The Homelessness Reduction Act is expected to come into force in early 2018. The Act places a new duty on local authorities to prevent the homelessness of all families and single people who are eligible for assistance and threatened with homelessness, regardless of priority need.

This new duty is challenging for councils because the reasons why someone can become homeless are complex and wide-ranging. The risk of homelessness is affected by a person’s response to structural, social and economic factors that are outside their control. Working with a number of funded trail blazing councils, Policy in Practice has identified many of these structural pressures through household level data, which means it is possible to predict and identify those who may be at risk.

Homelessness workshop: Innovations and interventions

At the invitation of Croydon Council I recently attended an excellent homelessness workshop held by UsCreates. Together with LB Brent, LB Lewisham, Newcastle City Council and Croydon Council, amongst others, we discussed how councils can make a homelessness assessment interview a positive experience.

We were encouraged to share emerging insights, ideas and challenges around homelessness and to take a fresh look at the experiences of homeless people in their interactions with local authorities. 

Eye-opening approaches included role-plays that made us consider how it actually feels to be on the other side of the desk when an advisor asks ‘Do you have any support needs?’

Other exercises also cleverly encouraged us to think about interactions from a user’s point of view. How would we feel, for example, if we were left mid consultation, so an advisor could carry out a seemingly innocuous photocopying job? Contrast this with how a hairdresser manages to makes you the centre of their attention throughout your appointment with them. 

Policy in Practice’s mission is to make the welfare system simple to understand so that people can make informed decisions. During the workshop I was struck by how each of the local authorities saw how they could make this happen; recognising the need to start with a clear picture of the situation and the financial reality that people face, before building a vision they could relate to. 

Helping people understand the reality of their circumstances, especially their finances, is key to creating a more positive future. Clearly showing the gap between the reality and the vision, for example securing the tenancy of a family home, can help identify personal assets, that can become the milestones of an action plan to address the gaps. 

Top tips from delegates that local authorities could follow 

  • Be iterative: keep improving the housing needs assessment and the Personal Housing Plan to help people to sustain a tenancy 
  • Change culture: Will need re-inforcing to support changing behaviours, and to build trust between the council and the individual.*
  • Avoid jargon: Words like home, family and work should replace housing, household and employment to build and connect people to a relatable vision of a better future

A note on culture change; in order to focus on preventing homelessness delegates felt that their colleagues need to do things differently. They were going from being gatekeepers to coaches, and a shift in mind set from dealing with the results of homeless to focusing on prevention would need to be supported. 

How to know if a council’s activity is working

Because the reasons why someone can become homeless are complex and wide-ranging, knowing what activities are working is difficult. Local authority delegates at the workshop wanted a visual representation of progress over time. The diagram below is an example of how we visualise the impact of interventions on households over time for the clients we’re working with. 

The progress, or otherwise, of individual households can be followed by simply inputting the relevant list of housing benefit reference numbers to track specific households (data security protocols apply). This allows clients to see the impact of their work, particularly as new approaches are being rolled out.

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