What works in homelessness prevention in the UK?

Over the past few months, the Knowledge Exchange Team has produced a series of introductory blogs outlining some of our ongoing exemplar projects and what you can expect from this work over the coming months. This is the latest in the series and looks at our international evidence review of what works in homelessness prevention, led by CaCHE co-investigators Suzanne Fitzpatrick and Pete Mackie.

The UK has long been unique in making housing a statutory right for at least some homeless people, with the core provisions of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 surviving 40 years of Conservative, Labour and Coalition governments. Local authorities had to provide settled housing to those judged to be ‘unintentionally homeless’ (or threatened with homelessness) and belonging to a ‘priority need’ group, mainly families with dependent children or pregnant women. More recently, devolution has led to some policy divergence in the UK.

Scotland was the first to significantly strengthen the rights of homeless people, by abolishing the ‘priority need’ criterion for housing entitlement in 2003; however, a key weakness of the ‘Scottish model’ was a lack of serious attention to homelessness prevention. Wales, on the other hand, has moved furthest and fastest in formalising the prevention agenda, with the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 introducing homelessness prevention duties regardless of priority need status. England then followed suit, with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 echoing the Welsh legislation by introducing a universal homelessness ‘prevention’ duty on local authorities. These new models are intended to bring preventative work into the heart of the statutory framework, and there is strong evidence of significant progress in Wales in particular (it is very early days in England, with the legislation just coming into force in April 2018). Questions have been asked, however, about the range of preventative tools deployed, with some concern about possible over-dependence on access to the private rented sector, which welfare reform has made increasingly difficult for those on low incomes. (See this paper by Pete Mackie et al.)

One key challenge is the weak evidence base on which to design homelessness prevention. The last major study of homelessness prevention in the UK is now very dated and was focussed on England only. While there has been a ‘prevention turn’ within homelessness policy in many parts of the developed world in recent years, with relevant initiatives in the US (post Global Financial Crisis), Australia, Canada, and a range of European countries, there has been no systematic synthesis of the approaches taken, their efficacy, or their costs. At the same time, there has been some intense academic debate, particularly in the US, on how homelessness prevention should be conceptualised, or indeed whether it is a worthwhile exercise at all, but these issues remain unresolved.

This project will have three elements: 1) The development of a conceptual framework for understanding and comparing preventative approaches, moving beyond traditional primary, secondary and tertiary categories, to encompass structural (society-wide), upstream (early interventions with high-risk groups) and systemic (pre-crisis) forms of prevention; 2) An international evidence review of current preventative strategies and programmes, framed using these conceptual categorisations; and 3) Key informant interviews with well-placed stakeholders in each of the four UK nations, and selected other developed countries, to explore promising ways forward on homelessness prevention.

You can expect the final report later this year, but in the meantime, if you have any questions or you’d like to get involved in some way, please do get in touch.

Dr Gareth James is Knowledge Exchange Associate for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. 


Date: May 16, 2018 2:51 pm


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