Homelessness: code of guidance
Code of guidance to help guide local authorities in their duties to assist people who are threatened with or who are experiencing homelessness.
Chapter 3: Ways of Working
3.1 Summary - this chapter sets out how relevant parts of local authorities should work in partnership to deliver effective services to homeless people, and gives advice on drawing up relevant protocols on working together and sharing information. Local authorities should assess the applicant household's needs in their entirety and should work in partnership across departments and with other agencies to meet those needs, and in such a way that applicants feel valued and respected.
3.2 The defining characteristic of those experiencing homelessness is that they need a home, and as such they should not necessarily be regarded as a community care client group or in need of other types of support. However, it must be acknowledged that people experiencing homelessness may require housing support services, social work support, health care, assistance in rebuilding social networks and accessing employment and training opportunities and a range of other support services.
3.3 Housing departments must co-operate as necessary with other council departments and landlords and a wide range of statutory, voluntary and private sector agencies in order to ensure that the support which is required is provided. Other departments must also ensure that they deliver services and adopt policies which are consistent with the aim of preventing and tackling homelessness. Effective co-operation is particularly important when such support is required to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place or to ensure those experiencing homelessness can maintain themselves in a new home, and do not become homeless again.
3.4 Enabling the shift to prevention and supporting quick, effective responses to housing crises, will both be best served by planning and working across housing partners and the wider third and public sector responsible for supporting vulnerable people. The Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan outlines what we can do to ensure planning and resources are joined up around a person-centred approach, keeping the needs of the people the services are for at the forefront and talking more with each other about how to end homelessness and rough sleeping.
3.5 Local authorities should ensure that there is provision for joint training approaches which involve all sectors and providers with a role to play in delivering the homelessness strategy (see paragraph 2.2). As a minimum, training should cover the definition of homelessness, risk assessment techniques to help "first-to-know" agencies to respond effectively, needs assessment, support packages, consultation techniques, information sharing and how to help and empower homeless people to find appropriate solutions. All partners should be involved in jointly assessing training needs and arranging for these needs to be met.
3.6 Homelessness strategies should also provide for the development and agreement of inter-agency protocols, particularly where these are necessary to clarify arrangements for preventing homelessness. Such protocols should cover basic contact details, information sharing and procedures for swift communication of any new developments (e.g. new legislation) alongside more detailed information regarding operational practices. The implementation of these protocols should be monitored in order that they can be revised if necessary. All protocols and partnerships should be periodically evaluated. For further guidance on protocols governing local authority/RSL arrangements for implementing Section 5 of the 2001 Act see paragraphs 8.71 - 8.72 of this Code.
3.7 All protocols, and wider arrangements, should take account of the need to develop an information sharing regime which preserves client confidentiality and complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), without erecting barriers to timely action to help homeless people.
3.8 Local authorities and partners should work towards establishing a common definition of vulnerability in order to ensure that all the needs of the household can be met. However agencies should also be aware that partners may be working to different legislative definitions for certain aspects of their work. Whilst every attempt should be made to take a flexible approach, and to find a solution which best meets the need of the homeless household, agencies should be aware that these differences may affect the criteria used in different assessments.
3.9 All partners should also be involved in monitoring implementation of the homelessness strategy and should be represented on any fora established for this purpose.
3.10 In some cases a legal duty to give such assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances may exist:
- Section 38 of the 1987 Act provides that if a local authority requests another local authority in Scotland, or a local housing or social services authority in England or Wales, or a registered housing association, to assist it in carrying out its homelessness functions under the Act; the body receiving that request must co-operate in giving whatever assistance is reasonable in the circumstances.
- The duty to meet requests placed by Section 38(a) on a local authority or a registered housing association relates to the full range of a local authority's homelessness functions, including making inquiries, providing accommodation and assistance, and referring an unintentionally person experiencing homelessness to another local authority.
- Under Section 38(c) a local authority can be asked to assist with the protection of the property of a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness. Local authorities should be particularly aware of the need to protect the property of people entering prison, in order that it can be accessed on release, to facilitate resettlement.
- Section 39 of the Act empowers local authorities to give assistance to voluntary bodies' services for those experiencing homelessness, including advice, advocacy and accommodation services, by way of grant or loan, or by giving such bodies the use of premises, or the services of local authority staff, or by making available furniture or other goods as a gift or loan or otherwise.
3.11 However, the absence of a formal legal duty should not act as a barrier to joint working. Rather this should be predicated on meeting local needs, as identified by the homelessness assessment required by Section 1 of the 2001 Act. Local authorities can enter into contractual or other arrangements with external bodies for the provision of homelessness services.
Involving people affected by homelessness
3.12 The Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan highlighted the importance of lived experience in service design, ensuring that services are organised around the person allowing them greater choice and control over what happens to them. Collaboration is key to delivering effective services and people with lived experience can help identify where the join-up between services is needed most, across physical and mental health, housing, addictions services and others.
3.13 The Action Plan recognises the value of listening and responding to the people with lived experience and we are committed to developing a participation programme where people with lived experience and frontline workers assist with the development and design of policies and interventions prior to their introduction and help assess their impact after introduction.
3.14 Local authorities should ensure that the views of homeless people and those at risk of homelessness are reflected in the development of their Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans, exploring different ways in which people using their services can be involved in the design, delivery and management of these services. Local authorities and other partners should also seek feedback from users of their services as part of their monitoring and evaluation processes, and be prepared to describe changes which have come about as a result of client feedback.
Providing an individual response
3.15 All services should ensure that they are promoting and practicing values which deliver responsive and personalised services. Staff should ensure that accommodation and services are offered on the basis of a thorough assessment of the applicant's needs and that these needs are addressed in a holistic fashion. The emphasis should be on finding sustainable solutions - not on a rigid application of the legislation which does not take into account the individual circumstances of the household (although an individual's entitlements should never be undermined).
3.16 Action should be taken promptly to prevent homelessness occurring where this is a risk. Agencies must work together to find creative and lasting solutions, rather than allow organisational barriers to get in the way of helping the applicant. The needs of all members of the household should be taken into account - where necessary intensive interpersonal support should be available to parents and children, both on an individual basis and as a family, for example.
3.17 Service providers should maintain the highest standards at all times. Scotland's Housing Network is also a useful resource for local authorities and RSLs wishing to benchmark and improve their performance. The network incorporates a homelessness sub-group. The Care Inspectorate will also be relevant to some registered services including, for example, housing support and care at home - further information can be found on the Care Inspectorate website. The Health and Social Care Standards (2017) are relevant across all health and social care settings. Service providers should ensure that the Standards and the underpinning principles are embedded in practice.
3.18 Members of staff should make serious efforts to ensure that people feel valued and respected - and this ethos should be encouraged as part of staff training. People making homelessness applications should be at the centre of service provision and staff should ensure that the applicant is kept well informed as to local policies and procedures and that the process of making a decision on their application is clearly explained in terms that they can easily understand. Care should be taken to ensure that materials and communications are appropriate for, and accessible to, a diverse range of clients. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the different experiences of homelessness and service requirements of people of differing age, family background, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation and religion and belief are recognised.
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