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.
4.0 Quality Assurance and Performance Frameworks for Housing Options
1. Evidencing that high quality Options services are being delivered and that genuine positive differences are being made in peoples' lives is essential to the good management and improvement of Options services. There are statutory responsibilities to report performance outcomes to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Housing Regulator. Monitoring and reporting performance outcomes and acting on that information and publishing outcomes is a prerequisite of delivering more focussed, effective services.
2. This section covers:
- appropriate performance frameworks for the monitoring of Options services;
- the value and importance of effective customer feedback mechanisms;
- the role of auditing in ensuring that performance reporting is dependable; and
- acting on performance reporting in order to achieve continuous improvement in service delivery and outcomes.
4.2 The Importance of Outcomes Frameworks
1. The Scottish Government has been collecting mandatory data related to the delivery of Housing Options services, PREVENT1, since 2013/4. The second and most recent publication of this data was in June 2015 and the Government have committed to the regular publication of data. In addition to the mandatory return of data by local authorities, they have also extended the opportunity to housing associations to record their Housing Options activity through PREVENT1 returns.
2. As more tranches of data are published and a time series established, PREVENT1 will become increasingly valuable in providing information about: Housing Options activity across Scotland; the circumstances of customers; the types of Options activities undertaken by different organisations; links between Options activity and homelessness; and the outcomes of Options activity.
3. As data emerges demonstrating the outcomes for Housing Options customers measured against activity, referrals and advice, local authorities will have the ability to review the performance of local services in order to plan and deliver integrated early intervention and prevention activities. However the mandatory PREVENT1 reporting of data is not sufficient for local authorities to fully evaluate local performance.
4. A robust performance management framework and culture across services will assist local authorities to demonstrate the delivery of a successful outcomes focussed Housing Options provision, giving senior managers and elected members confidence in the approach and service delivery.
5. The primary focus of performance reporting should be on the preventative outcomes achieved, alongside the reporting of the circumstances of Housing Options customers and satisfaction levels; and the volumes of Options activities delivered.
6. The West Hub has developed a performance reporting framework for its organisations' Options activities and outcomes. This framework has four overarching Outcomes, each of which is evidenced by a number of indicators. The four Outcomes are:
- incidence of housing crisis reducing;
- more successful operation of housing lists;
- delivery of sustainable housing solutions; and
- maximisation of existing resources.
7. The performance management and reporting of Housing Options is not straightforward, primarily because many of the factors that have a direct bearing on Options customers and their housing needs are outwith the control of the Options teams. The national and local economy for example, supply and demand within local housing markets. Further, it is not always possible to draw a direct connection between the delivery of Options services and the housing outcome achieved by or on behalf of the customer. This is because of all the other factors, negative and positive, that have a bearing on housing circumstances. Nevertheless, the performance management of Housing Options services is an essential aspect of continuous improvement in service delivery and identifying and learning from best practice.
8. The clear, measurable, positive outcomes of Housing Options services fall broadly into three categories:
- numbers/percentages of successful housing outcomes (current home maintained or new home accessed by the customer);
- the sustainment of those outcomes over time; and
- the satisfaction of the customer with those outcomes and with the delivery of the Options service itself.
Performance management frameworks should focus primarily on these broad outcomes and the measures of success which can be evidenced in support of claimed outcomes.
4.3 Customer Feedback Mechanisms
1. Housing Options is no different to any other service offered by the local authority in that it should be subject to customer satisfaction monitoring.
2. There should be a structured approach to gathering data related to satisfaction with the Housing Options service. This may involve seeking views immediately following the Options interview, or asking views at some later time, or indeed as part of the regular large scale survey of tenants, as required by the Regulator. The principle that Housing Options customers are asked their satisfaction with their service is more important than how that task is approached.
3. Customer satisfaction should clearly relate to the outcomes achieved through the Options process, and also to the process itself. The survey questions would require to establish whether the customer felt that they had received a satisfactory level of service, as well as a satisfactory outcome.
4. The outcomes of these survey activities should support performance reporting and performance improvement within the organisation. Survey outcomes should be reported appropriately to senior managers and elected members and there should be a clear mechanism for that survey data to feed into and positively influence performance improvement activity.
4.4 The Audit of Housing Options
1. Whilst performance data is useful, this is not the only factor in continuous improvement activity. Any system of performance reporting should be supported by an accompanying programme of audit activity.
2. Auditing of performance should be an ongoing, continuous activity. It need not be onerous. The normal level of audit activity should be agreed, but need not remain constant in all circumstances. It may be decided that there should be a specific focus of auditing to consider a specific area of Options that may be cause for concern. The approach to auditing performance reporting needs to be responsive and flexible.
3. Auditing should at the very least check the data being provided in relation to Options activity, but auditing should go beyond this and check the quality of service delivery and the outcomes achieved. The audit process should check file documentation for accuracy and completeness and if necessary undertake further checks with staff members. Audit processes should as a minimum seek to check that:
- all relevant information was gathered from the customer and recorded accurately;
- all relevant housing options were discussed and explored sufficiently with the customer;
- all appropriate checks were carried out and recorded appropriately, for example, in relation to homelessness and housing support assessments;
- all internal performance protocols and standards were observed and adhered to; and
- a satisfactory solution was secured that was sustainable and satisfactory for the client.
4. The outcomes of audit activities should be reported to all relevant staff ensuring that lessons are learned, actions agreed and practices improved wherever possible.
5. Audit checklists and structures have been developed by many authorities, for example, North Ayrshire Council, and are essentially transferable in their emphasis on the principles of Housing Options and how they are applied to individual customer's circumstances.
4.5 Continuous Improvement in Housing Options Policy and Practice
1. Benchmarking of performance data leads to performance improvement through the identification of those approaches that are working most effectively. Benchmarking can operate successfully within an organisation, comparing the performance of different teams or Options approaches, for example, or can be applied to different organisations' performance. The purpose is to identify the most effective application of approach and then to learn from that approach, its planning, management and delivery, as to what is more effective. The identification of best practice, the dissemination of learning and the overall raising of standards in performance is the ultimate goal of performance management and benchmarking. This is already a core activity of the five Housing Options Hubs. Benchmarking organisations such as SHBVN support and promote this activity across local authorities and housing associations nationally.
2. The outcomes of Options monitoring should have a direct bearing on the performance management of all relevant services within the local authority and within partner organisations. Beyond the Options service itself, this includes the local authorities' own policies and practices on allocations, for example, but would also extend to housing associations, and providers of support in the statutory and voluntary sectors.
3. Alongside performance management and benchmarking, self assessment of service quality is an invaluable tool in improving performance standards. Carrying out a self assessment exercise empowers continuous improvement activities by informing the service delivery staff and managers of the strengths and weaknesses of their current delivery model, identifying areas of service delivery or planning that would benefit from review and helping to focus the investment of resource aimed at improving service delivery. Applying these resources, in the comprehensive manner of a full self assessment exercise or with a light touch as a brief checklist review, can be invaluable as a means of performance improvement. SHBVN has developed a framework for the self assessment of Housing Options services.
Performance Frameworks - Checklist
- Data on Housing Options activities and outcomes is comprehensively and accurately recorded.
- Accurate, robust data is provided to Scottish Government through the PREVENT1 return.
- Performance data is reported appropriately at all levels of the organisation.
- Audit practices contribute to the robustness of data reporting and to the improvement of Options service delivery.
- Performance reporting feeds into and supports continuous improvement activity.
- Service managers are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their Options service delivery and are actively seeking to address weaknesses and build upon strengths.
- There are opportunities for staff to exchange best practice and learning within the organisation and with peer organisations.
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