Evaluation of the local authority housing hubs approach

The report presents findings from an evaluation of local authority hubs set up to prevent homelessness by pursuing a housing options approach.

1 Introduction

1.1 This report presents findings from the evaluation of the local authority housing Hubs approach (referred to as 'Hubs'). The evaluation was carried out by Ipsos MORI Scotland and Mandy Littlewood Social Research and Consulting on behalf of the Scottish Government.

1.2 This opening chapter sets out the policy background and context of the research, before detailing the aims and objectives of the evaluation.

The policy background

The 2012 Target

1.3 In 2003 the Scottish Parliament passed legislation outlining the provisions for a right to housing for unintentionally homeless households by 2012. This removes the requirement that, to be able to access settled accommodation, presenting households had to exhibit priority need.

1.4 Currently, a homelessness assessment involves a series of four tests, one of which assesses whether households are in 'priority need'. Priority need is influenced by a number of factors, including whether the household contains a pregnant person, children, a vulnerable person (with one of a number of health issues), is a person aged 16-17 years and those at risk of violence or exploitation. It also involves questions aimed at establishing whether their actions may have led to their homelessness (through non-payment of rent, for example) and if the local authority can make a referral to another authority if the household has no local connection with that authority.

1.5 The removal of the priority need requirement means that local authorities will have a duty to provide settled accommodation to all unintentionally homeless households.

Refocusing services towards prevention

1.6 In June 2010 the Scottish Government/ COSLA held a seminar which identified the adoption of homelessness prevention work, and in particular the housing options approach, as a key way to help local authorities meet the 2012 homelessness target.

1.7 The housing options approach refocuses the way local authorities deal with housing problems, from assessing clients on the basis of what they are legally entitled to receive, towards an approach based on finding the most helpful solution for the client in light of their circumstances: the focus moves from "who can we help?" to "how can we help?"

1.8 Housing options interviews aim to establish a picture of the client's current circumstances and future housing aspirations, including their: living arrangements, financial situation, available social networks and any support needs (for example, any health issues, or drug or alcohol problems). Using this information, local authorities can offer suitable options to best meet the housing needs of the client. These include: potential home ownership, private rented accommodation, or making arrangements to help the client stay in their current accommodation; for example by providing benefits advice or mediation services. Housing options sits alongside the homelessness legislation and should not be seen as an alternative to a household's legal rights.

Housing Hubs

1.9 While housing options has been adopted in England, and has been found to be a successful way of addressing homelessness, the adoption of the approach in Scotland was far less widespread. While some local authorities had developed housing option approaches (and have been delivering services for some time), other local authorities were at earlier stages in their development.

1.10 To help to encourage local authorities to move towards a housing options approach, the Scottish Government/ COSLA 2012 Joint Steering Group held a seminar on homelessness prevention on 15 June 2010. This focused on prevention activity, and in particular promoting how adopting a housing options approach could better help local authorities prevent homelessness and meet the 2012 target.

1.11 At this event, the Scottish Government launched the Scottish Housing Options Funding Programme which outlined plans to provide approximately £500,000 of 'enabling funding' over a 14 month period from June 2010, to help local authorities make the changes required to adopt the housing options approach. The Housing Options Funding programme aimed to encourage and assist local authorities in the development of housing options, through partnership working.

1.12 Following the Scottish Government/ COSLA 2012 Joint Steering Group seminar on the 15 June 2010, the Scottish Government invited local authorities that were interested in obtaining some of the available 'enabling funding' to submit an 'expression of interest'. As part of this, local authorities were asked to provide information about:

  • any local authorities they were currently working in partnership with, or would envisage working with, in the delivery of their housing options service
  • any external organisations (for example, private landlords, Registered Social Landlords ( RSLs) and third sector organisations) they were currently working in partnership with, or would envisage working with, in the delivery of their housing options service
  • their current approach to homelessness prevention and any aspects that they had found to be particularly successful
  • whether or not they would be interested in becoming a 'mentor' to other neighbouring local authorities.

1.13 Following this process, five regional 'Hubs' were established in autumn 2010, which brought together neighbouring local authorities, with the aim of promoting knowledge sharing and learning across different local authorities. The consensus among local authorities was to group Hubs broadly by geography.

1.14 When Hubs were established, they were comprised as follows:

  • Ayrshire & South - North Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway, East Ayrshire, Inverclyde and South Ayrshire
  • Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders - City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Falkirk, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and West Lothian.
  • North & Islands - Highland, Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Eilean Siar, Moray, Orkney Islands, and Shetland Islands
  • Tayside, Fife & Central - Perth & Kinross, Angus, Argyll & Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dundee City and Fife
  • West - East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and West Dunbartonshire.

1.15 Local authorities volunteered to be a 'lead' or 'host' authority for each Hub which would be responsible for hosting meetings and co-ordinating the activities of their Hub.

1.16 To launch the Hubs, a series of five regional seminars were held with members of each Hub in August and September 2010. At these meetings, a number of presentations were given:

  • the Scottish Government set out the national policy context around homelessness prevention
  • the 'lead' local authority within each Hub outlined their current approach to homelessness prevention
  • a local Registered Social Landlord ( RSL) in each region discussed their approach to tenancy sustainment.

1.17 In addition, in conjunction with Communities of Practice for Public Service, and the Housing Management and Efficiencies Learning Network, a dedicated web community was set up to allow a sharing of information and ideas both within and between the Hubs.

1.18 At the outset of the Hubs, the Scottish Housing Best Value Network ( SHBVN) approached the Scottish Government to offer their services in relation to providing administrative support to all the Hubs. Not all Hubs chose to use the services of the SHBVN (see Chapter 3 for more information).

Progress towards the 2012 target

1.19 Total homeless applicant numbers had been steadily increasing over the past couple of decades from around 40,000 a year to nearer 60,000, peaking at almost 61,000 in 2005-06. Recent progress has been more positive. By 2010-2011, the number of applicants had fallen to just over 55,000 and the most recent data has shown a marked reduction in applications, with a 20% reduction in Quarter 3 of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010 (see Figure 1.1).

1.20 Figure 1.1 also shows a narrowing of the gap between the total number assessed as homeless and the number assessed as in priority need. This is what we would expect to see as we approach 2012. Essentially, the closer local authorities are to assessing 100% of applicants as in priority need, the less of an impact the 2012 removal of priority need will have.

Figure 1.1: Quarterly trends in application numbers and the number assessed as homeless and in priority need (Q2 2002 to Q3 2011)

Figure 1.1: Quarterly trends in application numbers and the number assessed as homeless and in priority need (Q2 2002 to Q3 2011)

Source: Quarterly Homelessness statistics, February 2012 (Table 1 - total applications, Table 5 - homeless or potentially homeless and homeless/potentially homeless in priority need)

1.21 However, there is a good deal of variation in the progress towards the abolition of priority need across local authorities. Table 1.1 shows a summary measure of the most recent change from 2008-09 to Quarters 2 and 3 of 2011. Local authorities are getting closer to assessing 90% of applicants as in priority need, with an average (mean) of 87.8% assessed as in priority need in 2011. The local authorities with above average rates of priority need are now approaching 97% while those below average are at over 85%. This shows that the removal of priority need is within reach for many but will be problematic for some.

Table 1.1: Average spread of homeless applicants assessed as in priority need (%)

% assessed as priority need Quarter 3 2011 % assessed as priority need Quarter 2 2011 % assessed as priority need 10/11 % assessed as priority need 09/10 % assessed as priority need 08/09
Average (mean) 91.2 90.6 87.8 84.6 81.6
Below average 89.3 87.3 85.0 82.1 78.9
Above average 96.7 96.7 91.1 88.2 85.6

Source: HL1, Annual Homelessness Reference Tables 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010/11
Table 27, Quarterly Reference Tables Q2, Q3 2011 (Table13)

1.22 The local authorities corresponding to the three segments of the below average, average and above average levels of priority need in Quarter 3 2011 are as follows (Hub initials in brackets):

  • Below average % PN: Aberdeen City (NI), Aberdeenshire (NI), East Ayrshire (AS), East Dunbartonshire (W), East Lothian (ELB), Edinburgh (ELB), Eilean Siar (NI), Fife (TFC), Highland (NI), North Lanarkshire (W) and West Lothian (ELB).
  • Average % PN:, Argyll & Bute (TFC), Clackmannanshire (TFC), Dumfries & Galloway (AS), Falkirk (ELB), Glasgow City (W), Midlothian (ELB), Perth & Kinross (TFC), Shetland (NI), South Ayrshire (AS) and South Lanarkshire (W).
  • Above average % PN: Angus (TFC), Dundee City (TFC), East Renfrewshire (W), Inverclyde (W), Moray (NI), North Ayrshire (AS), Orkney (NI), Renfrewshire (W), Scottish Borders (ELB), Stirling and West Dunbartonshire (W).

1.23 Local authorities with different levels of priority need assessment are spread between the five Hub areas. However, the local authorities in the North and Islands and Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders are more clustered in the 'below average' priority need group. Those in the West Hub are a little more clustered in the 'above average' group while Ayrshire and South and Tayside, Fife and Central are more clustered in the middle range.

1.24 Although the general direction of change is for a greater proportion of applicants to be assessed as in priority need, around a third of local authorities showed a reduction in the proportion of their applicants assessed as priority need in the recent quarter.

Future developments on measuring prevention

1.25 While data collected as part of HL1 1 and Section 11 notifications 2 can provide an indication of the range of prevention activities that local authorities are engaged in and their effects, current indicators are not able to measure prevention work in its entirety.

1.26 A recent development to tackle the lack of data on prevention was a consultation on possible approaches to monitoring prevention activity among non-homeless applicants. The draft pro-forma which was under consultation is included in Annex F. The form collects data on prevention activity at the local authority rather than the case level (so more similar to HL2 than HL1 in that respect). Activities are separated under the heading of 'able to stay in existing home' and 'assisted to obtain alternative accommodation' as collected by DCLG in England 3 . The prevention pro forma was discussed at the Homelessness Statistics User Group on 18th April 2012. The Scottish Government are considering a two stage approach. First, agreeing the core questions which local authorities could collect information on. Second, discussing with local authorities if and how local authorities can provide the data.

Aims and objectives

1.27 It is within this context that the Scottish Government commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct an evaluation of the Homelessness Hub network. This was primarily a process evaluation, focusing on the operational effectiveness of the Hubs. However, while it could not provide any impact assessment, given the timing and short duration of the research, it does report on the immediate benefits of the Hubs to local authorities. The evaluation had two objectives:

  • to explore how well these arrangements are working to prevent homelessness and deliver the 2012 homelessness target, and;
  • to identify and examine what has been working well in order to develop, promote and share good practice.

1.28 The key aims of the evaluation were to:

  • consider the range of housing options that each Hub pursues for people as a means of prevention
  • examine homelessness prevention trends across the Hubs
  • describe the range of housing options used for particular groups
  • monitor the use made of the Communities of Practice website for information sharing
  • assess the change in culture that has occurred as a result of Hub working
  • examine Hub working across local authorities in Scotland
  • identify best practice within and between Hubs in the way that they work towards a housing options approach
  • consider how this way of working can most effectively contribute towards meeting the 2012 homelessness target
  • identify areas where working partnerships can be improved and make recommendations for improvements
  • consider how Hubs can contribute towards delivering the 2012 homelessness target and work on homelessness and its prevention after 2012
  • consider how this way of working could be effectively utilised in other policy areas.

1.29 The next chapter provides details of the methodology used in the evaluation.


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