Homelessness prevention can save councils millions and end cycle of despair for families 

 Sefton Council saves £900,000 thanks to homelessness prevention scheme with 96% success rate 

By John Glenton, Executive Director of Care and Support at Riverside 

Tackling homelessness after it has happened can be expensive. 

The latest Government figures for 2020/21 show that the total spend on temporary accommodation for homeless households was £1.36bn.  

Meanwhile thetotal expenditure on B&B accommodation for homeless households was £444.4m. 

Of that £444.4m, councils in England spent £188.3million of their own money placing homeless households in bed and breakfasts in 2020/21. 

In 2010/11 English councils spent just £26.7 million – this equates to a 605% increase in local authority spend on B&B emergency accommodation in a decade  

Temporary accommodation can be expensive and ineffective 

Not only is temporary accommodation expensive it also does not stop the revolving door of homelessness for families. 

As a victim of domestic abuse by the time Kathy had reached the homelessness prevention service, she had already lived at four separate addresses during her pregnancy  

In July 2020, at 7.5 months pregnant, Kathy was hospitalised. Her second child was born soon afterwards, a month prematurely.  

In November 2020, Kathy moved to a hostel in Bootle. She and her two babies lived in a small one-room bedsit, with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities for a period of three months. Kathy says she was very stressed during her time at the hostel and suffered depression and anxiety. Kathy and her two children deserved a better start.  

The benefits of prevention  

The philosophy that ‘prevention is better than cure’ has been attributed to the 16th Century Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. 

It is now a fundamental principle of health and social care strategies across the UK. 

However, despite this wisdom being widely accepted it had not transformed into how the country at large tackles homelessness until the publication of the Government’s new rough sleeping strategy, which called for a ‘prevention first’ approach and launched last month <September>. 

Riverside believe in the value of prevention so much we invested our time and money in a payment by results model which would only see Sefton Council pay us is if we succeeded in preventing homelessness. 

The pilot uses learning from Housing First to prevent homelessness by providing strengths based person-centred support for families to help them sustain a tenancy. 

The Sefton Families Service targeted families with a history of failed tenancies who would benefit from intensive homelessness prevention support.   

Families taking part in the pilot were matched with a suitable 2-3 bedroomed home in Sefton, initially on a supported licence agreement (a type of contractual tenancy) with Riverside.  

As part of the pilot, each family also received twelve months of intensive support from a specialist Riverside support worker.  

With a minimum of weekly contact including doorstep visits, the support worker helped families to develop the skills they needed to sustain their tenancy, including support around benefits, debt, rent arrears, utilities, health, domestic abuse, hate crime and anti-social behaviour.  

The families were supported to successfully meet the conditions of their temporary supported licence agreement, and they were then able to transition to a regular social housing tenancy with Riverside, at the same property, 12 months later.  

Quantifying success 

This homelessness prevention service has had a profound effect on the stability, wellbeing, and independence of the families taking part.  

Of the 37 families involved, 36 have successfully progressed to a regular social housing tenancy with Riverside. Those families, including Kathy and her two children, now have a good, safe, secure and affordable home to call their own.  

The pilot scheme also has a benefit to the wider public having saved Sefton taxpayers almost £900,000 in less than three years. 

During an evaluation of the project Kathy told us her life has completely changed for the better and they she genuinely couldn’t have done it without her support worker.  

Kathy loves her new house, the neighbourhood, and the fact that the kids have a garden to play in and says she feels so much happier and healthier than before. 

Due to its success, the two-year Sefton Families Service pilot has been extended by six months and council chiefs are currently considering whether they can maintain the homelessness prevention service for the long term. 

An independent evaluation of the pilot found that it generated a saving of £24,394 per family, generating the equivalent return of £3.36 for every £1 spent on delivering the service. 

The positive difference homelessness prevention has made to Kathy and her two young children is priceless.

This article was first published in The MJ on 10 October 2022