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Turned Away: the treatment of single homeless people by local authority homelessness services in England Sarah Dobie & Ben Saunders.

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Presentation on theme: "Turned Away: the treatment of single homeless people by local authority homelessness services in England Sarah Dobie & Ben Saunders."— Presentation transcript:

1 Turned Away: the treatment of single homeless people by local authority homelessness services in England Sarah Dobie & Ben Saunders

2 About the research Aim: to examine the quality of information and advice available to single homeless people Eight mystery shoppers with previous experience of homelessness made 87 visits to 16 local authorities across England to try and access help All played characters who were currently homeless and each had a particular story to explain their circumstances Mystery shoppers presented as one of four characters, each was tested twice (with both a male and a female mystery shopper): Person with learning difficulties and mental health problems Person experiencing domestic violence from a relative or partner Young person Rough sleeper

3 Assessment process I Detailed assessments are vital to identify what individuals need help with and what the options for assisting them are All local authorities used an initial tick-box assessment of their needs which was not adequate to understand mystery shoppers’ circumstances and the majority (59/87) employed a triage system An initial assessment with customer services staff followed by a detailed interview with a Housing Advisor Interviews with Housing Advisors regularly focused on determining that mystery shoppers were not eligible for help rather than how they could be helped I feel angry as I was not questioned more about my circumstances. How can they make decisions if they don’t know the full story?

4 Assessment process II In 29/87 visits mystery shoppers were turned away from LAs without any assessment of their needs Either because they needed to supply photo ID or proof of their homelessness or because they did not need to see a Housing Advisor because they were not considered a priority need for assistance Emphasis was regularly placed on the need for mystery shoppers to “prove” their case Use of paper or online assessment forms also prevented mystery shoppers from being assessed Overall, the assessment process was confusing and the opportunity to make a homelessness application was rarely mentioned In 3/87 visits mystery shoppers received a Section 184 notification I waited for two hours 20 minutes but left after two hours 30 minutes. Seeing advisor was only ten minutes.

5 Other factors influencing the assessment process A lack of privacy and empathy from staff compromises the effectiveness of the assessment process Privacy was extremely important to mystery shoppers but was not offered in the vast majority of visits Initial assessments conducted at reception desks within ear shot of the waiting area and private rooms not always used for interviews with Housing Advisors Staff attitude impacted on how at ease mystery shoppers feel which in turn affected their ability to present their case Staff sometimes described as “robotic” and “emotionless” It was embarrassing having to explain everything in front of all the other waiting people and then be told that I could not get any help I felt he had zero sympathy for my situation…I wouldn’t go back there I’d just try something else… It feels like a really humiliating feeling

6 Assistance provided Characters considered priority need received far better assistance - though this happened at just 20/87 visits Accommodation was arranged for non-priority mystery shoppers at 17 visits, either via mediation (10 visits) or the provision of temporary accommodation (7 visits) In 50 out of 87 visits mystery shoppers received no help at all or very limited assistance E.g. generic information about the PRS and other third sector organisations who may be able to help or brief advice about the benefits system Significant regional differences in the quality of assistance and service – with LAs outside of London performing better It’s about just processing people and getting them seen and then out of the door. They don’t realise it’s their job to help you It is so discouraging going in for help and not being given somewhere to stay that night because I’m deemed fit and healthy



9 Conclusions from the research The findings highlight the variable quality of the help some of the most vulnerable people in society receive Receiving assistance is dependent on an individual qualifying for the main housing duty rather than a proactive attempt to resolve someone’s situation and prevent homelessness It is more cost effective to provide meaningful support at first contact with a local authority than to delay assistance Crisis is calling for the Government to review the help that single homeless people receive under the legislation Other recommendations include: improving training, expanding the data collected on homelessness and increasing the amount of funding local authorities receive to provide these services

10 What’s next? Sharing findings with local authorities at events and on an individual basis Identifying next steps – where and how can Crisis help tackle internal and external barriers to good service provision No One Turned Away campaign – the petition now has over 35,000 signatures Intervention in a Supreme Court case challenging how vulnerability is defined New research: Nations Apart? published in December looking at the differences in the experiences of single homeless people approaching their local authority for help across Great Britain For more info about the research: or email me:

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