A summary of the key themes from a webinar hosted by Homeless Network Scotland on 21 February 2023 which was attended by over 120 colleagues from 19 local authorities, from the NHS, health and social care partnerships, housing associations, academia and the third sector.
In a cost-of-living crisis with rising homelessness, confirmation that the new homelessness prevention duties will be included in the housing bill in the second half of 2023 provides some much-needed optimism – or at least anticipation.
Homeless Network Scotland are among those who have been involved at different stages in the development of the duties and we are strongly committed to ensuring that as many people as possible are consulted and briefed on the duties and their implications.
The purpose of ‘The Big Ask: acting now to prevent homelessness’ webinar was to update on the expected timeline of the duties. And further, to explore what more can be done now to prevent homelessness by learning from 3 important insights – lived experience, the third sector, local places.
1. Prevention: what did the Christie Commission say?
The christie commission is a rare example of a report that both unified and articulated a diverse range of perspectives about the future delivery of public services. Published over a decade ago, it still reads as if it was an analysis of today. On prevention, the christie commission said:
- The adoption of preventative approaches, in particular approaches which build on the active participation of service users and communities, will contribute significantly to making the best possible use of money and other assets.
- Such approaches will help to eradicate duplication and waste and, critically, take demand out of the system over the longer term.
- Maximise scarce resources by utilising all available resources from the public, private and third sectors, individuals, groups and communities.
The webinar was opened in this context, with the package presented reaching across these themes.
2. Prevention of Homelessness: what type?
With such a wide range of activity potentially contributing to preventing homelessness, an organising framework – the 5-Stage Typology of Homelessness Prevention – was developed by colleagues at Heriot-Watt and Cardiff universities and which defines activity as follows:
The prevention of homelessness duties, combined with existing homelessness duties, would span stages 2-5. The learning presented and themes discussed in this webinar span the same stages 2-5.
3. What is expected in the Housing Bill?
The prevention duties will be included in the housing bill which is expected to be published in the second half of 2023 with the intention to strengthen housing rights and to include:
- Wider public bodies to ‘ask and act’ about housing situations.
- Local authorities to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness (with the steps set out in either secondary legislation or statutory guidance).
- Referrals from public bodies to be treated as an application for assistance by the local authority.
- Window for homelessness risk extended from 2 to 6 months.
- Aligning homelessness assessment with prevention assessment, recognising households may balance between both.
- Changes to the definition of domestic abuse and the need for social landlords to have a domestic abuse policy.
- Assessment of housing support needs to be included in local homelessness strategy and/or Local Housing Strategy.
4. Three key insights…
The webinar welcomed the insights from lived experience, the third sector and from local places on what works to prevent homelessness. This was invited from:
(i) Learning From Lived Experience
Shea Moran, who represented the Change Team, reflected on the work of their Prevention Commission, which shaped the recommendations of the Prevention Review Group’s final report. Shea articulated the importance of ensuring through the new duties that people who experience or are at risk of homelessness, especially young people, do not have expectations or responsibilities on them that do not apply to other members of the public.
(ii) Learning From the Third Sector
Pauline Kerrigan from The National Lottery Community Fund shared the learning from the fund’s strategic investment in homelessness which was intended to respond to their own findings that homelessness is a priority at local level, while complementing a strategic priority for government. Uniquely, the process included peer review across the applicants so that the issues most important to the sector as a whole could be funded.
(iii) Learning From Local Places
Andy Peline from SWAMP reflected on his involvement with the Staying In programme which took a place-based approach to preventing homelessness. In this project, popular community organisations who were not ‘homelessness’ organisations were invited to ‘Ask and Act’: to ask about housing, and to act to prevent homelessness where there was a risk. Andy shared how this was done at point of initial contact and that mirroring the prevention duties informally at community level was very effective at preventing homelessness.
All homelessness starts in a community, which means that local places can play a pivotal role to help prevent it. However the risk of homelessness is not equal, with some people and places more affected than others. Places that are most affected also need to see more progress in the bigger factors that create homelessness. Preventing homelessness starts here:
5. … and six key themes from discussion
Some of us will have an enhanced duty to prevent homelessness. Some of us will have a new duty to prevent homelessness. And some of us will have no specific duty – but want to help. The following key themes emerged from the feedback that was shared in the breakout rooms:
- The ‘Ask and Act’ duties were coined by the prevention commission and so are well informed by what people closest to the issues, people with lived experience and frontline responsibilities, think will work best to prevent homelessness earlier.
- We need a strong balance that focuses on both parts of the duties, ask and act. In many cases, the public sector will need to act after asking about housing. In other cases and at earlier stages, a household can be enabled to act to resolve their own housing situation. Routine enquiry and a supportive line of questions will maximise that outcome – asking the right questions sensitively to get to the root of the problem. Guidance and training will be key.
- Although the duty to ask and act will not be on communities and community-based organisations, it will be important to encourage a local role to prevent homelessness earlier and closer to home. As well as the range of local groups and services that people connect with, communities host housing activists, community champions, connectors and others with an interest in local housing who want to be involved in preventing homelessness in their area.
- It has been demonstrated that good outcomes are possible when subject experts (on housing and homelessness) collaborate with local experts and people with lived experience to problem solve at a local level. Adopting a place-based approach to preventing homelessness means connecting with existing community groups and networks to help identify housing issues earlier. This can be a simple two step approach of asking about housing and acting on what people tell you – mirroring the prevention duties.
- Cementing preventing homelessness as a priority outcome in Local Outcomes Improvement Plans can help non-statutory and place-based approaches to branch out right across communities in Scotland. LOIPs are the mechanism by which Community Planning Partnerships deliver improved outcomes for their communities.
- Preventing homelessness will be radically more cost-effective in the longer term. But the potential will be limited if the transition is not resourced properly in the short-to-medium term. This can also harness the enthusiasm for prevention more widely, with some services already reshaping and shifting towards a more upstream approach in anticipation of the new duties.
You can view the slides from the webinar here.