Housing Options guidance
joint guidance from Scottish Government and COSLA setting out the principles on which any effective Housing Options service should be based and the outcomes it should achieve.
1. In order to deliver successful Housing Options, all tiers of management must be engaged in the process, with the culture and strategic direction being set by elected members and embraced across the entire organisation.
2. This section is designed primarily for senior managers and elected members within Scottish local authorities, to appreciate their role in implementing the necessary ethos, values and principles needed in order to embed an effective Options approach within their organisation.
3. This section highlights the essential elements that senior managers and elected members will have to consider and action in order for Options activities to be effective in addressing the needs of customers. This section covers:
- links between Housing Options and local authorities' homelessness duties;
- the principles of Housing Options, prevention and person-centred provision, and their fit with broader public sector approaches;
- the performance management of Options;
- the importance of committing to training and development; and
- demonstrating commitment through robust policy and procedure documents.
2.2 The Relationship between Housing Options and Homelessness Duties
1. In Scotland, local authorities must offer all unintentionally homeless people settled accommodation. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, as amended, specifies the circumstances by which an individual is deemed to be homeless or threatened with homelessness and the duties that exist towards the homeless household.
2. Section 2 of the 2001 Housing (Scotland) Act further requires that every local authority must ensure 'that advice and information about:
(a) homelessness and the prevention of homelessness, and
(b) any services which may assist a homeless person or assist in the prevention of homelessness,
is available free of charge to any person in the local authority's area'.
3. Whilst the provision of Housing Options advice may prevent homelessness, Housing Options is broader than just a prevention tool. Options approaches and homelessness are related, but are not different aspects of the same thing and an Options approach is not necessarily a response to homelessness, for example:
- Housing Options may provide a support and guide to the statutory homelessness application: a person may be given advice on homelessness as part of a Housing Options interview, including how to make a homelessness application and what actions would be likely to follow;
- alternatively, Housing Options may provide a broader range of alternative solutions for those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness: a homeless applicant can continue to consider their housing options for the duration of their homelessness and may at any time select an alternative option where the customer believes it best meets their housing need. An application made under homelessness legislation can be withdrawn at any stage and this may be an acceptable outcome;
- at times, Housing Options will provide an up-stream preventative service which stops a threat of homelessness from developing in the first place. For example, a customer experiencing difficulty in meeting their housing costs may be supported through money advice and energy efficiency advice to maximise their income and reduce their outgoings such that they can continue to afford their existing home.
2.3 A Focus on Prevention
1. In 2005/6, 60,662 homeless applications were made to Scottish local authorities, compared to 40,936 ten years earlier, a 48% increase. During the same period, the total supply of socially rented homes (let by local authorities and housing associations) fell from 767,000 to 613,000, a 25% fall.
2. The Scottish Government made a commitment in the Homelessness Etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 to abolish priority need by 31 st December 2012, meaning that all unintentionally homeless persons, not just certain defined categories, would have a right to permanent settled accommodation.
3. The 2011 Scottish Government's Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services, or Christie Commission, recognised ever-increasing demands across a range of public services and recommended that as a principle the emphasis of approach should be on prevention of need wherever possible, whilst continuing to ensure that appropriate safety nets were in place for the vulnerable, rather than continually meeting ever-increasing demand borne out of crisis situations.
4. Since then, local authorities throughout Scotland have been encouraged and supported to adopt preventative approaches to service delivery. Housing Options represents the preventative approach applied in its most holistic manner to homelessness. Housing Options seeks to prevent homelessness by putting in place solutions upstream of an approach being made in crisis circumstances.
5. Housing Options is the meeting of demand by the local authority without necessarily providing a permanent solution from within the resources of the Council itself i.e. a Council or indeed other social rented home. Sometimes solutions can be found in supporting continued occupancy of the current home, thereby reducing demand on scarce resources, whilst at the same time resolving accommodation issues for those affected.
6. Local authorities are by now familiar with a preventative approach to meeting need within their areas across a range of service demands and the principle of prevention should be well-known and embedded across councils' services.
7. In meeting an individual's need for housing, one of the key principles of Housing Options is broader engagement and finding solutions with partner organisations, rather than simply relying on in-house finite resources. These partner organisations might be located in other sectors (public, voluntary or private) or indeed within the Council itself, in the shape of colleagues in social work, community education, employability and other teams. It is essential that Housing Options, whilst led by housing professionals, is not seen solely as the responsibility of housing professionals to deliver. Other relevant local authority departments must be positively supportive of and actively engaged in the identification, planning and delivery of Housing Options services. The introduction of Health and Social Care Partnerships from April 2015 offers particular opportunities for joint working and problem solving to the potential benefit of housing applicants, and this is covered later in this guidance.
2.4 Housing Options' Place within the Strategic Framework of the Local Authority
1. The culture necessary to support an effective Housing Options approach is reinforced and embedded by training and the provision of information at all levels within the organisation. It is supported by the reporting of relevant performance information at all tiers of the organisation, including with elected members, and a performance management structure that supports service improvement through the appropriate scrutiny of performance reporting. This is the 'golden thread' of accountability for Housing Options that should run throughout the local authority from the councillors and committee reports to the frontline delivery of housing advice.
2. Elsewhere in this Guidance (sections 3.2 and 4.0), there are examples of training and performance management frameworks which support the embedding of a Housing Options approach through engagement at all levels of the local authority. The key principle to note here is that in order for Housing Options to be delivered effectively, it is essential that it is planned and managed in a context of a supportive organisational culture, which preferably is publicly and demonstrably promoted and endorsed by the leadership of the local authority.
3. Developing and refining Housing Options services is an ongoing activity. Currently, local authorities' Housing Options services are at different stages of development. For some, a fully-developed Options service is still an aspiration. It is essential that those authorities have a clear road map of how they will achieve their aspiration, who will be involved, what will be required of them and when will the ambition of a holistic service offering be achieved. Whether services are still in development, or they are being reviewed, the checklists at the end of each section should be particularly useful in supporting these activities.
2.5 Opportunities Presented by Health and Social Care Integration
1. In April 2015, Integrated Joint Health and Social Care Boards were established throughout Scotland with the aim of maximising collaborative effort and resources towards shared challenges. By April 2016, these Integration Boards must have agreed and begun to implement the planning and delivery of integrated services. These Joint Boards will have some housing related responsibilities, the provision of aids and adaptations as a minimum, but Boards may also choose to take responsibility for housing support and even homelessness services themselves. In terms of social care, the Integrated Boards will have responsibility for personal care and residential care.
2. Integration will have a direct impact on the delivery of Housing Options. Whatever structures are adopted in different local authorities, and whatever functions it is decided to include in the scheme of integration, all the above functions are wholly relevant to the delivery of Housing Options.
3. Housing needs are often compounded by circumstances relating to an individual's health and/or social care needs. The most recent release of the PREVENT1 data (referring to April 2014 to September 2015) has been published, where the Scottish Government monitors Housing Options activity. The underlying data for this period shows that, of those households who approached Housing Options Services, a fifth (20%) had a vulnerability of some kind. Of those approaches with a vulnerability, 19% had a mental health vulnerability. There were 12% reporting a drug or alcohol dependency; 14% reporting physical health issues, and 7% reporting an unmet need for housing/social work/health support.
4. The links between health and homelessness have been understood for some time, as shown by the development of Health and Homelessness standards in 2005. This has recently had further analysis with research from the Scottish Public Health Network which has also confirmed the continuing extremely close relationship between homelessness, poor health and emergency admissions to hospital.
5. Good working relationships between health and social care planners and providers, in the local authority, the health board and within the voluntary sector, are therefore essential to the effective provision of Housing Options. The scheme of integration will have a significant bearing on how good productive partnership working is planned and delivered.
6. Good health and social care is central to the successful planning and delivery of Housing Options. The two must be closely related and must be planned and delivered in an integrated and coordinated fashion across local authority departments, and other partner organisations across the public, voluntary and private sectors. Advising on and providing appropriate aids and adaptations may lead to the continuing occupation of a home that would otherwise result in a housing need or, in extreme cases, homelessness. Similarly, accessing appropriate personal care may have a positive housing outcome. The provision of housing support, in all its broad range of forms, is critical to many customers being able to take on the responsibility of a home and being able to successfully sustain that home.
7. A clear understanding of the division of responsibility for different levels of housing support is crucial to successful working relationships and housing outcomes. The practical integration of the roles of housing, social work and health is critical. Organisations and individuals need to be very clear who is responsible for what.
2.6 The Importance of Audit and Monitoring Practices
1. The importance of Housing Options performance management reporting from the organisation's frontline to the council chamber is important in promoting a customer focussed, outcome led culture throughout the local authority that supports effective early intervention, prevention and joint working.
2. It is essential that thorough records are kept of every customer dealt with through the Housing Options service, including records of every contact with customers, options considered, advice offered, decisions made and outcomes achieved, both short and long term. Self assessment and monitoring frameworks will be vital not only in demonstrating the effectiveness of a Housing Options approach over time but in protecting the rights of customers. This can support performance improvement and the planning of future services.
3. At the frontline, it is important for the individual officer to understand the impact of the services being delivered, including:
- there are no barriers to accessing Housing Options provision;
- people in housing need know how to access the service;
- customers are being helped effectively to resolve their housing need in a manner that is permanent and sustainable;
- services are being delivered effectively and efficiently;
- customers are satisfied with the services offered and the outcomes achieved; and
- customers know how to lodge a complaint should they not be satisfied and how any complaint will be resolved.
4. From a service planning point of view, it is also important to know the nature of housing needs that are being presented, the circumstances of households and the housing solutions that are working. This information should be reported at a relevant level of detail, collation and frequency throughout the organisation, up to committee level, to support performance improvement and strategic service planning activity. Choosing the right SMART indicators and collecting and reporting them at the right level of detail, frequency and complexity will be key to the successful embedding and continuous improvement of Housing Options service delivery
5. In order to verify the robustness of this performance reporting, it should also be supported by appropriate audit practices. Most high-performing local authorities will already have policies on audit practices and examples of robust self assessment checklists. The checking of performance data by an individual other than those with responsibility for the original data reporting is a critical element in producing data that is meaningful, reliable and trusted. Checks on an agreed proportion of data, file checks and follow-up interviews with Housing Options customers would all form part of a robust approach to the audit of data.
6. The above systems should be in place internally for the successful delivery and improvement of Housing Options services. There are also several external drivers of high quality data collection which will be helpful to local authorities in delivering continuous improvement.
7. The Scottish Government recently introduced the mandatory data return for Housing Options activity to be completed by local authorities, PREVENT1. The second tranche of data, covering the full year position for 2014/5, was published on 30 June 2015. A commitment has been made to a continuing regular publication of this data. As with all data sets, there are initial issues with interpretation and reporting, but, alongside the Government's monitoring of homelessness activity through its HL1 return, this will quickly become an invaluable resource in learning more about Housing Options activity and outcomes, and how this links with those looking for assistance via homelessness applications.
8. The Scottish Housing Regulator is responsible for the monitoring and assessment of housing performance by Scotland's housing organisations. In its Scottish Social Housing Charter, the Government has specified the outcomes which the Regulator will regulate. Of the sixteen outcomes of the Charter, six are supported, if not delivered directly, by Housing Options. For example:
'7. people looking for housing get information that helps them make informed choices and decisions about the range of housing options available to them';
'12. homeless people get prompt and easy access to help and advice'.
9. A significant milestone in the development of Housing Options services was the publication by the Regulator of their thematic study, Housing Options in Scotland in May 2014. In that report the Regulator raised a number of concerns relating to the practice and delivery of Housing Options services. This Guidance is one response to those concerns. Annex 1 contains the complete list of recommendations made in SHR's report and how they are addressed by this guidance. Alongside the Training Toolkit, this guidance should help ensure councils' Housing Options services are fit for purpose.
2.7 A Person-Centred Approach to Housing Options
There's more information about the skills necessary to deliver person-centred services in the Training Toolkit Module 1(6), Customer Empowerment and Delivering Person Centred Responses.
1. Person-centred services place the customer central to decision-making about how the service they receive is designed and delivered. Originating from the perspective of people requiring support, this approach has now become broadly accepted throughout service delivery by local authorities and other public sector service bodies.
2. Person-centred service delivery takes as a starting point the circumstances and needs of the individual. The first step is to achieve a comprehensive understanding of those circumstances and needs. Service provision is then tailored and delivered in such a way that is unique to that individual and their needs.
3. In a Housing Options context, this means that the customer is offered a broad and comprehensive range of options that represent genuine potential solutions to their specific housing need. The role of the service provider is to:
- provide the customer with their potential housing options;
- advise them of the benefits and drawbacks of each option; and then
- support them through the process of them taking the decision which they feel is right for them.
In a person-centred approach, the service provider does not simply make a decision for the customer. Ultimately that is their own responsibility, with appropriate support and with the underpinning of a rights-based homelessness service if that is the route the customer chooses.
4. A person-centred approach should result in positive outcomes for all concerned, not just the customer through achieving a sustainable outcome. Housing arrangements that are not sustained cause expense and upheaval for all parties. For a landlord, it causes the expense of preparing the property for re-let, the loss of rental income whilst the property is empty and the expense of securing another tenant. For the local authority housing service, it may result in added costs resulting from repeat approaches for advice and support, possibly a homelessness application under crisis circumstances with an unavoidable stay in expensive temporary accommodation. For the household, it can cause stress and upheaval, which will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on health, educational attainment, employment sustainment and fracturing of social networks.
2.8 The Importance of Training and Development for Housing Options
1. Staff need to be adequately supported and trained to deliver an effective Housing Options service. The importance of high-quality staff development cannot be overestimated.
2. The areas of knowledge and expertise that may arise as part of an effective Housing Options conversation go beyond housing rights alone. If a staff member is adopting a person-centred approach, and the issue of a customer's mental health history arises, for example, in order to have a properly informed discussion around support, the staff member needs specific skills and attitudes in order to have that conversation in an effective manner.
There's more information about the extensive communication skills necessary to successfully deliver a Housing Options interview in the Training Toolkit Module 1(4), Diagnostic Needs Assessment.
3. Local authorities must recognise that in order for their frontline staff and managers to embed the necessary culture and be successfully delivering Housing Options services, they are likely to require substantial investment in support and training.
4. The Scottish Government recognised this requirement from the outset and established and funded the five Housing Options Hubs from 2010 to identify challenges and to develop support resources and networking to support the introduction of Options approaches into Scotland's local authorities.
5. The training toolkit recognises and addresses in a structured and comprehensive manner the areas of competency needed on the part of frontline staff delivering Housing Options - see Section 3.2.
2.9 The Importance of Clear Policies and Procedures Relating to Housing Options
1. Given the largely incremental manner in which Housing Options has been adopted by local authorities, it is highly likely that only in some authorities will policies and procedures have maintained pace with these changes.
2. It is necessary for local authorities to develop and regularly review their Housing Options policies and procedures in line with the legislation, as well as local needs and demographics. Guidelines should include: why it has been developed; what is achieved by promoting a Housing Options approach; how its implementation and delivery is managed; and how its outcomes are recorded and reported.
3. Presenting Housing Options policies and procedures to the housing or other relevant committee ensures the appropriate corporate steer and ethos is shared across the entire organisation.
Strategic - Checklist
- Housing Options services are delivered subject to a clear and robust set of policies and procedures.
- All relevant staff, managers and elected members are clear about the links between Housing Options and homelessness and how these links operate in practice.
- Housing Options services are focussed on as early intervention as possible and the prevention of housing crisis.
- There is a demonstrable emphasis on the person-centred nature of Options service delivery.
- Healthy, positive partnerships exist with relevant internal and external partners that support Options outcomes.
- The opportunities to enhance Options outcomes through the integration of health and social care provision are recognised and maximised.
- Appropriate training and development in Housing Options is accessed at all levels within the local authority, including by elected members.
- Staff are aware of, and regularly benefit from, fully resourced training and development support for Options services.
- Options performance data is reported appropriately at all levels of the local authority.
- There is an emphasis on, and drive for, continuous improvement of Options services.
- There are effective mechanisms in order for performance reporting to support service review and development.
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