Brace yourself, winter is coming. Is your area ready?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014 - 8:15am

With colder than average temperatures expected this winter, we’re likely to see an increase in demand for Severe Weather Emergency Protocols (SWEP). Lucy Fraser Macnamara reviews our report on last year’s winter provision and highlights the need to improve responses this year.

Photograph: The Q Speaks (Flickr)

Meteorologists have predicted the end of unseasonably mild temperatures and the onset of a cold winter with temperatures similar to those experienced in 2009/2010. So how does that sit with the humanitarian obligation on local authorities to prevent deaths on the streets during the cold months?

Local winter provision

Severe Weather Emergency Protocols (SWEP) and Extended Winter Provisions are put in place by Local Authorities throughout the winter.  They are designed to accommodate and prevent the risk of fatalities among people sleeping rough during periods of cold or extreme weather conditions, by putting additional beds and facilities in place without many of the usual barriers and obstacles to access.

Each year we survey Local Authorities to find out what provision they’ve made available, who is accessing it and good practice relating to SWEP provision.

22% of refusals to access SWEP provision were because a client’s needs were assessed as being too high

Mild weather conditions in 2013/14 meant that 41% of Local Authorities and voluntary sector providers who responded to the survey reported not opening their SWEP provision at all. Where provision did open there were much lower levels of demand.  The majority of Local Authorities made use of existing services and support to deliver SWEP, using communal spaces in existing services, resourced by existing staff and volunteers.

You can download the full report at the bottom of this page.

Room for improvement

Even though last winter’s mild weather enabled services to operate more flexibly on when and whether to open SWEP, there is still a long way to go to ensure that provision engages the most difficult to reach people.

  • 75% of clients accessing SWEP provision had had previous contact with homelessness services
  • 55% of clients were verified rough sleepers
  • 22% of refusals to access SWEP provision were because a client’s needs were assessed as being too high.

Updated guidance for better provision

There is a humanitarian obligation on all local authorities to do all they can to prevent deaths on the streets caused by winter weather. This includes the cold, but also conditions such as extreme wind and rain.

Our updated good practice Guidance on SWEP and Extended Winter Provision is available for download today. It is designed to help you to establish whether your local area needs Severe Weather Emergency Protocol only, or whether your area could benefit from more robust Extended Winter Provision.

It also includes information on risk, staffing and effective partnership working, along with recent case law around eligibility for Housing Benefit, which may affect funding of services in the future.

By acting now to effectively plan and implement SWEP and Extended Winter Provision, there’s an opportunity for Local Authorities and homelessness services not only to prevent deaths on the street, but also to work with many people who rarely engage with services throughout the year.

Summary of winter provision for people sleeping rough in England - 2013-14

A summary of winter provision for people sleeping rough in England 2013-14


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Lucy Fraser-Macnamara

South East London Partnership Homelessness Coordinator

Lucy worked alongside Homeless Link's Strategy and Partnerships team until December 2014. She is now Homelessness Coordinator for South East London Housing Partnership.