Homelessness Data England: Providing the missing link in homelessness research
Written by 1 October 2020
Researchers from the Homelessness Data England (HDE) project within the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) discuss how this initiative will improve our understanding of homelessness and help inform more effective interventions.
The 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) and the Homelessness Case Level Data Collection (H-CLIC) enabled by it provide a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of homelessness. The HRA significantly reformed homelessness legislation in England, requiring early interventions from local authorities to prevent homelessness and service provision to all affected, not just those with priority needs. The H-CLIC data collection enables the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government (MHCLG) to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the HRA, as well as to measure the effectiveness of a range of homelessness interventions.
However, the way data is collected currently limits our understanding of those who have moved to other areas and have become homeless again over time, as well as the long-term impacts on their outcomes. Similar, but better-linked data have been used successfully to evaluate the Troubled Families programme – an innovative project which provided a unique family and individual level linked dataset on over one million individuals for analysis.
The HDE project will fill this gap and help to develop our understanding of how people who are homeless move across local authorities. HDE is funded by Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) and led by MHCLG, in collaboration with Office of National Statistics (ONS) and local authorities. We explain the project below and why we believe it’s important, as well as our longer-term ambitions, progress so far, and plans for the future.
What are we doing?
Local authorities already submit H-CLIC data to MHCLG for our statutory homelessness statistics. In addition to the data already submitted, local authorities have been asked to provide personal identifiers. The personal identifiers will be used to create a de-identified ID spine: a look-up table that will be used to match the homelessness data collected for statistical purposes and other data on interventions provided to rough sleepers. This data processing will be carried out by ONS, acting as our trusted third party. The personal identifiers will not be shared with researchers, who will be able to access a fully de-identified version of the dataset.
In the future, the ID spine will also provide further opportunities to link to data held by other government departments and health agencies (for example to look at health, benefits, and offending outcomes) to improve the evidence of the factors associated with homelessness.
How is this data useful for research?
Making this data available for research will help MHCLG in its commitment to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping, and can provide other benefits such as identifying effective interventions.
H-CLIC is the only consistent nationwide data collected on homelessness, and linking it to other administrative data sources could substantially improve our understanding of the factors associated with homelessness, and provide evidence of a wider range of outcomes. In the long-term, we aim to link the H-CLIC data to data held by the Ministry of Justice, Department for Education, Public Health England and NHS Digital to enable us to:
- Provide valuable information about the cycle of homelessness and its impact on a range of outcomes for individuals and household members, particularly young people.
- Assess the effectiveness of the HRA and a range of homelessness and rough sleeping interventions.
- Help central and local government make evidence-based spending decisions.
- Improve services provided to those who are or at risk of becoming homeless.
Gathering better data on homelessness and rough sleeping has become even more important this year. In March 2020, local authorities worked round the clock to find suitable accommodation for those sleeping rough to reduce the spread of coronavirus and protect the health of vulnerable people. The hope is that those housed in the emergency response to the pandemic will stay off the streets permanently.
If we can collect data on those who have been helped by local authorities this year, we will be able to measure their longer-term outcomes even if they are not being helped with their housing. Some will lose touch with local authorities and drop out of the H-CLIC data collection, though they may continue to receive treatment for substance misuse or claim housing benefit. By linking to data from other sources we can measure these outcomes and gather data to understand more about the impact of recent interventions for rough sleepers during the pandemic.
Where we are now?
With the support of ONS and ADR UK, the HDE team within MHCLG have been working through ethical, legal and data security issues since 2019, setting up the project and preparing documents to make the sharing of personal identifiers of those in the H-CLIC system possible. More specifically,
- We have been working closely with lawyers, data security experts, to ensure we meet the requirements of the new data protection legislation and prepared a full Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA).
- We have collaborated with ONS, as the trusted third-party processor, working through the project design and data flows and ensuring robust data security measures are in place.
- We have considered potential issues and prepared a guidance document for local authorities to provide reassurance about sharing data with MHCLG, and drafted templates for the Data Sharing Agreement (DSA) with local authorities.
Although we feel the project has come a long way in the last few months, we still have a long journey ahead of us. In early August of this year, we consulted with a small group of local authorities on a draft version of the DSA before we sent it out to all local authorities. We are hoping to receive the first wave of personal identifiers from local authorities by the end of this year to allow us to start creating the de-identified ID spine.
We have also started discussions with other government departments and health agencies to discuss linking to their data, with a view to getting agreements in place next year.
Analysis and Data Directorate, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Find out more on the Homelessness Data England project page.