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.

3 Overview of the Hubs

3.1 This chapter provides a broad overview of the structure and management of the Homelessness Hubs in Scotland. In particular, it outlines:

  • the composition of each of the Hubs
  • how the Hub approach differed from other joint working activities
  • the arrangements Hubs had in place to facilitate meetings
  • how often Hubs met
  • how Hubs spent the 'enabling' funding
  • the ways in which Hubs communicated, including the extent to which the Communities of Practice website was used
  • approaches local authorities currently have in place to monitor housing options outcomes.

How was each Hub comprised?

3.2 There are five regional Hubs created across Scotland. As discussed in Chapter 1, Hubs are grouped by geography, bringing together neighbouring local authorities. Table 3.1 below shows the composition of each Hub. Two of the Hubs (North & Islands; and West) have seven local authority members, and two of the Hubs (Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders; and Tayside, Fife & Central) have six members, while the Ayrshire & South Hub has five. After participating in the early meetings of the West Hub, one local authority chose not to participate in the Hubs process.

3.3 At the inception of the Hubs approach local authorities were at different stages in developing the housing options approach: ranging from those who had already developed an approach (and had been delivering the approach for some time) to those who had not yet started developing their approach to housing options.

3.4 In addition to local authority members, three Hubs had invited external organisations, including RSLs and third sector agencies, to become part of their Hub:

  • Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and Glasgow & West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations, the Glasgow Homelessness Network are members of the West Hub
  • Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association is a member of the North & Islands Hub
  • Edinburgh Cyrenians Trust is a member of the Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders Hub.

3.5 While some partner organisations had attended meetings regularly, others had not attended a meeting or had done so irregularly. Other external organisations, namely third sector agencies, including Scottish Social Networks, had attended meetings on an ad hoc basis but were not formal partners of any Hub. At the time of fieldwork, all Hubs had ambitions to extend their membership in the future to include external partners (although some local authorities were engaging with external organisations at a local level). This included RSLs, private sector landlords and third sector organisations.

Table 3.1: Composition of Hubs (as of March 2012)

Hub Lead local authority Member local authorities Other members
Ayrshire & South North Ayrshire Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire , Inverclyde Council, South Ayrshire
Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders Edinburgh City East Lothian, Falkirk Council, Midlothian, Scottish Borders, West Lothian. Edinburgh Cyrenians Trust
North & Islands Highland Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Eilean Siar, Moray, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands. Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association
Tayside, Fife & Central Perth and Kinross Angus, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dundee City, Fife Council.
West East Dunbartonshire East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire Council, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire Glasgow Housing Association;
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations;
Glasgow & West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations;
Glasgow Homelessness Network

How did the Hub approach differ from other joint working activities?

3.6 At the outset, most Hub members were already members of existing housing-related networks designed to facilitate communication between local authorities, including the Scottish Housing Best Value Network (SHBVN) and the Scottish Council for Single Homeless (SCSH) Homelessness Strategy Officers Group. Members felt that the Hubs approach differed from these groups in a number of ways:

  • Hub meetings were more locally-focused around issues specific to a small group of local authorities
  • there was funding allocated to the Hub to facilitate joint projects
  • the focus of discussions within Hubs was more on day-to-day operational aspects, rather than higher level discussions around policy and strategy.

3.7 In some cases, the Hub built on existing relationships between local authorities - for example, North, South and East Ayrshire in the Ayrshire & South Hub had a history of joint working in housing and other service areas - and in a number of the Hubs, many members were familiar with each other from participation in working groups and attendance at ad hoc events. However, the Hubs also brought together contacts within local authorities who had no previous working relationships.

How were meetings organised?

3.8 Each Hub had a 'lead' (or 'host') authority which was the main contact for the Hub and was responsible for hosting meetings and co-ordinating the activities of the Hub. Activities included: the organisation and facilitation of meetings, the preparation of action plans and quarterly reports, and the dissemination of materials.

3.9 The responsibility of becoming the 'lead' authority was allocated on a volunteer basis. The Hubs model did not mirror the approach taken in England where groups of local authorities were assigned a designated "Mentor", that is a local authority which had developed enhanced housing options services and had responsibility for disseminating good practice to others. In some Hubs, the 'lead' was the most advanced in their development of the housing options approach. In other Hubs, the 'lead' was not necessarily more advanced than other members but volunteered to become the 'lead' for more practical reasons - for example, geographic location. Some 'leads' were happy to be considered the 'lead' of the process, taking on the role of 'mentor'; while others considered themselves much more of a 'host', seeing themselves as being responsible for facilitating the process, rather than having an overt mentoring role.

3.10 Two of the Hubs had commissioned external organisations to assist with the administration of Hub activities: one brought in help at the very start of Hub development, while the other brought in assistance in autumn 2011 having already had a series of meetings. One Hub utilised internal administration support to assist with Hub-related tasks. The remaining two 'leads' carried out tasks without any specific administration support.

3.11 For the most part, one representative from each local authority attended meetings, although it was not uncommon for local authorities to be represented by more than one representative at Hub meetings.

How often did Hubs meet?

3.12 The Scottish Government/ COSLA 2012 Joint Steering Group held a seminar on 15th June 2010 to launch the Hubs initiative. Subsequent regional seminars were held with each of the five Hubs between 19th August and 13th September 2010. The aim of each seminar was to provide an overview of the direction of the housing options approach and guidance on how the enabling funding could be best utilised by the Hubs.

3.13 On 25th August 2011 a further seminar was held to mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Hubs approach. The aim of the event was to showcase the work of the Hubs, facilitate the sharing of best practice between local authorities, and allow networking between Hub members and representatives from the wider housing sector.

3.14 Figure 3.1 below provides details of when each Hub has held meetings up until the end of the fieldwork period. Four of the Hubs had their first meeting within two months of the launch of the Hubs initiative in June 2010, while the initial meeting of the remaining Hub took place in May 2011. When possible, Hubs made efforts to meet on a regular basis (although one did wait nine months between their first and second meetings) but some did so more frequently than others: one met monthly, three met every six weeks and one met quarterly. As a result, there was huge variation in the number of meetings held across the five Hubs.

Figure 3.1: Meetings by Hub (August 2010 to 29th February 2012)

Figure 3.1: Meetings by Hub (August 2010 to 29th February 2012)

How did Hubs spend the 'enabling' funding?

3.15 To support the Hubs and the development of services around the housing options approach, the Scottish Government made around £500,000 worth of funding available to assist Hubs in adopting and implementing housing options services, which would be made available to Hubs for 14 months until 31st March 2012. To be allocated funding, each Hub was required to submit an action plan which outlined a number of desired outcomes for the Hub, the proposed action to achieve each outcome, and associated estimated timescales and levels of funding required to deliver each.

3.16 Hubs submitted action plans to the Scottish Government up to February 2011. Four of the Hubs developed their action plans during the initial meeting(s) and sent action plans to the Scottish Government before the deadline. One Hub, which was late in scheduling their initial meeting, submitted their action plan after the deadline.

3.17 The types of planned actions included:

  • 'benchmarking' exercises to establish the baseline position of each member authority in relation to housing options
  • training needs analysis
  • consultancy to identify best practice examples of housing options across the UK
  • joint branding and advertising initiatives
  • procurement of shared IT facilities.

3.18 Table 3.2 provides details of the funding initially awarded to each Hub, based on their original action plans, and the actual amount spent by each, as of the end of the funding period (by 31st March 2012 8 ). Overall, 71% of the funding that was originally awarded to Hubs had been spent.

3.19 In December 2011 the Scottish Government asked the Hubs to put forward proposals for projects to mitigate the effects of upcoming housing benefit reforms. The Minister for Housing and Transport had announced additional funding of £35,000 for this purpose in November and this was supplemented by £60,810 from underspend in the Hubs budget. Proposals were required by 19th December 2011 and funding was allocated in early January 2012. In total £95,810 was awarded to Hubs to carry out these activities.

Table 3.2: Funding spend, by Hub (by 31 st March 2012)

Hub Original award Spend (31 st March 2012) % of original award spent Funding for mitigation activity (Dec 2011) Total potential spend (Hub projects + mitigation activity)
Hub 1 £113,000 £113,000 100% £30,000 £143,000
Hub 2 £88,875 £61,697 69% £20,000 £81,697
Hub 3 £88,000 £51,075 58% £51,075
Hub 4 £63,500 £43,191 68% £10,810 £54,001
Hub 5 £71,350 £30,716 43% £35,000 £65,716
Total £424,725 £299,679 71% £95,810 (£60,810 from Hubs underspend; £35,000 from SG Welfare Reform) £395,489

3.20 To monitor progress against meeting the desired outcomes set out in action plans, each Hub was required to submit a progress report to the Scottish Government on a quarterly basis. Quarterly reports and action plans were made available on the Communities of Practice website (see below for more information).

How did Hubs communicate?

3.21 For the most part, Hub members communicated through conventional means. Outside of face-to-face meetings, the dissemination of materials and discussions relating to the Hub took place via email and, less commonly, by telephone. As well as conventional communication methods, one Hub communicated using 'Basecamp', a project management software package, used to facilitate information sharing and discussion in relation to the ongoing research project commissioned by the Hub.

To what extent did Hubs use the communities of practice website?

3.22 The Communities of Practice website, which was created to facilitate the process of information sharing and communication between local authorities within and across Hubs, and with external partners, was not used frequently by Hub members, or by individuals outside of local authorities.

3.23 Figure 3.2 shows the number of visits made between 1st September 2010 and 16th February 2012. The most visits to the website were made during the initial stages of the Hub and, specifically, around the time when action plans were submitted. The number of visits to the website has subsequently decreased (even though this also coincided with an increase in membership of the website). Please note: the analysis on usage includes members of the site who were facilitators of the website who, due to their role, might be expected to visit the website more often than average.

Figure 3.2: Visits made to the Communities of Practice website (1 st September 2010 - February 2012)

Figure 3.2: Visits made to the Communities of Practice website (1st September 2010 - February 2012)

Source: Google Analytics data

3.24 The website had 128 members (this excludes five members classified as 'facilitators' e.g. staff working on the website or members of the homelessness policy team at the Scottish Government) from a range of organisations: 59 members from 27 local authorities; 29 from organisations involved in housing policy or support (including third sector organisations); 19 from the Scottish Government; 14 from academic organisations or research consultancies; three from RSLs, and three from third sector organisations not directly involved in housing support. One member did not provide details of their organisation.

3.25 The website was not extensively used by members to share information or communicate with other members. A total of 33 contributions were made to the website by 16 members between 1st September 2010 and 15th February 2011. This included: 20 forum posts; seven events listings; two blog entries; two documents posts; and two responses to document posts. Please note that this excludes posts made by facilitators of the website, who posted action plans; quarterly reports; and presentations from the National Seminar held in August 2011.

3.26 The most contributions were made by members from: organisations involved in housing policy or support (15 contributions made by seven members); and local authorities (14 contributions made by six members).

3.27 It was felt that the website did not fulfil its potential. There were a mixture of practical, usability and cultural reasons why the website was not used more regularly:

  • there were existing established means of communicating with other members, namely email and telephone, or asking for advice - for example, the SCSH Homelessness Strategy Officers Network or SHBVN groups
  • the website was perceived to be cumbersome - in particular users felt that it took too long to access information on the website and they did not understand why they had to use a password to access the site
  • Hub members who were keen to find out more about work going on in other Hubs commented that there was little up-to-date information on the website about the current activities of Hubs - while quarterly reports were published, they represented the work of the Hubs for the previous three months.
  • linked to the importance of trust between members (discussed in more detail in Chapter 5), some Hub members did not feel comfortable sharing Hub outputs or posting comments on a public forum for other local authorities to read. They were concerned that it could be perceived that they were putting themselves forward as experts on an issue or make themselves open to scrutiny
  • there was not a culture among local authorities of proactively sharing information
  • as the website was not used often by members there was little to be gained by accessing the site as there was no flow of information.

Approaches to monitoring homelessness prevention

As well as exploring Hub members' views on the Hub initiative more generally, another element of the evaluation explored local authorities' approaches to collecting data on, and monitoring, homelessness prevention and housing options outcomes.

Existing monitoring systems and processes

3.28 A minority of local authorities would admit that they are so early on in their adoption of housing options that they currently have no data to monitor prevention activity at all. Prevention work is being done and logged on paper but not entered into databases, or data is collected using ad-hoc Excel spreadsheets. These local authorities are in the minority and they envisage adopting a solution within the next six months.

3.29 More commonly, however, are various ad-hoc systems and add-ons to systems that allow some monitoring of prevention activity. Some link directly into HL1 9 reporting systems while others do not. Some are part of bespoke, local authority-designed data systems and others are purchased from external providers and require liaison with the external provider to update.

3.30 A number of local authorities felt that the annual homelessness data were already 'out of date' as far as their achievements and developments were concerned (bearing in mind, the fieldwork took place before the publication of data in February). They felt that the progress on housing options 'on the ground' has been very significant indeed. A smaller number of local authorities are not in a position yet to have started to make progress.

3.31 The majority of local authorities operate performance management cycles on a quarterly and monthly basis, depending on the indicators. On some indicators, such as temporary accommodation usage or arrears management, for example, data is looked at on a weekly basis.

3.32 There were frustrations with data systems, with very few local authorities able to input, collate and report their data in the way that they would like to, in an 'ideal world'. Some local authorities are wedded to an in-house database that covers a range of services and so they must schedule time from IT support staff if they want anything added into their reporting system. Others had opted for proprietary 'products' bought in to use for their entire housing management data or their HL1 reporting. A fair number have already bought 'advice and assistance' modules while others are considering these or working with software consultants at the moment to spec these out.

Data aspirations

3.33 Not one single local authority participant was entirely content with their current data position. However, most were satisfied that they either had what they needed to begin to monitor prevention activity, or would at least be in that position within a short time-frame, such as before the end of the financial year or a few months after.

3.34 A number of local authorities are adopting a 'watch and wait' approach. There was, in fact, some consternation that the Scottish Government had included looking at monitoring within the Hubs evaluation at this stage when no guidance had been received about what monitoring the government would wish to see. On this final issue, a number of local authorities praised the work of the Scottish Government through the HL1 data users group and a few mentioned the pro-forma 10 currently being piloted as something that they were looking to use for their prevention monitoring purposes.

3.35 In fact, there were local authorities that were waiting until the final version of the pro-forma is agreed before finalising their data. This was to ensure that the approach is as efficient as possible. That is, if an external consultant or internal staff time is required to update the system to insert new fields in the database, it is preferable to do this at one time.

3.36 Others were more confident in developing their own approach to data systems, either as a local authority or as part of the Hub. Some local authorities have a very clear sense of how they plan to develop and monitor their service and see any work that the Hub might do, or the Scottish Government might do, as secondary to their own aspirations. These local authorities tend to be those with the strongest ethos around performance management and the most well-developed data systems.


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