Since 2010, Housing First in England has steadily expanded from a handful of services to well over 100 by 2020.
In part, this growth is down to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) 2017 investment of £28 million in the three regional pilots, which support over 1200 people. Although this has significantly improved the Housing First landscape for England, the challenge of a commitment to long-term support in a context where short-term funding is the reality, means the issue of Housing First in England being perpetually seen as a ‘pilot’ remains.
Despite an impressive 87% tenancy sustainment rate for those supported by the three regional pilots, there were fears that the initial three-year funding would end, and support would not be sustained. Throughout last year, Homeless Link campaigned alongside many partners to highlight the risks of ending the pilots, with features in The Guardian and Big Issue following our joint letter to the Secretary of State.
Good news eventually arrived this Autumn. In September, DLUHC published the Ending Rough Sleeping for Good homelessness strategy and confirmed that the regional pilots had been awarded a further two years of funding, totalling £13.9 million. In addition, the pilots have a further year of funding through the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), allowing them to provide continued support to those currently on the programme.
Outside of the regional pilots, the RSI fund has supported the development of Housing First for a number of years. In the 2020 Picture of Housing First research, 66% of services were funded through their Local Authority and most commonly via RSI. This latest RSI fund for 2022-2025 has seen additional investment of £32 million going toward Housing First services.
Further to this investment, the longer-term funding commitment, which moves away from unstable 12-month cycles to a more robust three-year offer, helps to ensure fidelity to the seven Housing First principles. Local authorities can, for the first time, make Housing First integral to the local homelessness offer, moving it beyond a pilot innovation.
However, with progress there is also risk. Where a pilot phase allowed for a significant amount of flexibility and a degree of informality, local authorities are now faced with the need to enter formal procurement processes, which could see disruption to service delivery in some areas.
Learning from Scotland shows that a change in provider should be ‘avoided or as infrequent as possible’ and where there is change, careful consideration should be given to this transition process. To support the sector in England, we have published good practice guidance on Transferring Housing First Providers.
Although the funding discussed here is positive for the implementation of Housing First across the country, it is still time-limited and causes uncertainty as we look beyond 2025. If we want to end homelessness for those experiencing the most serious forms of multiple disadvantage, then we must get serious about long-term funding for Housing First. This will be a key focus for Housing First England over the next year.