As local authority teams, as well as partner agencies across the country will be acutely aware, 2018 was a key year for homelessness policy. Renewed levels of scrutiny on the issue saw a Ministerial Taskforce leading cross-government work, a Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel convening and of course, the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) coming into force, all with the aim of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027.
It’s fair to say that the past year has been one of lesson learning; from new approaches to motivational interviewing and partnership working, to H-CLIC and the enhancement of the data gathering process. This January, the NPSS Sounding Boards reconvened, bringing together local authority strategic and operational managers from around the UK. Nine months on from the HRA coming into law, the Sounding Boards provided an opportunity to look back on these first months and to hear from LAs about where the challenges, as well as the achievements had been.
MHCLG and H-CLIC
Speaking again this year were representatives from MHCLG, who gave policy and H-CLIC updates to those attending, as well as a look into what 2019 has in store.
This year, the government body will be allocating and monitoring funding streams to both prevent and relieve homelessness, in line with the aims of the HRA, as well as supporting local areas to reduce rough sleeping. In addition to this, the Homelessness Advice and Support Team (HAST) will be focusing on supporting housing associations and local authorities to work together more closely, taking the more ‘joined-up’ approach advocated for in the HRA.
As the development team behind Housing Jigsaw, we’re aware that one of the more challenging aspects of the last year have been H-CLIC returns. Whilst there have been difficulties, MHCLG stressed that good quality H-CLIC data has the potential to drive significant and meaningful policy change in the homelessness field. Working more closely with LAs in the coming year, MHCLG aim to look at how processes can continue to be improved in order to ease some of the hurdles so far faced since the HRA came into force.
So, what is the data saying so far? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s clear that the availability of accommodation is affecting outcomes for LA teams and whilst footfall doesn’t appear to have increased, the amount of work required per customer has gone up; an expected outcome of the new requirements under the HRA.
Another of the main drivers of the Act was to secure more meaningful outcomes for single adults. As H-CLIC data shows, this is beginning to be achieved, with an increased response to single homelessness from LA teams, meaning the issues for this homeless demographic are being tackled more effectively.
The challenges and opportunities
Back at the Sounding Boards in January 2018, we heard from attendees that the main HRA challenges they anticipated centred around recruitment and culture change within their local authority teams. The prospect of getting the right staff in place, the need to restructure teams and train up existing, as well as new staff were all immediate challenges awaiting the sector.
One year on we heard from strategic and operational local authority managers on how this had played out in practice. It’s clear that culture change for many had as predicted, been one of the greatest hurdles. The mindset now required for dealing with those presenting as homeless or threatened with homelessness has meant further retraining of staff to take a more holistic approach with customers; NPSS alone have trained 5,500 local authority officers and managers from 96% of LAs across the country.
The techniques employed have covered everything from creating psychologically informed environments to motivational interviewing techniques, working through positive processes with customers. It’s clear that the LAs in attendance at the Sounding Boards this year have adopted these techniques wholeheartedly, approaching the relationship with the customer as a partnership, with the role of an officer as facilitator rather than expert. With the potential to draw more information out of the customer, these techniques have seen much more successful outcomes.
Another challenge anticipated before the Act, was technology and particularly, enabling customers to feel comfortable utilising it. However, this appears to have presented itself over the past nine months as an achievement; there has been an upsurge since the HRA came into force in tech being used to support customers, particularly around making the admin process smoother and less time-consuming. Features such as the Customer Portal have meant that documents can be requested and then sent without the customer needing to attend an appointment, supporting the frontline role and engaging the customer much more with the process of securing them accommodation. For those unable to attend appointments, frontline workers have become even more creative with their use of technology, holding appointments via Skype, or even sending YouTube videos to customers showing how and what to upload.
What does all this mean?
It’s fair to say that the challenges around the Homelessness Reduction Act since it came into force back in April of 2018 have not been insignificant. However, the past year has seen many local authorities rising to and embracing the new opportunities presented by the HRA. Customer empowerment has been one of the more successful changes, with approaches refined and a holistic attitude being adopted; the joining-up of services playing an important role here.
The consistent harvesting of data through H-CLIC returns also promises to continue the refinement and enhancement of homelessness policy throughout the years to come. Revisiting the Sounding Boards one year on has highlighted that whilst there are undoubtedly still hurdles to overcome, the successes of the last nine months show an optimistic outlook and practical approach to be taken forward by housing professionals across the country.