Personalised plans – putting service users at the centre of new homelessness services

Today, we publish a new briefing on how local housing authorities should implement new duties to homeless people, which are due to come into force in April 2018 under the Homelessness Reduction Act. This includes the recommendations of an Expert Panel of Shelter service users, with lived experience of approaching their local housing authority for homelessness assistance.

From next spring, we’re set to see a big shake-up in the services councils are legally required to provide to people asking for help to prevent or relieve their homelessness.

At the heart of the legislation is a new duty to assess the circumstances and needs of all household members (including children) and agree a personalised plan. This is a very positive step forward.

In Wales, where similar changes to homelessness legislation came into force in 2015, there has been a positive response to personal housing plans. They are seen as a way to embed a partnership and person-centered approach, and are leading to improved relationships between council staff and service users.

We’re keen that they bring similar improvements to England and we wanted our work on personalised housing plans to be informed by people who really know what’s needed – people who have lived experience of facing homelessness and going to the local authority for help.

Supported by the Longleigh Foundation, we took advice from the Expert Panel of our service users, who guided and advised on our work.

The recommendations made by our Expert Panel fall into three main categories:

Empathy, dignity and respect

It sounds obvious, but all our experts reported homelessness as shameful and traumatic. They found the current system of assistance combative and process-driven.  They recommended that people with lived experience should advise on designing services and that staff should be trained to be empathetic and understanding, even where the outcome remains the same:

‘Tell them not to worry because obviously the stress of losing their home, we all know that one don’t we? Basically, tell them not to worry, “We’ve got your back, you’re either going to stay there…or we’re going to find you somewhere else, but it’s not your fault”.’

Early advice is key

Most of our experts had approached the council as soon as they were served with a possession notice or they started to worry about arrears. But they were advised to come back once the landlord had been to court or eviction was imminent.  This wasted precious time and caused further stress as well as financial hardship:

‘I said “Don’t make me go through this, don’t make me have to pay these charges, because my landlord is charging, like, the £600 now, I’m not going to get my deposit back, because they’re charging me the court fee”. [But housing authority said] “We’re not doing anything until the bailiffs come.”.’

We strongly support the draft Homelessness Code of Guidance, which says it’s ‘highly unlikely to be reasonable’ for people to wait until a court has issued a possession order and families should not be advised to await eviction.

Put people first

Our experts had humble expectations when seeking help. Where the existing home couldn’t be saved, most wanted help to find a suitable private rental.  But they wanted their preferences, especially about the location of a new home, to be the starting point of help.  Plans should be tailored to include specific, personalised housing advice and support. We are working with experts on a personalised housing plan tool ‘Advice Aid’, which allows advisers to use ‘snippets’ of advice to create a tailored plan.

‘I would like to make it quite clear to them…I’m not being selective or being picky… I just want somewhere that I like living, you know?’

We urge local housing authorities to value the experiences and recommendations of homeless service users, and make sure that the needs and preferences of homeless people are placed at the centre of the design of their personalised housing plans as they gear up to implement the Act.

To read more, take a look at our briefing.