Preventing homelessness: A creative and user-centred approach

| posted in: Big data, Blog, Homelessness, Housing | 2 Comments

The Homelessness Reduction Act is expected to come into force in early 2018. The Act places a new duty on local authorities to prevent the homelessness of all families and single people who are eligible for assistance and threatened with homelessness, regardless of priority need.

This new duty is challenging for councils because the reasons why someone can become homeless are complex and wide-ranging. The risk of homelessness is affected by a person’s response to structural, social and economic factors that are outside their control. Working with a number of funded trail blazing councils, Policy in Practice has identified many of these structural pressures through household level data, which means it is possible to predict and identify those who may be at risk.

Homelessness workshop: Innovations and interventions

At the invitation of Croydon Council I recently attended an excellent homelessness workshop held by UsCreates. Together with LB Brent, LB Lewisham, Newcastle City Council and Croydon Council, amongst others, we discussed how councils can make a homelessness assessment interview a positive experience.

We were encouraged to share emerging insights, ideas and challenges around homelessness and to take a fresh look at the experiences of homeless people in their interactions with local authorities. 

Source: https://twitter.com/catdrew_

 

Eye-opening approaches included role-plays that made us consider how it actually feels to be on the other side of the desk when an advisor asks ‘Do you have any support needs?’

Other exercises also cleverly encouraged us to think about interactions from a user’s point of view. How would we feel, for example, if we were left mid consultation, so an advisor could carry out a seemingly innocuous photocopying job? Contrast this with how a hairdresser manages to makes you the centre of their attention throughout your appointment with them. 

Source: https://twitter.com/catdrew_

Policy in Practice’s mission is to make the welfare system simple to understand so that people can make informed decisions. During the workshop I was struck by how each of the local authorities saw how they could make this happen; recognising the need to start with a clear picture of the situation and the financial reality that people face, before building a vision they could relate to. 

Helping people understand the reality of their circumstances, especially their finances, is key to creating a more positive future. Clearly showing the gap between the reality and the vision, for example securing the tenancy of a family home, can help identify personal assets, that can become the milestones of an action plan to address the gaps. 

Top tips from delegates that local authorities could follow 

  • Be iterative: keep improving the housing needs assessment and the Personal Housing Plan to help people to sustain a tenancy 
  • Change culture: Will need re-inforcing to support changing behaviours, and to build trust between the council and the individual.*
  • Avoid jargon: Words like home, family and work should replace housing, household and employment to build and connect people to a relatable vision of a better future

A note on culture change; in order to focus on preventing homelessness delegates felt that their colleagues need to do things differently. They were going from being gatekeepers to coaches, and a shift in mind set from dealing with the results of homeless to focusing on prevention would need to be supported. 

How to know if a council’s activity is working

Because the reasons why someone can become homeless are complex and wide-ranging, knowing what activities are working is difficult. Local authority delegates at the workshop wanted a visual representation of progress over time. The diagram below is an example of how we visualise the impact of interventions on households over time for the clients we’re working with. 

The progress, or otherwise, of individual households can be followed by simply inputting the relevant list of housing benefit reference numbers to track specific households (data security protocols apply). This allows clients to see the impact of their work, particularly as new approaches are being rolled out.

For further information on how Policy in Practice are helping local authorities tackle homelessness join our webinar on Wednesday 17 January at 10:30, featuring Chris Buckman from Exeter City Council. Details and register here.

2 Responses

  1. Unfortunately its the New Universal Tax Credit rules which is making people homeless, those fortunate to get a council house if they are Self Employed and fall on hard times the new Minimum floor Level is forcing people to loose their homes. Because the people working within Working Tax Credit are unhelpful, they don’t think outside the box and the government have put everything in their policy to harm the self employed and their in NO Net to catch those who fall outside the norm. It is an utter disgrace and the Government should be ashamed of them selves for putting such a policy into force.

    • Zoe Charlesworth

      Hi Brenda, you are right in that many self-employed will be hit hard by the Minimum Income Floor as this assesses benefit on the minimum wage even though the person in self-employed may not be taking home that much. It was introduced to ensure that all work is renumerative – i.e. that it pays. It should not be applied if you have set up your business in the last 12 months (to give you time to ensure the business is profitable) and the MIF should only be applied if you are expected to look for work (ie it should not be applied if you have caring responsibilities or, in some circumstance, are ill). Local authorities are aware of the impact and we have worked with many who are trying to make a difference. If housing is at risk you should see your council asap to see if they can help. They have discretionary funds (Discretionary Housing Payments) that are to be used to support tenants who cannot pay their rent.

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