheet of balances for all of our tenants each fortnight, this took one member of staff five minutes.  This meant we no longer had to call the council to check for problems with claims, as if the spreadsheet showed a £0.00 balance for any tenant we knew the LHA had not been sent by the council which meant an issue with the claim.

Long story short all the local boroughs we deal with all have credit unions all with varying fees and different levels of service and professionalism.  Some wanted to charge you the earth (£10 per payment) and hold onto your LHA for 30 days and some wanted to charge you minimal fees and send your LHA to you in a timely manner.  However the system in Wolverhampton is amazing with the help of one or two exceptional members credit union staff.  l am pleased to say we have 500 LHA tenants and none of them do we receive LHA direct from the local authorities for.  Credit Unions have been the way forward since 2008 and their role will only become more important once Universal Credit comes in.

We have been working closely with Leanne Tasker a bright young lady from Wolverhampton who works for the local credit union and has largely facilitated in  making our LHA service to both landlords and tenants one of the best in the country.  Leanne has set up a national styled credit union system called Tasker Payment Services (http://www.taskerpaymentservices.co.uk).  For a fee of £3 per payment they will collect LHA for any tenant anywhere in the UK.  The best thing about her service is she guarantees to send across your tenants LHA to your bank account by Faster Payment so it shows up the same day as cleared funds. So as a landlord or agent who will not be at risk from housing benefit overpayments challenges from your local authority and also you will know with delay of any issues affecting your tenants LHA claim as TPS will not be holding onto your money unlike some credit unions.  One landlord told me 45 days is how long his local credit union holds on to LHA payments for before sending them out.

Fearing Universal Credit we are pro-actively working with all our local credit unions and Tasker Payments Services on a system where Universal Credit can be collected for a tenant.  The tenants rent can be rent deducted at source and the remaining funds would be loaded onto a VISA backed styled debit card from which the tenant can withdraw this money from any UK cashpoint.

Aki Ellahi
Rent Me Now, Wolverhampton

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

20:12 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

I suppose the military display a certain type of Jugaad - its certainly a mindset, an approach to a problem.

As I said above India is one of my favourtie places on earth. Driving there looks terrifying until you realise how it works, it isnt so much based on driving on the left or obeying trafic lights as being prepared for anything to happen, with responsibility for your bit of it. The only way to survive is to accept the unpredictability of it. If you stuck to the rules a crash would happen while you waited for the person in front to signal before turning.

Maybe this is why the Indian's have a word for this way of thinking.

Keeping it housing, government have made it abundantly clear they arent going to regulate, and ushering in Localism, which as I suggest in the article, is probably Jugaad driven, given Cameron's approval of Frugal Innovation, the way is clear for landlords, tenants and councils to do their own thing. All we have to do is meet up with each other and find a way through that fits all of us.

Council's will be the slowest to respond given their history, like trying to turn a battleship, but with enough of us on the inside, and believe me there are quite a few, we should manage it.

Council's have so much to offer in terms of money, skills and resources, once we realise that we are no longer on the leash things could get seriously good

by Mary Latham

20:31 PM, 13th May 2012, About 10 years ago

The reason that NLA have 50 people like me all over the country is that we understand and can respond to the differing needs of each area.  We work with local landlord and local authorties as well as other partners to find solutions that work in our area.  We constantly run meetings so that we are in touch with up to the minute happenings and can ways to make the PRS a good place for landlords to thrive and for our tenants to live happily.

I will work with anyone who looks outside of the box and does not expect Government or anyone else to facilitate our solutions and this is why HOMESTAMP is such a successful consortium. We have no funding and yet we have achieved so much with a tiny contribution of £100 a year from each partner and A LOT of goodwill, hard work and bottom up thinking.


7:27 AM, 14th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Hi Ben, a great concept, and very interesting to read!  With a Credit Union background, I have quickly realised that there is a huge issue arising with Universal Credit on the way, and no one organisation providing a service which focusses solely on a solution.
I have set up Tasker Payment Services to do exactly that. As Mary said earlier, alot of people genuinely do not feel capable of managing such important outgoings, or have various issues which will prevent them doing so.
We provide a valuable platform for LHA tenants, where we can help them to budget and become financially independant.
We provide this part of the credit union service, but as we focus entirely on this we are able to keep fully up to date with changes and adapt to accommodate needs accordingly. Which is why I found your  Jugaad  thinking inspiring.
With TPS there is no politics, no meetings (as such), just a user friendly, adaptable service to concentrate completely on LHA landlords and tenants building a better strategy to deal with change.
As we are not a credit union, we have no common bond restrictions, so we can deal with tenants from any UK borough. This is particularly helpful to landlords with either no credit union in their borough or who are using three or four different credit unions and having to keep on top of several different payment schedules.
We will be issuing prepaid debit cards to tenants in preparation for UC, and will pay rent across to the landlord before loading the remaining benefit to the card where they can withdraw the money and pay bills etc.
I am convinced that this new service will be imperative when UC is introduced, and preparing at TPS for an extremely busy schedule!

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