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.

4 What benefits have the Hubs achieved?

4.1 This chapter details the main ways in which Hub members felt they had benefited from being part of the Hub process. It outlines the perceived immediate benefits of the Hubs approach in relation to:

  • how it helped to create 'buy in' to the housing options approach
  • how it helped local authorities with the development of the housing options approach.

Encouraging a culture change among local authorities

4.2 The Hubs were established in part to try and encourage a culture change among local authorities in the way in which they dealt with homelessness presentations and to promote best practice around homelessness prevention. While it was outwith the scope of this evaluation to provide an objective measure of the impact made by Hubs in bringing about this culture change, there was a perception among Hub members and Heads of Service that the Hubs approach had benefited local authorities and helped to encourage a culture change among members of the Hub and others within their local authority, as outlined below.

4.3 There was evidence to suggest that the Hubs benefited local authorities in two ways:

  • helping to increase ' buy in' to the housing options approach
  • assisting local authorities in the development of housing options approaches.

4.4 It was evident throughout the evaluation that those local authorities in the early stages of developing housing options had benefited more from the Hubs initiative than those who had already implemented, or were in the process of implementing, the approach. Indeed, those local authorities who were already delivering housing options, by definition, had already 'bought in' to housing options, and had already implemented their approach. Similarly, those who were in the process of implementing housing options services had already 'bought in' to the approach (although the Hub member and/or others in their local authority may not have done so fully).

4.5 Accordingly, Hub members from local authorities who were already delivering housing options discussed how they had made very few changes, if any, to their existing housing options approaches, as a result of being part of the Hubs. Nevertheless, they welcomed the opportunity to work more closely with other local authorities and recognised their role in the Hubs process, in helping local authorities who "were further behind the curve" gain confidence in the approach and develop their housing options services.

to answer the question in relation to [Local Authority] then it probably hasn't made that much difference, but my impression is that for those councils that were maybe finding it harder, maybe hadn't done some of the thinking that maybe a smaller minority of councils had done, that hadn't already got a vision in place in terms of prevention, then I think probably the answer would be different for them, they would probably think it had really helped.

(Head of Service)

4.6 However, the success of the Hubs approach was reliant upon more advanced local authorities participating in the process. Without this participation, many less advanced local authorities would not have benefited from being part of the Hub as much as they had - in particular, the sharing of best practice and information, would not have been as effective (this is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5).

4.7 It is important to highlight that, at the time of fieldwork, all Hubs were still developing as a group (although they were all at different stages of development) and had not yet benefited fully from the Hubs approach. Many of the planned Hub activities were ongoing or had not yet started and, as a result, not all of the desired outcomes of the Hubs had been achieved. Furthermore, two of the Hubs, who had met infrequently, had only just started to actively share best practice within the group.

Increasing 'buy in' to the housing options approach

4.8 At the outset, some Hub members were sceptical about the housing options approach. This scepticism stemmed from three factors:

  • reservations about the suitability of the approach for particular local authorities. These areas tended to be where there were fewer 'options' for clients: for example, rural areas or areas with either very high demand for private renting or a very small and under-developed private rented sector
  • concerns that housing options was a move towards 'gate keeping' of services, that is that the approach actively seeks to prevent someone from making a homelessness application
  • apprehension about adopting the approach in the absence of formal guidance from the Scottish Government or endorsement of the approach from the Scottish Housing Regulator.

4.9 As a consequence, they entered the Hub approach with a degree of apprehension but were "willing to dip their toe in the water".

4.10 There was evidence that the Hubs helped to create 'buy in' to the housing options approach, particularly among local authorities who had not yet developed, or were in the early stages of developing, their housing options approaches. This happened in two ways:

  • the Hubs helped to raise the profile of housing options
  • the Hubs helped to legitimise and build confidence in the approach.

Raising the profile of housing options

4.11 The launch of Hubs in June 2010, coupled with the announcement of funding to support the process, signalled the Scottish Government's endorsement of the housing options approach, as something that all local authorities should adopt. The national seminar in June 2010 and the series of seminars with each Hub across Scotland in autumn 2010, helped to raise the profile of housing options and create 'buy in' to the approach among senior staff:

The original Scottish Government event, that I suppose led to the Hubs, I think that was probably interesting in terms of getting buy in from more senior people and I think the presentations at that were quite powerful. So, certainly, that initial impetus and the initial experiences of people, you know, the success stories from elsewhere, I think were quite a powerful tool.

(Head of Service)

4.12 This was helped by Scottish Government representatives, who attended a number of Hub meetings, leaving a perception among Hub members that the Scottish Government were taking an interest in the activities of the Hub and were available to answer queries about housing options and the Hubs approach.

4.13 As evidence of this, some Hub members said that the Hubs process had acted as a 'stick' and put pressure on senior management in their local authority to 'buy in' to the housing options approach and support it with suitable levels of funding. There was a feeling that local authorities did not want be seen as a local authority who was not implementing the approach:

it actually added credence to the housing options approach, if your neighbouring authorities are all adopting a particular approach then at some point there would be questions as to why you weren't participating.

(Hub member)

4.14 This was supported by representatives from each local authority who attended Hubs and, in many cases, had mechanisms in place to feed back Hub discussions and activities to senior management and other staff within their local authorities. For example, a number of Hub members described how the work of the Hub was a standing item for discussion at their local authority's homelessness strategy partnership group meetings, or equivalent.

Legitimising and building confidence in the housing options

4.15 In addition to raising the profile of housing options, there was evidence to indicate that the Hubs helped to legitimise and build confidence in the approach in two ways.

4.16 First, among local authorities who had already begun to implement the housing options approach, being part of the Hubs process and learning about the experiences of other local authorities about how housing options was working in their area, helped to validate their decision to implement housing options:

…you can see it working elsewhere, you can see other people doing it, like some of the things we heard from [other local authorities]…you can see other people's success in doing it and it does give you the confidence to carry on and follow it through.

(Hub member)

4.17 This was reinforced in a number of local authorities by visits made by Hub members and other staff in their local authorities to more advanced local authorities to observe how housing options services worked in practice (see below for more discussion about job shadowing).

4.18 Second, among Hub members whose local authority had not yet adopted the housing options approach, or who had doubts about the approach, being part of the Hub and learning from others legitimised the approach and gave them confidence that it was something they should take forward:

I think the initial issues we faced… was this feeling that it wouldn't work, it couldn't work, you couldn't do things differently, so actually listening to people that had done things differently [...] I think was quite a powerful message…the Hubs have been part of the process almost of deciding is this the way we're going? In my head it wasn't a given at the beginning, it was 'well, what does this look like, what does it taste like, what does it feel like, can it work, can it be applied, how will we apply it?'

(Head of Service)

4.19 A few Hub members discussed how the Hub had provided them with a tangible Scottish evidence base on the effectiveness of the housing options approach, that they could use to help convince senior officials and elected members within their local authority of the value of housing options:

the Hub approach…has allowed us to break down some of that kind of cynicism that was around originally and you can see it shifting...you can actually see that's having an impact in terms of shifting peoples thinking here.

(Head of Service)

4.20 A common view among Hub members was that being part of the Hub provided them with reassurance that local authorities were all facing similar challenges and pressures to meet the 2012 homelessness target, and that the Hubs provided a support network; that they were not "in it alone". Related to this, a few Hub members, mainly from rural and island authorities, who had doubts about the suitability of the housing options approach for their area (in light of the types of options available to clients in their area) felt that being able to discuss their concerns with representatives from local authorities in a similar position gave them the confidence to decide that their local authority could not fully implement the approach.

Helping local authorities to develop the housing options approach

Sharing of information and best practice

4.21 The main way in which Hubs help local authorities to develop the housing options approach was through the sharing of best practice and information between member local authorities. For the most part, this involved Hubs with housing options approaches already in place, sharing that best practice with those still developing their approach.

4.22 Best practice information was shared in the following ways:

  • at Hub meetings - mainly via round table discussions but also the sharing of policy and procedure documents and research articles
  • follow-up visits to local authorities - for example, job shadowing
  • follow-up email or telephone exchanges
  • as already described above, via the Communities of Practice Website.

4.23 At meetings, Hub members were able to share experiences of implementing housing options and best practice in relation to the approach, which could be used by less developed local authorities to advance the development of their housing options approaches.

we have been able to tap into other local authorities and benefit from the experience in setting up a homeless prevention team and adopting a homeless options model, because we are being kind of behind them in terms of that approach. That's been the main advantage to us; we have learned from the experience and hopefully we won't make the same mistakes.

(Hub member)

4.24 The types of best practice information shared through the Hub included:

  • on a general level, Hub members shared lessons about what worked and did not work when their local authority was implementing housing options services
  • sharing policies and procedures documents - for example, one Hub shared each member authority's allocation policies to generate ideas about how they might be adapted
  • sharing experiences of using IT systems and other infrastructure which is used to help deliver housing options services
  • sharing experiences of engaging external partners - for example, one local authority shared the difficulties they had engaging with private landlords in their area and how these difficulties were overcome; while in a different Hub, member local authorities were able to learn about a local authority's experience of developing a common housing register, developing deposit guarantee schemes and building relationships in the private sector
  • learning about innovative ways of preventing homelessness - for example, one local authority shared their experiences of taking the approach to inform clients on their housing list about their chances of being allocated a home.

4.25 In some cases, local authorities made visits to other local authorities in their Hub to learn more about their housing options approach and observe the activities of frontline staff who were delivering the approach on a daily basis. These visits were seen as being very beneficial to local authorities who were in the process of developing their own approach to housing options and as being more useful than simply discussing issues within meetings, as they showed the theory being applied in practice. As a representative from one local authority, who had taken staff to another local authority within his Hub as part of a job shadowing exercise, explained, the visits were extremely useful as they provided staff with firsthand experience of housing options at the point of delivery and helped to build confidence in the new approach:

I think it has helped to introduce people to that different approach to dealing with homelessness…they can see for themselves and talk to the people in these authorities, their equivalent roles, just to get first hand, I suppose information. The senior homelessness staff that we have taken are beginning to change their views, so I think it has been helpful.

(Hub member)

4.26 There were a number of examples of where local authorities had benefited from learning from local authorities in other Hubs; for example, a number of local authorities had visited the same local authority that had a well developed housing options approach. However, these arrangements were largely independent of individual Hubs and would probably have taken place without the existence of the Hubs.

4.27 Hub members also exchanged information with one another on a more informal basis outwith meetings and field visits. Hub members felt that the Hub had helped them to develop relationships with representatives in other local authorities who they could call for advice and reassurance about housing options services on a more ad hoc and informal basis. A common view was that relationships developed through the Hub would "last beyond the life of the Hubs or funding".

the informal side of it as well is good because it is good having a point of contact in each council that you can phone up or email with any particular issues, so that's been be very useful…I think as we get closer to 2012 there has been more, not panic, but more concern about certain things it's always good to have that point of contact at the end of the phone.

(Head of Service)

4.28 While information sharing and communication worked well within Hubs, a common view among Hub members was that they would have liked there to have been more formal mechanisms in place to facilitate information and best practice sharing between Hubs (and with other local authorities within those Hubs).

4.29 When information was shared between Hubs, this process was facilitated by the Scottish Government, including: the National Housing Options Seminar; attendance by Scottish Government representatives at Hub meetings; and specific instances when Scottish Government representatives shared information and documents from members of one Hub with others. For example, the Scottish Government shared one Hub's Housing Options Hub Protocol 11 with other Hubs.

4.30 Hub members spoke highly of the National Housing Options Hubs Seminar and were positive about times when Scottish Government representatives attended Hubs, for the reasons:

  • they helped Hub members learn about what activities were being carried out in other Hubs
  • the Scottish Government could provide advice and answer questions about housing options and the homelessness Hubs approach
  • Hub members could learn about ongoing research and policy development that may impact on homelessness services
  • the Scottish Government were able to learn about the operational challenges that were facing local authorities.

4.31 This notwithstanding, Hub members would have liked the opportunity to learn about other local authorities' (and Hubs') approaches more often (see Chapter 6 for a discussion about how Hubs could be developed).

Hub projects

4.32 In addition to acting as an initial incentive for local authorities to become involved in the Hubs process, the award of enabling funding allowed Hubs to carry out joint projects, which helped to inform the development of housing options in local authorities. It is important to bear in mind that at the time of fieldwork, much of the proposed project activities in Hubs were ongoing or were yet to begin. As a result, some of the views of Hub members in relation to project activities were about how they expected projects to benefit their local authority in the development of housing options services.

4.33 However, joint working projects were perceived to have helped local authorities develop their housing options approaches in a number of ways, including:

  • helping local authorities to define and better understand housing options
  • highlighting where gaps existed in the housing options services local authorities were developing
  • identifying the training needs of staff to carry out the housing options service effectively
  • providing staff training
  • helping to engage with external organisations ( RSLs, third sector organisations, and private landlords) operating in the area about housing options, through hosting consultation events
  • highlighting best practice examples of housing options services from Scotland and England
  • identifying best practice to enable access to private rented accommodation.

4.34 Hubs were also carrying out projects to help member authorities manage the effects of the upcoming housing benefit reforms. As described in Chapter 3, the Scottish Government made available some of the Hubs budget underspend (to supplement additional funding announced by the Minister for Housing and Transport) to carry out projects to mitigate the effects of upcoming housing benefit reforms. These include: carrying out analysis to identify the number of residents who are likely to be affected by the reforms; providing training and briefings to staff; and launching publicity campaigns (including radio broadcasts, and web-based information) to raise awareness of welfare reforms and agencies that are available to offer advice. It was evident throughout the evaluation that there was concern about what proposed Welfare Reform would mean for local authorities' ability to meet the 2012 target.

4.35 Hub members discussed how their local authorities would not have been able to carry out many of the projects without the availability of funding. Further, joint commissioning of project-related work allowed local authorities to avoid duplication and achieve economies of scale in terms of the cost and time spent on the projects.

4.36 One Hub, in particular, found the project work they were carrying out as part of the Hub very useful. The ongoing consultancy work - which comprised a number of stages, including the identification of best practice from Scotland and England, benchmarking exercises and a series of consultation events - appeared to frame the direction of the Hub and its meetings. Further, at the time of fieldwork, the work was also informing the decision over which type of housing options approach some member local authorities would adopt. The members of this Hub felt strongly that it was important that they could use the funding to achieve tangible outcomes, such as training needs analysis, rather than simply discussing issues.

4.37 On a more basic level, the funding paid travel expenses and subsistence to allow local authority representatives to meet and share best practice and information. This was a particular benefit to the North & Islands Hub, whose members were geographically dispersed. Indeed, the funding allowed island authorities to meet with other local authorities, at a time when their local authority may not have been able to justify the expense of regular travel to the mainland.

4.38 The availability of funding benefited some Hubs more than others. As Hubs met more often, they developed a clear purpose and vision of what they wanted to, and could realistically, achieve, and it became apparent that many of the activities outlined in original action plans were either not viable or could be completed without the assistance of funding. Those Hubs who met frequently had time to develop new ideas of how they could use the available funding and were able to revise their action plan accordingly. However, those who did not meet often did not have enough time to develop new ideas for funding (this is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5).


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