Publication - Guidance

Prevention of Homelessness Guidance

Published: 10 Jun 2009

Statutory guidance for local authorities on preventing homelessness

41 page PDF

556.7 kB

41 page PDF

556.7 kB

Prevention of Homelessness Guidance
The Philosophy and Principles of Homelessness Prevention

41 page PDF

556.7 kB

The Philosophy and Principles of Homelessness Prevention

26. Prevention of homelessness is important for a number of reasons:

  • To minimise the personal trauma associated with homelessness;
  • To prevent personal and societal problems caused by homelessness;
  • To benefit from the longer term gains derived from creating individual and community resilience; and
  • Whilst prevention activities cost money, it will almost always be more cost-effective for local authorities and their partners to pro-actively intervene before crisis occurs, than to respond in an emergency.

27. From a "business case" perspective, evidence from two recent studies suggests that a typical example of homelessness can cost £15,000 to the public purse, with a more complex case costing in the region of £83,000. Costs derive from the services delivered to people in the form of advice, accommodation and support as well as costs associated with tenancy failure, void management and uncollected rent arrears. Within the more complex cases, additional costs associated with health and criminal justice services have also been considered and validated on the basis of extensive evidence. Even the most straightforward and least complex cases have a cost in terms of time and administration.

Case Study 1

Case Study 2

Case Study 1

Case Study 2

Tenancy Breakdown Costs





Temporary Accommodation Costs





Support Costs





Other Costs - e.g. can include health services, criminal justice costs



Not quantified

Not quantified

Duration of homelessness

1 year

2 years

1 year

6 months






Sources: Crisis 3 , SCSH 4

28. There has been no single definition of homelessness prevention previously in use in Scotland. As a starting point it would seem useful to outline recent definitions of prevention to help illustrate the potential scope for activity. The guidance will also provide some practical examples of prevention work to demonstrate what can be done and to inspire others to try new methods. It is also important to distinguish for local operational teams and other interested agencies what homelessness prevention is and what it is not to ensure clarity of purpose and prevent "gatekeeping".

What Prevention Is

29. There is broad agreement across a range of organisations that there are three main stages where intervention can prevent homelessness 5 :

  • Early intervention: where those potentially at risk are identified and services provided to support the person and their environment before incipient problems or disputes escalate beyond repair;
  • Pre-crisis intervention: which can take the form of advice services, mediation services, negotiation with landlords to avoid imminent loss of a home and targeted services at known risk points such as those leaving the looked after system, prison or the armed forces; and
  • Preventing recurring homelessness: tenancy sustainment is seen as key to preventing recurring homelessness where there are problems that cannot be resolved by re-housing alone.

30. Research for Real 6 outlined their view of prevention activities when they reported in November 2008 on the Evaluation of Homelessness Prevention Innovation Fund Projects. The report focused on two broad categories of activity, namely crisis response activity which they define as responding to an imminent threat of homelessness and precautionary activity which they define as assistance to retain existing accommodation, manage life transitions and build personal resilience.

31. Both categories are valid and local authorities will want to ensure that consideration is given to the development of prevention services which achieve the best outcomes for households at risk of homelessness, either imminently or in the future. It is for local authorities to decide, on the basis of a sound assessment of the local causes of homelessness, how much relative emphasis should be given to crisis response and precautionary prevention activities. Regardless of the chosen approach, local authorities continue to have a duty under the legislation to accept an application made by anyone either homeless or threatened with homelessness within two months.

32. It is worth considering however, that increased effort and investment in precautionary activities will probably over time lead to fewer instances of homelessness crisis; and although crisis response services are valuable and necessary it can still be difficult to actually prevent a homelessness presentation at such a late stage. If efforts at the crisis stage fail, then the quality of alleviation and resettlement services becomes more critical. It will be particularly important to ensure that people are suitably and sensitively re-housed to meet their needs following any period of homelessness as this will more likely lead to tenancy sustainment and the prevention of repeat homelessness.

33. As progress is made towards 2012 and the removal of the priority need distinction, the development of suitable crisis response interventions may be viewed as the more important local priority. However, it will be important to guard against activities designed merely to prevent homelessness applications. This could partially be achieved by all partners agreeing local parameters of success and maintaining a focus on sustainable outcomes within local monitoring systems. The local authority and their partners should have a sound understanding of the current profile of people assessed as non-priority to ensure better targeting of prevention activity to meet identified homelessness risks. This data should be shared with partners to aid their understanding of the issues.

34. Each local authority will face different challenges based on characteristics and context within their area. Clearly therefore, decisions on the relative weighting and resources given to the most appropriate local approach will require the involvement of a range of council departments and other partner agencies. In terms of prevention techniques it should also be noted that an approach found to work in one area may not easily transfer to another area due to differing structures, resource allocations and local priorities. Although there are generic principles inherent in prevention activity, approaches may still need to be tailored to suit the local area.

What Prevention Is Not

35. Prevention of homelessness is not an alternative to addressing housing need. Rather, effective prevention activities should remove the need for housing in a crisis. It should allow people in housing need to understand what their options are and what they can do to meet their needs before crisis occurs (with the help of appropriate services) as well as allowing them to address problems that may be causing housing need. Homelessness prevention activity should not be viewed as an opportunity to deny people their rights under homelessness legislation, particularly in terms of accessing settled accommodation and meeting any assessed housing support needs.

36. Prevention should not be seen as an add-on to local authorities' homelessness duties. It is central to their whole homelessness strategy and this is supported by research carried out by Heriot Watt University 7 , showing that local authorities are increasingly placing more importance on prevention activities. Local authorities and their community planning partners should use the updating of the homelessness aspects of the Local Housing Strategies ( LHS) to fully inform themselves about the causes of homelessness in their area, so that the resulting prevention activities are as fit for purpose as possible. This aspect of the LHS should be the subject of monitoring and regular review.