The right type of housing is vital if we are to end homelessness. However, supply will not provide the solution if homeless people are unable to access or keep hold of their homes.
We have been working with a group of housing associations, Homes for Cathy, to develop this housing association commitment to end homelessness.
Homes for Cathy
Homes for Cathy is a group of housing associations, mostly formed in the Cathy Come Home era. They united as a partnership in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home and to highlight the continuing needs of homeless people.
The group is committed to:
It was clear from the consultation we undertook for the plan that housing associations are critical in ending homelessness. However, we also received feedback that responses to preventing and relieving homelessness were inconsistent across the housing association sector. This proposed commitment addresses these inconsistencies by encouraging all housing associations to commit to a series of actions.
Housing associations need to work in partnership to achieve these ambitions. That also requires local authorities to actively engage with their local housing associations, and share the aims of this commitment.
Commitment 1 - to contribute to the development and execution of local authority homelessness strategies.
A recent survey from the National Housing Federation found that 77 per cent of English housing associations had some form of engagement with local authority homelessness strategies. However, fewer than 20 per cent confirmed that they regularly engaged with them.
Most reported they had occasional engagement; one in five housing associations who did not engage on strategies felt that it was important to do so.
Research by the University of Sheffield and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) found that while 88 per cent of councils say housing associations are involved in strategy development, only 35 per cent of housing associations say they are very involved.2 Fifty-three per cent said they were a ‘little’ involved.
The CIH recommends that local authorities should co-produce homelessness strategies that spell out the roles and responsibilities of diff erent local partners, including housing associations and voluntary sector agencies, in helping to reduce homelessness in their areas.
In the consultation undertaken to inform this plan, it was clear that both housing associations and local authorities throughout Great Britain could do more to involve each other regarding homelessness strategies.4 The proposals in Chapter 7 ‘Rapid rehousing’, calling for more regular strategy updates, more local partnership commitment and more tangible and specific rehousing targets, create an opportunity for real engagement.
By using homelessness strategies to foster joint working, housing associations should demonstrate their commitment to meeting the housing need identified by the local authority.
Housing associations should jointly determine the overall number and type of properties needed to provide a Housing First and/or housing-led solution to end local homelessness. Each housing association should then determine what they can provide, as a proportion of the overall number needed. This proportion should be based on the amount of relevant properties they have in the local authority area.
Housing associations should also be part of local authorities’ strategic planning in meeting the need for emergency accommodation. Emergency accommodation should be of a decent quality, but act as a short-term solution before leading to rapid rehousing. Housing associations should work with their local authority to identify the need for emergency accommodation. They should offer their expertise and support in finding alternatives to high cost, often poor quality bed and breakfast and other nightly-let provision.
Greater Manchester Housing Providers Group case study
The Greater Manchester Housing Providers Group are committed to working with the City Region mayor and local authorities to end homelessness. The partnership is working on a number of strategic and operational joint projects. The partnership has:
- committed to meet the housing need of the Greater Manchester Social Impact Bond project with 270 homes being made available for people to access permanent housing (through a consortium of 15 housing associations and two private sector partners)
- committed to support the Housing First pilot through the direct provision of homes and support services
- committed to contribute to cold weather provision, while still needed in the short term
- developed a series of pledges to reduce homelessness in consultation with local authorities across each of the ten districts which make up Greater Manchester.
Commitment 2 - to operate flexible allocations and eligibility policies which allow individual applicants’ unique set of circumstances and housing history to be considered.
A significant barrier for homeless people accessing social housing is the way eligibility and allocations criteria are applied.5 While responsibility for setting eligibility criteria for the housing register generally sits with the local authority, individual housing association allocations create barriers to allocations too.
Housing associations should assess nominated households on an individual basis, considering reasons for any historic rent arrears or antisocial behaviour. Assessments should seek to understand whether any previous issues are relevant to the person’s ability to succeed in their tenancy now. The trigger for the issues and the support available at the time should be considered.
Commitment 3 - to offer constructive solutions to applicants who aren’t deemed eligible for an offer of a home.
There will be situations where a local authority or housing association decides offering someone a home is too great a risk to take if someone has struggled to succeed before.
In these cases, housing associations should offer a constructive and supportive approach to mitigate perceived risk of tenancy failure. Optional tenancy training should be offered to the excluded applicant with targeted support and information addressing any previous causes of tenancies failing.
It may be appropriate to delay an allocation until tenancy training is completed, or for the training to be completed while the tenant is offered a probationary or introductory tenancy.
Through Commitment 1, housing associations should work with their local authorities to identify registered applicants close to nomination that are considered unsuitable for an allocation; and offer pre-tenancy training in advance. It is also vital to make sure eligibility and allocations criteria are aligned to prevent inconsistencies in approach. These can lead to applicants feeling confused and frustrated with the allocations process.
Through our partnership with Homes for Cathy, Accent Housing and Surrey Heath council will run our Renting Ready training programme for people currently excluded from the local housing register.
Those who complete the course will be reinstated to the register. Accent Housing will suspend any restrictions previously placed on the applicant. The purpose of this Renting Ready pilot is to use the findings from the work to encourage other local authorities and housing associations to adopt more constructive approaches.
Commitment 4 - to not make any tenant seeking to prevent their homelessness, homeless (as defined by the plan definition).
Housing associations should not evict any tenant into any situation which meets this plan’s definition of homelessness.
In exceptional circumstances, it may be that a tenant cannot remain in their current home. This could be because they are causing harm or distress to others or where the property is unaffordable or unsuitable for other reasons.
In such cases, local pre-eviction partnership agreements should then be in place to arrange reciprocal moves into an alternative home or into emergency accommodation. There should be a clear move-on plan in place so that emergency accommodation remains as brief an intervention as possible.
To achieve this, housing associations should be able to provide their tenants with quick access to effective tenancy support services and operate flexible rent arrears policies. This offer should be made proactively. There should be processes in place to identify and engage tenants who could struggle to maintain their tenancy without support.
Housing associations must maximise the capacity of support services. They should work in partnership with local organisations to identify the range of support services available to tenants as well as providing support directly themselves.
West Midlands Housing Association Partnership case study
Housing associations and local authorities through the West Midlands Housing Association Partnership have committed to a number of objectives to end homelessness. A key commitment is the resolve to not evict any tenant into homelessness. The partnership is in its infancy, but aims to meet this challenging commitment through a mixture of reciprocal agreements and pre-eviction planning.
Currently, West Midlands housing associations and Dudley local authority are sharing prevention approaches and then working together to reduce the risks of eviction. Where ending a tenancy is the only way forward, a programme of ‘leaving well’ will be triggered using all the support on offer in the locality to avoid a route to rough sleeping.
"Our approach with customers is to focus on their strengths, understanding where they want to get to and what it takes to get them there. Nobody wants their goal in life to be eviction. So our approach is geared up to coach our customers towards their goals by having honest and trusting relationships. Then by having good connections with their friends, community, agencies and our neighbourhood coaches, customers can start to put in place their own interventions and begin to recognise when things become more challenging, to help them stay on track towards what they want to achieve."
Vicky Green, Head of Locality - Black Country, Bromfield Housing Group.
Commitment 5 - to commit to meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups.
Housing associations should have specific policies, procedures and partnerships to support access to their properties for vulnerable homeless people. This approach should continue in supporting vulnerable tenants to sustain and succeed in their tenancies.
Chapter 6, ‘Preventing homelessness’ identifies the characteristics of successful prevention and housing options services for young people; people leaving institutions such as the armed forces, hospital, the care system or prison; and for people experiencing domestic abuse.
Housing associations should be seeking to understand the levels of need for each of these groups and propose ways they can meet that need. Their understanding should be informed by local authority homelessness strategies.
During the consultation undertaken for this plan, supporting people experiencing domestic abuse was highlighted as an important role for housing associations.
Local authorities and housing associations have already adopted a range of good practice in responding to domestic abuse. This is underpinned by better training and awareness by frontline housing and homelessness staff.
It is important to identify and respond to domestic abuse before it results in a homeless application. To support this, housing associations should commit to the CIH ‘Make a Stand’ pledge.7 This pledge has been developed by CIH in partnership with the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) and Women’s Aid. It sets out how all housing orgnisations should support people who live and work in housing who are experiencing domestic abuse.
Commitment 6 - to work in partnership to provide a range of affordable housing options which meet the needs of all homeless people in their local communities.
Housing associations should provide access to a range of housing options for homeless people. Housing solutions to homelessness should be varied to meet the diverse needs and circumstances of homeless people.
Social housing is the most cost effective solution to homelessness, see Chapter 11, ‘Housing solutions to homelessness’. So housing associations should maximise their supply of social housing, wherever possible, and proactively support homeless people to access that supply. However, there is potential for homes of different tenure types and different rent levels to end the homelessness of some people.
Build to rent
Housing associations should consider how the homes that are being developed as part of build to rent or market rent initiatives, could meet the needs of some homeless people. Our experience in making the private rented sector work for homeless people and for private landlords shows that housing associations shouldn’t rule out the role they can play in offering tenancies to people moving out of homelessness, on the proviso they can afford them because they are in work, or where the rents fall within Local Housing Allowance levels.
There are also specific groups of homeless people who have even greater challenges in accessing affordable housing, such as those aged under 35. Given the diverse challenge of housing affordability across Great Britain, it is inevitable that not all parts of the country will need to provide a full range of specific housing offers. However, as per Commitment 1, a joint local approach should be undertaken to assess where gaps in affordable supply exist and where identified joint solutions could be proposed.
The need for affordable shared housing has been highlighted through our consultation process and by local authorities in The Homelessness Monitor England.
Shared social housing could both provide additional supply and offer an alternative to poorer quality private rented sector Housing of Multiple Occupation. In addition, shared tenancies offer a more affordable housing option for some applicants, and can minimise the risk of social isolation.
Housing associations should consider their role in providing properties for sharing. Shared housing is not a solution for everyone. It requires specific planning on how properties will be allocated and managed. However, there is strong evidence of success when these things are put in place.
Shared housing properties can be directly managed by housing associations themselves. Alternatively, the housing association can work with local agencies to share the management and support of these tenancies. The need for shared housing should be identified through the homelessness strategy process. Our own Sharing Solutions.
Programme and help to rent funded programmes show that shared social housing succeeds best when part of a partnership10 and where there is full organisational buy-in.
Newydd Housing Association case study
Newydd Housing Association runs Rooms4U – a shared housing pilot across Mid and South Wales. With partner housing associations in the local area, the Rooms4U project addresses the housing needs of single households on the common housing register. It does this by developing and supporting shared tenancies in the social and private rented sector.
Applicants for the project are prioritised on housing need. They are then supported to complete tenancy training and are matched into two and three bedroom accommodation offered on licence agreements. Rooms4U employs a dedicated project officer to manage the pilot and provide light touch, ongoing support to the shared tenancies.
Hull City Council case study
Hull City Council is piloting a shared housing project in their hard-to-let stock and are trialling two models of management. Several properties are being leased to local partner organisations who act as managing agents. They provide Hull City Council with guaranteed rent for the shared houses, at the same current rate as a single dwelling. Hull City Council is responsible for all required works.
Other stock is directly managed by Hull City Council and provides accommodation for applicants identified through the local authority’s housing list and in collaboration with targeted youth support case workers. Occupants are on non-secure contractual tenancy agreements.
Commitment 7 - to ensure that properties offered to homeless people should be ready to move into.
Working with local authorities and the local voluntary sector housing associations should only offer homes that are ready to live in to people moving out of homelessness.
Social housing properties without furniture and white goods, carpets and wall coverings, will deter people on low incomes from accepting them. This issue was consistently raised during the consultation process to develop this plan. It has also been highlighted by staff running local homelessness services and through our own direct services. Consequently, people on low incomes are often pushed towards private rented sector properties. These properties are usually ready to move into, but offer less security and higher rents.
To prevent this happening, housing associations should, through networking and the local voluntary sector, identify sources of cheap or free furniture and white goods. Alternatively, they could help tenants access affordable financing for these materials themselves.
Commitment 8 - to contribute to ending migrant homelessness in the areas housing associations operate.
Housing associations should, through engagement with local authority homelessness strategies, jointly determine the need for accommodation for people sleeping rough sleeping in the local area who do not have access to public funds and where voluntary reconnection is not an appropriate solution.
Where needed, housing associations should also work with local authorities and other local partners to offer emergency accommodation for homeless migrants who are not able to access statutory homelessness assistance. This should include letting properties for little or no rent as migrants in need of this accommodation are unlikely to have the means to pay a full rent. Consideration should be given to how harder-to-let properties or properties emptied in preparation for disposal or redevelopment could be used for this purpose.
Housing associations can, and in many areas already do, play an integral role in providing housing and support for destitute migrants. Examples of positive practice in this area can be found in Homeless Link’s Migrant Destitution Toolkit. Housing associations should also show their support publicly for migrants by signing up to the Housing Association Pledge for Migrant People.
Commitment 9 - to lobby, challenge and inspire others to support ending homelessness.
Housing associations should use their profile and good reputation to show they share the ambition that homelessness can be ended. By using their expertise and connections they should encourage their peers and local and national government to share that ambition.
To help with this, housing associations should publish their eviction figures and the proportion of their housing stock which is taking people out of homelessness. These figures can then help identify best practice so lessons can be learnt and shared.
By giving these measures greater prominence we can better promote the idea that housing associations should be judged on their contribution to ending homelessness.
We know from the examples given and from the work we have done to date with housing associations that these commitments are already being met by some. The challenge is therefore one of scaling up existing approaches rather than devising new ones.
The creation of a duty to refer within The Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) in England is a start. It encourages other agencies, aside from local authorities, to prevent and relieve homelessness. However as private bodies, housing associations are not subject to this duty.
A housing association voluntary commitment to cooperate on homelessness would provide the foundation to meet the challenges set out above. Practically, such a commitment would manifest itself in different ways, in different housing markets, and for different housing associations.
By adopting such a commitment, housing associations would show that they believe homelessness can be ended and they recognise their role in achieving that. This commitment would be manifested in all housing associations’ strategic aims and throughout their work with every tenant seeking to move out of homelessness.