The nature of homelessness has changed in the past decade. In the first quarter of 2008, 20% of households that were accepted as Homeless in England had lost their rented or tied accommodation, by the first quarter of 2018 this had risen to 31%. As rents continue to increase at rates above earnings, demand for assistance from the council remains high and access to the private rented sector for those on low incomes is increasingly restricted.
Authorities also face an increased demand for assistance through the Homelessness Reduction Act, and need to be able to provide a more effective service to those who require assistance but otherwise have many of the tools to access the accommodation or other services they need to prevent homelessness. Previous work undertaken by Lewisham Council indicates that households were often unaware of affordable accommodation in their area and thus expected intensive council support, and more broadly there is a wealth of evidence suggesting households aren’t aware of the risk of homelessness until they reach crisis point.
Our proposal seeks to better understand the needs of those approaching and the barriers that are between them and a stable, affordable accommodation. Once these can be more clearly identified, potential solutions to meet these needs can be explored.
 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-homelessness – Table 774_England
The vision for the work is that it would take the form of two distinct sprints each lasting six weeks and using agile project methodology. The first sprint will engage with an appropriate number of clients at early risk and conduct user research with a user report published no more than one month after completion. The second sprint would develop concept prototypes for use with partner authorities, and other interested parties, at a number of workshops, with a conclusion report produced no more than one month after completion. Outputs from the sprints would be reviewed at fortnightly discussions, and at comprehensive discussions at the end of each sprint, and in-line with the project plan agreed by the steering group at the outset.
To ensure the project is led effectively, with genuine collaboration across partner authorities and with all authorities being considered equally, we will appoint an external company to lead the project. An external company, Uscreates, will be sourced in line with the appropriate procurement regulations for the lead authority as appropriate. Additionally, authorities will provide experience and capacity to deliver the project within the defined timeframes. All authorities will nominate a lead from their organisation to support the work of the project.
To enable effective monitoring of the piece, a fortnightly conversation between all partner authorities and the project lead will be established. This will focus on a consideration of the project plan for the upcoming two weeks, progress and outputs delivered in the previous fortnight and a general consideration of progress against the overarching goals of the project. To ensure effective oversight and detailed scrutiny, Lewisham Council will include the work as a discrete piece within its Housing Programme, a well-established programme management board driving change at the London Borough of Lewisham. Progress will be regularly communicated to interested parties through appropriate mediums, such as the Local Digital Fund slack channel.
At the end of March 2018 there were just under 80,000 households in temporary accommodation arranged by English Local Authorities. A recent report by the National Audit Office established that the cost of Homelessness per annum was over £1bn. £845m of this was the cost of Temporary Accommodation, and £638m of this cost was met by Housing Benefit, the remaining amount being absorbed by Local Authorities as a cost against already extremely pressured General Fund accounts.
The knock-on impact of Homelessness is substantial. Research by Crisis showed that Homeless people were 24% more likely to access NHS services, and those with criminal records were 20% more likely to reoffend. Poor housing conditions, including homelessness, temporary accommodation, overcrowding, insecurity and poor quality housing constitute a risk to health. Beyond this there is the substantial impact this has on households, and the increased likelihood of further homelessness.
A recent Shelter report identified that 55% of households in temporary accommodation were in work – providing them with an element of financial security and a wider array of options than is often considered. However, a lack of awareness, of available support and material for such households restricts their ability to identify and access the most appropriate tools to increase their resilience to homelessness. By empowering clients in this way authorities can prevent homelessness and wider issues at the earliest possible opportunity, authorities can reduce the need for temporary accommodation. This will save money, reduce the impact of homelessness on society, improve outcomes for households and will enable authorities to focus their energy more extensively on households with complex needs.
As a collaboration between three distinct boroughs with scope to involve other authorities, there will be a wide enough range of variance to inform a comprehensive research piece that can be used more broadly across the country – particularly in those areas where the problem is most pressing. The aforementioned steering group will be tasked with ensuring the broader relevance of the piece.
Information pertaining to the work undertaken will be shared frequently on the Local Digital Fund slack group, and with other authorities through existing channels and newly identified opportunities to do so. The project lead will reach out to authorities that have not been part of the research piece to test concepts in those areas as well and to solicit a wide range of opinion.
Any tools that would be developed would be made available as appropriate online, and any non-personalised aggregate data which is published will be shared widely to encourage feedback and development.
A business case that reflects on the cost at a local, and a national, level of the issues in question. This is to be developed by the external partner with assistance, data and context from specialists in Local Authorities. The business case will also explore the potential financial benefits that could be delivered by progressing beyond a discovery project, considering the cost of development of a product beyond the discovery phase but also the benefits in simple terms of reducing the number in temporary accommodation but also the broader societal benefits.
A user research report detailing the rationale deployed for identifying clients, why this had been used, the methodology used to engage with them, quantitative information around the cohorts but also qualitative information regarding how they engaged with the discovery piece, not just their thoughts on the content in the research. This report will engage with a number of clients at a number of stages from each of the partner authorities, and will seek to benchmark their experiences against a general cohort that are not at risk of homelessness to better understand whether there is something specific that needs to be factored in.
A conclusion report detailing the work undertaken, how this was decided upon, how this was arrived at, how clients/partners were identified, the detail of the findings, what this means and how this should be treated, and making recommendations as to how this work should continue. Should the discovery piece recommend that the work should continue, this should also recommend how the work could be further developed and detail of how the tool envisaged might look, where it might be hosted, how it might be accessed, how it would operate and more.
A reflection piece will also be completed, drawing on the experience of all the authorities involved in the project and identifying learning opportunities to inform more effective collaboration on digital projects between partner agencies going forwards.
The separate phases of the project will engage two separate groups. The first phase will identify households that are within 56 days of homelessness, those that are on the cusp of 56 days of homelessness, and those with risk factors that might lead to them being within 56 days of homelessness in each of the partner boroughs. Data held locally, as well as information on clients accessing appropriate local support services, will be used to accurately identify these cohorts. Between 12 and 18 households will be engaged, spread as evenly as possible across each authority.
Once identified, clients will be engaged through a mix of interviews and workshops. The intention is to engage with clients in the places where they are accessing services, or not, to establish a more accurate understanding of need rather than compelling clients to attend a carefully staged, sterile session. The focus of the sessions will be on awareness of financial risk, or risk of homelessness, the tools that can be used to prevent homelessness, awareness of alternatives, and awareness of how to identify alternative accommodation and how to access this.
Separate to this, a number of external partners will be identified alongside users to explore some early concept prototypes, with a view to better understanding what needs to be included, how this should look, how clients should engage with it and more. As wide a range of appropriate views will be consulted at this stage to ensure the concepts are well-rounded. This will take the form of direct contact as well as 5 workshops undertaken to enable further development of concept.
It is envisaged that a combination of the knowledge available across the authorities involved in the bid and the expertise of the externally appointed consultancy will mean that there is no specific additional requirement for the project.
However, the steering group would be interested to hear from colleagues in the Local Digital Collaboration Unit and/or others to ensure a rounded approach and to receive comment from a broad range of experts.
We have not been granted any funding through any separate streams for this project. This project will engage with similar workstreams within partner organisations that may have received MHCLG funding, but will not link specifically to anything that has applied for Local Digital Funds.