Pioneering homelessness prevention pilot saves almost £900,000 for the public purse

Riverside Housing’s ‘payment-by-results’ approach achieves 96% success rate, transforming the lives of 36 families in Sefton, Merseyside 

A pioneering homelessness prevention pilot programme has transformed the lives of 36 families in Sefton, Merseyside, by taking a new approach to protecting and supporting some of the most vulnerable families in the borough. 

The pilot scheme, which was created and delivered by Riverside Housing Group in partnership with Sefton Council, has saved taxpayers almost £900,000 in less than three years. 

All but one of the 37 families helped by the service has been successfully housed and settled in more sustainable housing in Sefton.   

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 and prevent them from falling into temporary accommodation or shelters.  

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, compared with £26.7 million in 2010/11 – the equivalent to a 605% increase in local authority spend on B&B emergency accommodation over the last decade. 

Due to its high level of success, the two-year Sefton Families Service pilot has been extended by 6 months and Council chiefs are currently considering whether they can maintain the homelessness prevention service for the long term. 

The Sefton Families Service was launched by Sefton Council and Riverside Housing in December 2019 as part of the Sefton Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy.  

Funded by the Riverside Impact Fund – which aims to provide opportunities to test outcomes-based commissioning models – its mission was to find a new approach to protect and support some of the most vulnerable families in the borough, whilst reducing council expenditure on costly bed and breakfast and other private rented sector accommodation. 

The 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 Housing.  

If the family successfully met the conditions of their temporary supported licence agreement, they were able to transition to a regular social housing tenancy with Riverside, at the same property, 12 months later.  

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 service has had a profound effect on the stability, wellbeing, and independence of the families taking part. Of the 37 families involved, only one failed to successfully progress to a regular social housing tenancy with Riverside in Sefton, due to a preference for being housed in a different borough.  

Among the 36 families who completed the pilot, all have successfully maintained their tenancies, and there have been no repeat homeless presentations.  

The Sefton Families Service has been delivered using a payments-by-results approach. 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. 

Lee Buss-Blair, Riverside’s Director of Operations, said: “We believe preventing homelessness needs to become a national priority as part of the Government’s homelessness and rough sleeping strategy. 

“When families fall into homelessness and temporary accommodation it can have a devastating impact on both children and adults by placing them in old-fashioned B&B style accommodation, which does not have private kitchen and bathrooms or spaces for children to play and do homework. This kind of accommodation is completely unfit for a family’s needs.  

“Temporary accommodation also has a huge negative effect on councils by costing them more than £1bn a year and by producing poor outcomes which continues rather than breaks the cycle of homelessness. 

“The Sefton Families Service shows what can be achieved when organisations like Sefton Council and Riverside come together to deliver the right kind of person-centred support that families we need.  

“By helping our customers develop the life skills they need to maintain a stable tenancy for the long term, we significantly reduce the risk of them ever experiencing homelessness again. 

“By working together, we can help to transform the lives of families, break the cycle of temporary accommodation and homelessness, and save councils and government millions of pounds.” 

Cllr Trish Hardy, Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing, said: “This Council has a long-standing duty to help people experiencing homelessness and supporting those families who have approached the Council for assistance. 

“I am very proud of the work our teams do to help combat homelessness and these findings are testament to how dedicated we, along with our partners, are to combatting homelessness. 

“No family wants to find themselves homeless and this project looks to assist those families most in need of accommodation to break the cycle of homelessness. 

“Our partnership with Riverside is just one of many efforts we make to help change the lives and fortunes of some of our most in need residents.” 

Riverside is calling on the UK Government for a greater focus on services and initiatives that reduce homelessness by preventing it from occurring in the first place.  

Nearly four-fifths of temporary accommodation for homeless households in the UK is currently met by using the private rented sector. According to a report published by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and the Centre for Homelessness in October 2021, Local Authorities could save £572m each year by moving all households at risk of homelessness out of the costly private rental sector, including B&B accommodation, and into social housing. 

Case Study 

The Family 

Mum, Kirsty, age 30 

Son, age 3 

Daughter age 2  

Current living situation 

Kirsty and her children live in Bootle, in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, around 4 miles north of Liverpool city centre. She is a tenant of the Riverside Housing Group, one of the UK’s largest providers of accommodation for people affected by homelessness. 

Kirsty and the children have lived in their current home – initially on a supported licence agreement – since February 2021. After a year of intensive support from the Sefton Families Service, Kirsty transitioned to a regular social housing tenancy at the same property in March 2022. It is the family’s first ever permanent home, and Kirsty’s first permanent address since 2018.  

The house, which is part of a new-build housing estate and has good rail and bus services to Liverpool city centre, has three bedrooms, with gardens to the front and rear. Kirsty was referred to the Sefton Families Service in early 2021, by the Sefton Council Housing Options Team. 

Kirsty’s story 

At the time of her referral to the Sefton Families Service, Kirsty and her children – then a new born baby and a one-year-old infant – were living in a single room in rented accommodation. 

Kirsty had become homeless in 2020 when her relationship with the father of her children broke down. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child.  

A chaotic year followed. Kirsty and her son (who was then a very young baby) stayed with friends and relatives for a number of months, sleeping on sofas and in spare rooms. During the remainder of her pregnancy, they lived at four separate addresses.  

In July 2020, at 7.5 months pregnant, Kirsty was hospitalised. Her second child was born soon afterwards, a month prematurely. Kirsty and the children lived at her brother’s address for a short time after her second child was born, but were asked to leave when he returned from a period of working away. 

In November 2020, Kirsty moved to the Stella Nova 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. Kirsty says she was very stressed during her time at the hostel, suffering with depression and anxiety. She says the hostel did not feel like a safe environment. Kirsty says her mental health deteriorated significantly during this period, and her young son’s behaviour was also noticeably affected – he would frequently become upset and distressed, hitting and kicking at Kirsty in frustration. 

In early 2021, Kirsty was referred to the Sefton Families Service by the Venus Centre in Bootle. She was subsequently offered a supported living tenancy with the Riverside Housing Group, at a 3-bedroomed property in Bootle. Kirsty viewed the property with her case worker from the Venus Centre, and met Clare – her assigned specialist support worker from Riverside – for the first time. Although initially very wary, Kirsty liked the property, and moved into it in February 2021. 

After she moved into the property, Kirsty received 12 months of intensive support from Riverside, via her specialist case worker Clare. Initially visiting Kirsty once a week (later reduced to once every two weeks), for up to an hour per visit, Clare was also available for ad hoc telephone support. She helped Kirsty to create a support plan with some achievable goals, including setting up utilities, applying for benefits, and registering for a nursery place for her son. Clare helped Kirsty to create a structure for her budgeting, finances, and daily routine. 

With Clare’s help, Kirsty successfully applied for a £250 resettlement grant from the Church Housing Trust charity, to contribute towards furniture and equipment for her new home. Clare also helped Kirsty to access an additional grant of £1,400 from the Buttle Trust and Family Action charities, to pay towards garden play equipment, toys, clothes, materials to decorate, and additional items for the house.   

Impact of support 

Fourteen months after she moved into the property, Kirsty says that the impact of having a safe, secure, and appropriate place to live has transformed her life, and that of her children. She says that they feel settled for the first time in years, and that their lives have the structure and security they were previously missing.  

As result, Kirsty says her mental health has improved, and her relationship with her children is happier and calmer. She and the children have plenty of living space, including secure indoor and outdoor space where the children can play. The local community ‘has a good feeling about it’ – Kirsty says they feel safe and have good neighbours. She and the children enjoy visiting the local park and the swimming pool at the local leisure centre. 

After successfully sustaining a supported licence agreement with Riverside for twelve months, Kirsty was able to transition to a general needs social housing tenancy (also with Riverside), signing her new tenancy agreement in March 2022. From that point, the support from her support worker Clare rolled into a ‘keep in touch’ basis for eight weeks, during which time Clare signposted appropriate local organisations who could offer support to Kirsty should she need it at any time in the future. 

Kirsty says that for the first time in a long time, she feels positive and confident about the future. Her son is already at nursery, and her daughter will start in July 2022. In September 2022, Kirsty is planning to enrol at the local FE college to study health and social care, and hopes to pursue a career in social care.  

Kirsty said: 

“Our lives have completely changed for the better, I feel so lucky that Riverside was around. The help from my support worker Clare has been massive, I genuinely couldn’t have done it without her. I love the house, the neighbourhood, and the fact that the kids have a garden to play in. We are so much happier and healthier, I feel like I have been able to shut out all the negativity that was in my life before. I hope we can stay here forever.”