1 August 2018

It is evident that the supply of the right type of housing is vital if we are to end homelessness. However, an increase in housing supply by itself will not provide the solution if homeless people are unable to access homes or keep hold of them.

As part of our recently published Plan to End Homelessness, Crisis have been working with the Homes for Cathy group of housing associations to create 9 commitments. We are challenging housing associations to strengthen their role in ending homelessness by adopting these aspirational standards as a tool to develop their policies and practices.

It was clear from the extensive consultation we undertook to inform the plan and from the feedback from our own services for homeless people that associations are a critical partner in ending homelessness.

However, we also received feedback that associations’ approaches to preventing and relieving homelessness were inconsistent across the UK. Therefore, the commitments focus on how associations allocate their homes, how they provide homes to the most marginalised homeless people and how they support their tenants to stay in their home.

It should be clear that we recognise that associations will need to work in partnership to achieve these ambitions. They also require local authorities to actively engage with their local associations and to share the aims of this commitment. We also recognise that welfare reform has presented challenges in providing affordable housing, which require changes in government policy to support associations to provide homes to those most impacted.

We made sure that nothing we proposed wasn’t already being delivered by individual associations. So, the challenge is one of scaling up rather than devising new approaches. There is great practice within the sector but it is not universal and we cannot, currently, honestly say that homeless people across every part of the UK can rely on a housing association to help them end their homelessness.

The creation of a duty to refer within The Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) in England is a beginning. We welcome a housing association voluntary commitment to refer their tenants where they themselves have not been able to prevent homelessness but would challenge associations to go further. The 9 commitments are intended to go further and act as a commitment to co-operate on homelessness. We feel this would be a powerful statement of intent and pass the challenge back to local authorities and to the voluntary sector to step up.

At recent conferences, I have had several conversations with operational managers and officers within associations who have felt that the unintended consequences of association policy and practice can mean the poorest or most vulnerable applicants aren’t getting access to social housing. We appreciate there are challenges faced by associations in providing homes to those most in need but the "Homes for Cathy" members have shown that associations do have the appetite to overcome these challenges to end homelessness and that it can be done. So, the question to associations becomes not whether you can end homelessness but how can you justify not doing it?

Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock is the Head of Housing for Crisis

Chris is responsible for Crisis’ direct housing services across their 11 centres in England, Scotland and Wales as well as leading on their innovation and best practice work. He leads Crisis’ practice work to support Local Authorities to make the most of the opportunities presented by the Homeless Reduction Act in England and also our partnership with the Homes for Cathy Group of Housing Associations. Previously to working for Crisis he managed Housing Needs and Options Services for Exeter City Council and in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Housing associations working together to end homelessness