How Shelter is working with councils to deliver homelessness prevention, advice and support
Working with local authorities is not new for Shelter – like many other charities who help the most vulnerable in society, we rely on funding and collaboration with local government to deliver our vital services. Our history is long and productive – for over 20 years this local authority funding has enabled us to make a huge difference to people struggling with bad housing and homelessness in Sheffield, for example.
And that is at the very heart of everything we do. We believe that everyone should have access to a safe, secure and affordable home. And we will continue to work in the most effective way to achieve this.
Our work with local authorities has never, and will never, in any way affect our status as an independent charity, and with that our legal right to challenge a council’s decisions, nor will it ever inhibit our ability to campaign.
As an organisation Shelter will always be bold and challenging, and hold local authorities to account for decisions that are unlawful. Going forward, we want to continue to develop partnerships with local authorities to create better systems for all clients faced with homelessness, and offer our expertise and challenge to end homelessness.
So, why do we need to work with local authorities?
For three key reasons.
The first reason is we can secure contracts that enable us to grow our services and help more people in housing need. Good examples are from our long-standing homelessness prevention and resettlement contract in Sheffield, through to our new advice contract in Blackburn which enables us to help thousands of people every year.
We are also contracted by local authorities in Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Bristol and Cornwall, and work across all 33 London Boroughs as part of the London Councils’ contract.
For over 26 years now we have delivered a contract with the DCLG to deliver the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS) which provides expert advice, training and consultancy to all local authorities in England.
As an organisation, we have to appreciate the situation that local authorities are in after seven years of austerity and funding cuts. Many are overcome with the demand for housing, advice and support and are doing their best with limited means to deal with the demand that is coming through their door.
Now they are faced with implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which places additional statutory duties on them to prevent homelessness, with little additional resources.
This leads me to the second reason why it’s important that Shelter works with local authorities; we are focusing our efforts on addressing the causes as well as the consequences of housing problems.
To do this effectively we need to work with local authorities to affect the kind of systemic change that is needed to tackle the housing crisis and end homelessness. For example, our Inspiring Change Manchester service uses the real experiences, voices and opinions of our service users to affect real and lasting change in the city.
We recently convened all ten local authorities in Greater Manchester to begin joint working on the implications of the Homeless Reduction Act so together we can achieve the best outcomes for the people of Manchester.
This links to another strategic priority for our Services division, and the third reason why we need to work closely with our local authority partners. We want to improve the experience of clients who come to us, to make sure they can navigate complicated local authority systems and get the help they need. We are able to use the experiences and frustrations of real people to affect real change in the way that services are provided by local councils.
So, as we continue pioneering services that prevent homelessness and offer advice and support to ensure those that need our help can get a home, make it fit to live in and keep their home, we will seek more opportunities for collaboration with councils.
Coming soon in Services are two new contracts in London
These take us into new territory in how we work with local authorities.
Firstly, we will be working in the London Borough of Southwark, to deliver housing and homelessness advice, support and guidance to up to 800 clients per annum. This will include advice for people about to make a statutory homelessness application, advice on their legal rights, support to access private rented accommodation, and access to Shelter’s wider London Hub services.
Southwark is a DCLG trailblazer area and this pilot will be used to inform how other authorities implement the Homelessness Reduction Act. In Services we aim to replicate the model so that we can support local authorities in fulfilling their duties under the act, which are challenging, but if successful will provide an opportunity to transform services and prevent homelessness.
Then, as I mentioned, we will be working in Westminster. In partnership with Places for People and local charity the Passage, Shelter will be delivering frontline advice, homelessness prevention and support services.
This means that we will be working in the local authority with the highest rates of homelessness per head of population in the country. Our frontline advice and homelessness prevention services and casework will be delivered via drop ins and outreach appointments in co-locations such as community centres, schools and GP surgeries.
In both these new contracts we will be delivering services that are aimed at preventing homelessness, working in the interests of the client but not performing duties that are the responsibility of the local authority to deliver.
We are always careful to retain and protect our independence. We have insisted on this through the addition of appropriate clauses in the contract. We’ll still be able to challenge decisions the authority makes. And our team of specialist housing lawyers, who will not be based in the local authority, will retain the freedom to challenge unlawful local authority policy and practice using legal remedies, as they have always done.
Every day at Shelter our frontline advisers see the devastating impact of homelessness and how it tears apart families and communities. We hope that by working together with local authorities to provide independent advice and support we can help more people when they need it the most.