New research initiative will use local authority data to evaluate if homelessness policy is working

The project comes at a critical time, with the housing of rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic providing a unique opportunity to better understand what works to keep people off the streets long-term. The data will enable assessment of the long-term impacts of the lockdown on homelessness in England.

By linking together data about homelessness provided by local authorities with data from other government departments and health agencies, the project will help MHCLG improve understanding of the causes and impacts of homelessness. This will help decision makers monitor which policies associated with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 – which placed significant new duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent and reduce homelessness – can most effectively improve the lives of people across the country. The announcement comes as the first batch of data sharing agreements between central and local government have now been signed.

Specifically, the project will initially involve linking Homelessness Case Level Information Collection (H-CLIC) data – which records local authorities’ actions under the Homelessness Reduction Act – from local authorities in England. This will then be linked to data from rough sleeping initiatives, collected via the Rough Sleeping Questionnaire. The Homelessness Data England project also aims to bring in data from other government departments, health agencies and charities to evaluate homelessness interventions and understand the wider impacts of homelessness on other areas of an individual or family’s life.

From the second quarter of 2018 to the same period in 2019, there was an 11.4% increase (from 61,210 to 68,170) in the number of households assessed by local authorities in England as either homeless or threatened with homelessness [1]. In response to this, the UK Government has committed £437 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in 2020/21, and in February 2020 the Prime Minister announced an additional £326 million to support rough sleeping initiatives [2].

The newly linked data will enable assessment of how well rough sleeping initiatives and action to reduce homelessness are working, to identify the factors associated with homelessness and how best to address these. For example, it will allow the development of a better understanding of whether homelessness is resolved in the long-term, particularly across local authority boundaries.

A de-identified version of the newly linked dataset will be made available to accredited researchers through the ONS Secure Research Service next year. Only research projects which are feasible, legal, ethical and in the public interest will be approved.

Dr Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK, said: “We are extremely excited about this project, and the potential it has for informing policy and practice that could improve the lives of people who experience, or are at risk of, homelessness.  With numbers on the rise, a thorough knowledge of the forces at play is essential to tackling the issue. By linking together existing data from across the country, we can gather a better understanding of where the problems lie, and of what really works to reduce homelessness.”

Stephen Aldridge, Chief Economist and Director of the Analysis and Data Directorate at MHCLG, said: “Tackling homelessness and reducing rough sleeping is a key priority for MHCLG. Gaining a better understanding of the drivers of homelessness and rough sleeping and how to improve outcomes for those affected is really important to us. The findings will help MHCLG and colleagues across government develop policies and services better designed to meet people’s needs. This can only be achieved if we make greater use of data available, including linking the data we collect together with data from other sources.

“I am very proud that analysts at MHCLG are leading this piece of work and leading the way in linking data across Whitehall. I am grateful to ADR UK and ONS for their support to deliver this important piece of work which will pay dividends for years to come.”

Frankie Kay, Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Data Capability at the ONS, said: “Homelessness remains one of the most pressing humanitarian issues that our society faces. A clear understanding of its causes has, in the past, been difficult due to a lack of data. Now, accessing front-line data from local authorities could prove vital in understanding the varied and complicated reasons why people become homeless across the country. This will allow governments to put in place policies which can effectively offer support to those who most need it. I look forward to working with researchers to understand the complexities of this data through our Secure Research Service once the data becomes available.”

Dr Lígia Teixeira, Chief Executive Officer at the Centre for Homelessness Impact, said: “No-one should ever be without a home, and there is a commitment at all levels of government to end all forms of homelessness. Having access to strong, high-quality evidence about what works and what doesn’t can help to ensure that we are making the best use of limited resources. Because people who experience homelessness often use multiple systems, administrative data can make visible what may otherwise be hidden aspects of the homelessness problem.

“I’m delighted that this initiative will help identify gaps that need to be filled to prevent and reduce the duration of homelessness episodes, and we look forward to using the insights towards our shared goal of ending homelessness for good.”

Find out more on the Homelessness Data England project page.

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