By Leanna Fairfax and Nick Bartholdy
The Centre for Homelessness Impact is evaluating HomeFinder UK, a programme which facilitates voluntary out of area moves. Among other things, we aim to understand the impact of such moves on outcomes including housing stability, health and wellbeing, which factors are important in successful implementation of such moves and the cost-effectiveness of this type of programme. By evaluating HomeFinder UK we will better understand how approaches to out of area moves impact people.
Local authorities which face high demand for affordable housing and a lack of supply are increasingly moving people out of their local area. These out of area placements have grown over the last decade and are more common in high-rent areas such as London, Manchester and Birmingham. Out of area placements must only be considered when all other housing avenues have been exhausted, and this has to be evidenced by the local authority. However, research shows that some local authorities are still trying to transfer people without the relevant evidence.
Qualitative research suggests that out of area placements have a detrimental effect on households’ social and economic wellbeing, as well as their health. This existing research focuses on out of area placements to relieve homelessness duty and gives no consideration given to alternative approaches, such as assisted, voluntary out of area schemes.
HomeFinder UK is one example of an organisation that is currently providing a voluntary placement scheme. Established in 2013, they work with councils and housing applicants who express an interest in being moved out of their area and match them with properties. Under this scheme, people who sign up to the programme are placed into secure tenancies within the social rented sector.
Often, this allows those who wish to be placed outside of their local authority into secure accommodation, providing a housing solution much faster than if they stayed on the waiting list in their own area. Yet research into the impact of such schemes remains absent. It is important to understand both how effective such schemes are and what savings, if any, are made to the public purse as a consequence.
The Centre of Homelessness Impact, in partnership with King’s College London, is addressing this gap in the evidence base by conducting a randomised controlled trial (RCT) evaluating the impact of the HomeFinder UK scheme. We will also conduct interviews and surveys with key members of staff to help provide greater context to the findings. This will help identify what works well and what areas could be improved. Alongside these quantitative and qualitative evaluations, we will run a cost-effectiveness evaluation to assess value for money for such out of area schemes for both the origin and destination local authorities.
We hope to understand the difference between those who moved out of the area and those who haven't. We will measure the impact of the programme by measuring changes to people’s housing stability, social connectedness, mental health, physical health and employment outcomes. We are currently recruiting for the trial and will collect outcomes data from trial participants after three months and then again after 9 months, with the final report due to be published around June 2023.
Understanding how effective, and cost-effective, the programme is will provide valuable recommendations for policy and practice. If the programme leads to positive outcomes and is cost-effective, we will know that the best practice out-of-area placements can be positive both economically and for improving individuals’ outcomes. However, if the programme leads to negative outcomes, we will know that even the best practice around out-of-area moves, which includes voluntary moves only, don’t work and we need to focus on other solutions.
At the Centre for Homelessness Impact, our ultimate vision is to see an end to homelessness for good. That means a society in which any experience of homelessness is prevented whenever possible and, where it cannot be prevented, is a rare, brief and non-recurring experience. To do this, we do research like this with the aim of enabling people working in and around homelessness to achieve breakthrough results.
We hope that this evaluation will be able to provide valuable insight for areas which rely on out of area placements - solutions that are sustainable and provide long-term housing security that works for all.
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