The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this week published a proposal to the Federal Register that would broaden the ways in which counseling services can be performed, which includes virtual meeting tools in addition to in-person sessions.
Stakeholders have until Dec. 26 to submit comments on the proposal, which they can do through a dedicated portal on the Federal Register website.
“This proposed rule would update HUD’s regulations that require participating agencies to provide in-person counseling to clients that prefer this format to reflect advances in technology, align with client engagement preferences, and preserve consumer protections,” the proposal reads.
The proposal would also amend HUD regulations to allow housing counseling agencies “to use alternative communication methods, including virtual meeting tools, in lieu of providing in-person services.”
For any participating agencies that expressly choose not to provide in-person services, they must refer clients to local providers “that provide such services, when requested,” the proposal reads.
The proposal comes as more people opt for alternatives to in-person counseling services, HUD said in its proposal.
“Consumer preference has shifted toward alternative, virtual methods of service delivery as clients often view in-person delivery as inconvenient and more burdensome when considering costs like childcare and transportation necessary to attend,” the proposal said.
In a recent HUD-conducted study, nearly two-thirds of participants opted for online education and telephonic counseling over in-person sessions, the department said.
“Even when clients express a preference for in-person services, they initiate those services at a lower rate than do people who prefer and subsequently take up remote services,” the proposal explained. “Increasing virtual methods of delivery can increase accessibility for those who have difficulty accessing in-person services due to linguistic, physical, or other logistical barriers.