This case study is part of the LGA's Housing Advisers Programme which funds the provision of an independent adviser offering bespoke expert support to local authorities for a specific project working to deliver homes, reduce homelessness, or generate savings or revenues.
The LGA supported project was aimed at supporting the implementation of the Future of Essex Vision priority to prevent and tackle homelessness across the county, and coalesced into three main outcomes:
- Creation of a Memorandum Of Understanding to be agreed across the Essex Partnership setting out a range of collective commitments to improve the way homelessness is tackled in a systemic way across the county.
- Creation and agreement of an Essex wide Prisoner Housing Protocol
- Development of a proposal to support the prevention and relief of homelessness amongst patients of the main Hospital Foundation Trust in Essex.
Essex County Council asked for help from the LGA Housing Advisers Programme to support the implementation of the agreed priority area for the multi-partner Future of Essex Vision for local housing allocations (LHAs), Essex County Council's adult and children’s services, prison and probation services, hospitals, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), housing associations, voluntary sector and other partners, to work together more closely to prevent and tackle homelessness across the county.
Although this had been agreed as a priority area by the partnership at a senior level, and there are already two successful countywide working groups established to co-ordinate and share practice on homelessness, the council on behalf of the Essex Partnership asked for some help in developing some concrete agreements and protocols, which would be acceptable to the wide range of stakeholders involved in the homelessness “system” across the county.
Particular areas of concern were the lack of a positive shared culture across partners in dealing with homelessness, an awareness that different priorities in some of the partner organisations might be mitigating against effective co-operation, and a concern that reductions in resources, and decreasing affordability and availability of housing might be having negative consequences for homelessness, as well as sometimes causing tensions between partner organisations.
As well as the broader issue, particular areas of concern were the difficulties in preventing homelessness for offenders leaving prison without suitable accommodation and the lack of systems to support hospital patients at risk of homelessness.
Working closely with Essex County Council, and the chair of the Essex Vision Homelessness task group (Dawn French CEO of Uttlesford), the LGA funded consultant worked with a number of key partners in the district councils, the county council, probation, the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), Integrated Offender Management (IOM) services, children’s services, CCGs, hospitals, adult safeguarding boards through a survey and face to face meetings to establish the main problem areas in preventing and tackling homelessness, existing good practice and potential solutions.
Following the presentation of these findings to the chair of the Essex Vision Homelessness Task and Finish group, a draft multi-agency Memorandum of Understanding was developed setting out a range of proposed organizational commitments and areas for targeted action.
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be agreed across the Essex Partnership commits partners to change practice, communicate better, consult and agree a range of short and longer term actions to improve the way homelessness is treated as a system.
The consultant also worked with Essex CRC, Probation Services, LHAs and Essex County Council to develop, consult on, and agree an Essex wide Prisoner Housing Protocol. The protocol ensures that prison and offender services work together in partnership to prevent prisoners from losing accommodation as result of imprisonment wherever possible, and where not possible to agree a plan to attempt to prevent homelessness in good time in advance of release to maximise the chances of success and minimise the chances of rough sleeping, homelessness, and associated reoffending.
The protocol also commits to much more comprehensive data collection and sharing on outcomes, to provide feedback to prison and probation staff making referrals, and also to inform the development of future provision to meet identified service gaps.
The third area of work was to develop proposals for a new service to work with hospital patients in the three main hospitals in Mid and South Essex who are identified as homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The proposed new service builds on the successful drop in service established by Peabody at Basildon Hospital as part of the Essex Floating Support Service.
The new expanded service will have a particular focus on helping patients secure positive health outcomes as well as ensuring they have the assistance they need to retain accommodation they are at risk of losing, secure new accommodation if homelessness, or adapt existing accommodation which poses health risks after treatment.
The proposed service will act as a knowledgeable liaison between the hospital, social services, and local housing authorities. Because it will potentially cover patients from all 14 LHAs, it should be much viable and cost effective than each council funding a separate hospital discharge service across the hospitals local to it.
The combined impact of the work should be significantly better joined up services across Essex in tackling homelessness, with better information on homelessness outcomes for specific groups across the county.
This does depend however on implementation. It was only possible to develop proposals and documentation during the LGA Housing Adviser’s Programme.
It must be recognised that homelessness has to compete with other priorities in a climate where the resources available to local authorities and their partners are limited.
What the project has done, however, is to make it easier for the Essex Partners to work together on homelessness in an effective and constructive way.
It is not possible at this stage to estimate cost savings, although it is likely that there will be some eg through reduced reoffending and better health outcomes leading to fewer hospital readmissions. The project is not primarily aimed at generating savings, but about improving homelessness outcomes.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Implementation of the work is being taken forward by Essex CC’s Housing Growth Lead on Homelessness & Rough Sleeping and by the Essex Vision Task Group.
The current position is that the Prisoner Housing Protocol is expected to launch soon, with an event to mark the occasion. The protocol has a built in review mechanism set at regular intervals.
The MoU is currently being signed off by partners and again it is expected that a launch event will happen later in 2019.
The Hospital Discharge work is at an earlier stage. Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has been invited to an event this week to discuss it, following which a paper is expected to go out for wider consultation within Essex.
Housing Growth Lead (Homelessness & Rough Sleeping)
Housing Growth Team
Essex County Council
Tel: 0333 013 3338