Agencies must work together to prevent homelessness

Friday, 26 May 2017 - 4:28pm

With the Homelessness Reduction Act aiming to re-focus Local Housing Authority (LHA) work to preventing homelessness, effective multi-agency partnerships will become more important than ever.

Expert panel committee meeting

For many single people threatened with homelessness, statutory protection has been limited to information and advice provided by a LHA. This, as the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recognised was often of poor quality and in instances limited to out-of-date lists of prospective landlords. With Government figures highlighting the number of rough sleepers more than doubling over the last 2 years, requirements in the Homelessness Reduction Act around individualised, preventative support for all and effective multi-agency working are welcome developments.

Understanding individuals’ needs

LHA’s will be required to provide or procure advisory services for those threatened with homelessness so they know about their rights, the help that is available from the LHA or others and how to access that help. Importantly, the Act stresses that an advisory service should be designed to meet the needs of certain at risk groups, explicitly giving examples such as care leavers, people leaving hospitals and people leaving prison, but also broadly ‘any other group that the authority identify as being at particular risk of homelessness in the authority’s district.

Further, LHA’s now have a duty to help prevent the homelessness of all eligible people, regardless of priority need, who are threatened with homelessness. A personalised plan will be developed for all threatened with homelessness, setting out the reasonable and achievable actions that LHA’s and individuals will take to secure and keep accommodation. To do so, the DCLG is clear that LHA’s will need ‘to understand the individual’s requirements, in particular whether they have any specific vulnerability that would need to be considered and reflected in the personalised plan.’ This will require identifying if people have multiple and complex needs, have substance misuse problems and or mental ill health and other health issues.

To meet the costs of the legislation, local authorities will receive a total of £61 million in funding across 2017/18 and 2018/19. Additional money may be made available for those in high pressure areas to manage the transition as the new duties take effect. There will be a review of resourcing after two years.

A multi-agency approach to prevention

With wider structural causes of homelessness relating to health and social care, employment and welfare, and criminal justice systems, preventing homelessness will need to go beyond support with housing. LHAs will therefore need to work as part of a range of agencies to ensure that the right support, focused around the individual and their needs, is in place. There is valuable learning here from Homeless Link’s work with the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) coalition, and its support for local areas through the MEAM Approach. This has underlined the importance of bringing both statutory and voluntary sector partners together to address the multiple needs people face.

The Act makes an explicit requirement for multi-agency working through a duty to refer, which requires public authorities in England to notify the LHA of service users they think may be homeless or at risk of homelessness. Public authorities will therefore need to embed into their day-to-day business the ability to assess whether someone is homeless. As the DCLG factsheet states in reference to the duty to refer,

“We want to ensure that a person’s housing situation is considered when they come into contact with wider public services, and this measure will help to achieve this. It should also encourage all of those involved to build strong relationships based on local need and circumstances in order to produce the best outcomes possible.”

To make changes to the delivery of support effective, it will be critical that people with lived experience are part of the multi-agency teams developing common strategies, frameworks of joint working and any local assessment or advice tools.  

Expertise should also be drawn from staff working in the homelessness sector. Front-line workers and managers have experience of working with agencies such as mental health services , have a developed understanding of the barriers single homeless people face in moving into tenancies, and expertise in delivering services which consider the psychological and emotional well-being of people through Trauma Informed Care (TIC) and Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) approaches.

If the Homelessness Reduction Act is to have the impact that we all hope, it’s vital that we look beyond housing need, and work across sectors and services to ensure the new legislation is backed by a system that understands and responds to individuals’ need.

Homeless Link will be bringing together supported housing and homelessness services to discuss the Homelessness Reduction Act, co-ordinated responses to homelessness, advocacy and PIE at our annual conference Under One Roof

For an overview of the key provisions of the Homelessness Reduction Act, please watch our webinar.