The Homelessness Reduction Act: one year on
One year ago the Homelessness Reduction Act was implemented. It constitutes the most significant and comprehensive change to homelessness legislation since the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act of 1977. It sets new duties for local housing authorities in preventing homelessness and relieving homelessness regardless of priority need status.
To mark the occasion on 2nd April 2019 we joined forces with Solace and the District Councils Network (DCN) to bring together Local Authority (LA) leads from across England – an opportunity to take stock, reflect on what is going well and less well and identify opportunities where better use of evidence and data can improve implementation. We set out the 5 key opportunities below.
You can watch an overview of the discussion here:
The roundtable discussion was joined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the National Audit Office (NAO). Our chair Andrew Hudson, a former leader in Essex County Council chaired the event.
To set the scene we started by taking a closer look at the DCN survey results capturing the early learnings from the implementation of the HRA. The survey was published in November 2018 and highlights that 51% of LAs had seen an increase in approaches, some areas experiencing a 100% increase.
You can explore the survey for yourself here.
This has been reinforced by findings from the recent Local Government Association (LGA) survey which also found there’s been an increase in homelessness presentations since the HRA came into force.
The overwhelming view in the room was that the Act was bringing in changes that were benefiting people in greatest need. While they have felt there were a number of implementation issues to work through, there was a consensus that LAs should be proud of what's been achieved so far.
However, a change in the law is only the beginning. A significant cultural shift is needed to change ways of working; to accelerate the better use of data, use new methods and improve collaboration between different institutions and services early on.
Our discussion took into account the impact of the Act in local areas and broad systemic causes of homelessness; particularly the shortage of affordable and social housing, meaning people are often stuck in temporary accommodation for long periods. The knock-on impact of viability assessments with watered down affordable housing commitments and the roll-out of Universal Credit where payments are, in the main, paid directly to individuals were also seen to have an impact on the capacity Authorities had to respond to homelessness locally. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap, which has been frozen until next year, was a key issue in some areas, particularly London and the South East, where even the lowest rents often stretch beyond the reach of the cap, but this was not true in all areas.
Authorities also talked about the impact of the Act on front-line staff who have changed their way of working overnight, and on the clients who are getting an enhanced offer of support. In some cases, new staff are being recruited who have the capability to hold longer one-to-one consultations with clients, and some ability to refer them to preventative interventions. While this is a positive step forward, without longer-term funding from central government committed, a lot of these contracts are short-term.
So what are the opportunities the Act presents for LAs? How can they start to embed the right culture and really get the prevention work right?
- People talked about their intention to step up their collaboration across silos within the LA with the new focus on prevention work, identifying early opportunities for intervention and referrals to additional support, whether that be to social care, a local job centre, health care workers or other services.
- The Act included a new requirement for case-level data to be returned to MHCLG through their new data collection system “H-CLIC”. Though there have been teething problems, the richer data being collected will in time enable them to get a much richer understanding of their local population and how people flow through their services.
- LAs have an opportunity at a local level to create data sharing agreements between siloed parts of the authority and explore what more could be done up-stream to impact on those at risk of homelessness earlier on.
- The data will also provide LAs with better measures to help evaluate their spending on homelessness. There are fantastic opportunities this data brings for high-quality evaluation of the effectiveness of services to help LAs understand whether the work they do or commission really has an impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in their communities.
- There was also a discussion about the potential for sharing learning between LAs. This needed to take account of the wider context which different authorities faced, and particularly consider opportunities for sharing learning in cohorts where the wider context is similar.
At the Centre we believe in collaborative working, so these kinds of events are key to understanding how we can work together to build a movement for evidence-led change and end homelessness for good. We will be holding a number of Homelessness Impact Forum events in June, which we hope LAs will attend and are also developing an initiative to support LAs to become data and evidence-driven which we plan to launch later in the summer. We want to build a wider coalition of people and organisations committed to using actionable evidence to achieve this goal.
This is just the beginning – we are working to create a what works community of practice and wherever we can help, we’re keen to know how: please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. DCN and Solace are also keen to support you and facilitate knowledge sharing wherever possible.