Southwark, which has the largest social housing stock in London, has led the way in its trailblazer homelessness prevention pilot.
The Homelessness Reduction Act comes into effect in April 2018, and will change how councils provide homelessness services with a new legal framework. It will require a new culture, a new operating environment, and new officer skills. The council took the proactive step in October 2016 to pilot a service designed to test the legislation and be implemented before the act had been introduced. We decided to implement this trailblazer work to ensure the government had a test council that could show the positive and negative elements related to the act in advance, and to allow the council to be ready for the implementation of the act. Southwark is the only council in England to pilot a service that is 100% compliant with the act in advance.
The service focuses almost entirely on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place. Customers can now access the service 56 days before becoming homeless, whereas in the past, they could only access the service 28 days before. This is helping us to prevent homelessness.
It looks at the housing gaps that people can fall through and provides support, advice, integral services and signposting, using some of the best expertise available, alongside partners St Mungo’s and Shelter. The service, run with £1.5m in central government funding, developed its own training academy, recruiting 19 apprentice officers so that other homelessness services could be brought in-house.
The prevention model has been underpinned by the principle of treating customers with compassion, understanding and empathy and resolving everyone’s homelessness situation with the most suitable form of support for them.
The team has obtained commitments from all relevant statutory and voluntary sector partners to work together on implementing the model, delivering bespoke solutions through the ten individual personal housing plans, as required by the act. The service uses a casework resource toolkit to target the main causes of homelessness and aims to promote customer choice.
Sustainability is key to the service, and we look at holistic, long-term solutions from the moment someone comes for help. A new accommodation-finding element is tailored to the needs of individuals and gives them a sense of control of their circumstances. Once a housing solution has been found, a resettlement support service provides on-going help to the most vulnerable.
The success of the service is verified by the facts. Last year we accepted 548 households as being homeless from 1 April to the end of October. This year we have accepted 271 households: a 51% reduction. We have prevented more than 1,000 households from becoming homeless from 1 April to the end of October 2017 due to our early interventions, compared to only 1,300 households through the whole of last financial year.
The service has reduced the number of families living in shared bed-and-breakfast accommodation for over six weeks, from 181 to zero within six months, and the number of homeless households living in temporary accommodation has reduced by 3% this financial year. The service has obtained customer service excellence accreditation in light of the new trailblazer framework – the only council homelessness service to achieve this in London.
The service shares its success, for free, with many other councils and housing providers in order to provide best practice solutions nationally. The work continues and the service is always reviewed and learning experiences sought as the impact of population growth, economic fluctuations, the Housing and Planning Act, and changes to the benefits system are felt by residents.
Gerri Scott, strategic director of housing, Southwark LBC