The number of people sleeping rough in England has increased by 15% annually, with 4,751 people sleeping on our streets on any given night in 2017.
Working together to prevent homelessness
From April 3, under the Homelessness Reduction Act, local housing authorities will be required to provide additional support to all people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
This change in practice comes at a crucial time. The number of people sleeping rough in England has increased by 73% over the last three years and is predicted to rise by 76% in the next decade. Shelter has calculated that in England 268,330 people are either rough sleeping, single people in hostels, households owed the statutory duty by a local authority or homeless households being accommodated by social services. As the cross-party MPs of the Public Accounts Committee reported, the extent of homelessness across England is a national crisis.
Homeless Link has been speaking to people with lived experience of homelessness, voluntary agencies and local authorities across England about the key changes the Act introduces and how these can be harnessed to improve the support that people receive. Three changes, in particular, have stood out as having the potential to make a real difference:
1. Appropriate advice and information
Historically, people approaching a local authority were often considered not to be priority need, resulting in them being given limited advice to prevent or relieve their homelessness. Under the new Act, everybody is entitled to free advice and information on preventing homelessness, securing accommodation, rights, available support and how to access it.
Adopting an approach to advice, design and delivery, which involves people with lived experience of homelessness and the homelessness sector, can make this offer effective. This is backed by the guidance, which states that particular groups (such as people in contact with the criminal justice system and care leavers), can be consulted before developing these resources and that ‘housing authorities will need to work with other relevant statutory and non-statutory service providers to identify groups who are at particular risk and to develop appropriate provision that is accessible to those who are likely to need it.’
2. Assessments and personalised housing plans
All eligible people will now receive an assessment of the circumstances that caused them to become homeless or threatened with homelessness; what accommodation would be suitable and crucially, what support they may need to obtain and keep this accommodation. Based on this assessment, they will get a personalised housing plan, outlining the steps individual and council must take to get or keep suitable accommodation. Other services can be involved in developing and agreeing reasonable steps and in delivering the personalised housing plan.
The guidance notes that staff must have sufficient skills and training to conduct assessments of applicants who may find it difficult to disclose their circumstances - this is a crucial step. Research from Lankelly Chase has evidenced that 85% of people who have experienced homelessness, contact with the criminal justice system and substance misuse issues have also experienced traumatic experiences in their childhood. Homeless Link recommends that local housing authorities adopt trauma-informed ways of working to ensure they offer effective support and, above all, do not re-traumatise those accessing or working in services.
3. The duty to refer
A lack of coordination between services has meant that people’s full range of needs are not met and crucial transitions, for example, people leaving institutions such as the care system or prison, are not managed effectively.
Under the Act, some public bodies are now required to notify a housing authority of people they consider may be homeless or threatened with homelessness. Public bodies listed include prisons; Jobcentre Plus; social service authorities and hospitals, and further announcements have been made that the Government will work with housing associations and the police on how they can support the Act.
The MEAM Approach, which helps local areas design and deliver better-coordinated services for people with multiple needs, offers principles for how this can work in practice. Providers from different sectors, commissioners and people with lived experience are brought together to develop a shared understanding and vision, adopting a consistent approach to identification, and designing effective referral processes.
Putting people with lived experience of homelessness at the heart of all changes and developing effective partnership working between statutory and non-statutory agencies, are crucial to bringing about the wider change, in practice, that can make a real difference to people’s lives.
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Chris is our policy manager with particular responsibility for a number of areas including welfare and migration.
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