CHAPTER 3 - WAYS OF WORKING
3.1 Summary - this chapter sets out how relevant parts of local authorities should work in partnership to deliver effective services to homeless people, and gives advice on drawing up relevant protocols on working together and sharing information. The Homelessness Task Force emphasised the need for homelessness services to be provided in partnership and in a way which responds to the individual needs of each applicant. Local authorities should therefore assess the applicant household's needs in their entirety and should work in partnership across departments and with other agencies to meet those needs, and in such a way that applicants feel valued and respected.
3.2 The defining characteristic of homeless people is that they need a home, and homeless people as such should not necessarily be regarded as a community care client group or in need of other types of support. However, it must be acknowledged that homeless people may require housing support services, social work support, health care, assistance in rebuilding social networks and accessing employment and training opportunities and a range of other support services.
3.3 Housing departments must co-operate as necessary with other council departments and landlords and a wide range of statutory, voluntary and private sector agencies in order to ensure that the support which is required is provided. Other departments must also ensure that they deliver services and adopt policies which are consistent with the aim of preventing and tackling homelessness. Effective co-operation is particularly important when such support is required to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place or to ensure the homeless person can maintain him or herself in a new home, and does not become homeless again.
3.4 Scottish Executive guidance on the development of homelessness strategies contains further guidance on ensuring broad corporate awareness of prevention, risk and the causes of homelessness within the local authority. It also emphasises the importance of working in partnership with other statutory and voluntary organisations and contains an illustrative list of organisations who should be involved in the development of the homelessness strategy and the role they can fulfil.
3.5 The research carried out for the Homelessness Task Force concluded that good joint working between agencies working with homeless people requires:
- good communication between agency staff and between staff and service users including regular face to face meetings;
- a clear commitment to working together to improve service delivery
- close working relationships in which people feel able to be open and honest about difficulties and concerns;
- having clear and agreed roles, aims and boundaries that are adhered to; and
3.6 Through the development of their homelessness strategies local authorities and partners should consider ways in which these requirements can be met. In particular local authorities should ensure that there is provision for joint training approaches which involve all sectors and providers with a role to play in delivering the homelessness strategy. As a minimum, training should cover the definition of homelessness, risk assessment techniques to help "first-to-know" agencies to respond effectively, needs assessment, support packages, consultation techniques, information sharing and how to help and empower homeless people to find appropriate solutions. All partners should be involved in jointly assessing training needs and arranging for these needs to be met.
3.7 Strategies should also provide for the development and agreement of inter-agency protocols, particularly where these are necessary to clarify arrangements for preventing homelessness. Such protocols should cover basic contact details, information sharing and procedures for swift communication of any new developments ( e.g. new legislation) alongside more detailed information regarding operational practices. The implementation of these protocols should be monitored in order that they can be revised if necessary. All protocols and partnerships should be periodically evaluated. For further guidance on protocols governing local authority/ RSL arrangements for implementing section 5 of the 2001 Act see paragraphs 9.72-9.73 in Chapter 9.
3.8 All protocols, and wider arrangements, should take account of the need to develop an information sharing regime which preserves client confidentiality, without erecting barriers to timely action to help homeless people.
3.9 The Data Protection Act 1998 does not prevent data sharing if a data protection regime is in place to ensure that data held about individuals is treated properly. The Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland carry out training for housing professionals on the Data Protection Act 22 which may be a useful source of reference. However legal advice should be taken at the point when protocols are being agreed. See paragraphs 4.27-4.30 in chapter 4 on sharing of information for some further guidance.
3.10 Local authorities and partners should work towards establishing a common definition of vulnerability in order to ensure that all the needs of the household can be met. However agencies should also be aware that partners may be working to different legislative definitions for certain aspects of their work. Whilst every attempt should be made to take a flexible approach, and to find a solution which best meets the need of the homeless household, agencies should be aware that these differences may affect the criteria used in different assessments.
3.11 All partners should also be involved in monitoring implementation of the strategy and should be represented on any fora established for this purpose.
3.12 In some cases a legal duty to give such assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances may exist:
- Section 38 of the 1987 Act provides that if a local authority requests another local authority in Scotland, or a local housing or social services authority in England or Wales, or Communities Scotland, or a registered housing association, to assist it in carrying out its homelessness functions under the Act; the body receiving that request must co-operate in giving whatever assistance is reasonable in the circumstances.
- Requests by English and Welsh local authorities of Scottish bodies are covered by a reciprocal provision in section 213 of the Housing Act 1996.
- The duty to meet requests placed by section 38(a) on a local authority, Communities Scotland or a registered housing association relates to the full range of a local authority's homelessness functions, including making inquiries, providing accommodation and assistance, and referring an unintentionally homeless person in priority need to another local authority.
- Under section 38(c) a local authority can be asked to assist with the protection of the property of a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness. Local authorities should be particularly aware of the need to protect the property of people entering prison, in order that it can be accessed on release, to facilitate resettlement. (see paragraphs 2.32-2.40 in Chapter 2 for more detailed guidance on how to resettle ex-prisoners).
- Section 39 of the Act empowers local authorities to give assistance to voluntary bodies' services for homeless people, including advice, advocacy and accommodation services, by way of grant or loan, or by giving such bodies the use of premises, or the services of local authority staff, or by making available furniture or other goods as a gift or loan or otherwise.
3.13 However, the absence of a formal legal duty should not act as a barrier to joint working. Rather this should be predicated on meeting local needs, as identified by the homelessness assessment required by section 1 of the 2001 Act, and implementing effectively the actions set out in the homelessness strategy. Local authorities can enter into contractual or other arrangements with external bodies for the provision of homelessness services.
Involving people affected by homelessness
3.14 The Homelessness Task Force recommended that the objectives of increasing homeless people's control and extending their choices, and achieving the effective participation of people affected by homelessness in the development of future policy, practice and service delivery should be widely promoted and given practical effect in all activities directed at tackling homelessness.
3.15 Local authorities and other partners should ensure that the views of homeless people, people at risk of homelessness and people resettling from homelessness are reflected in the development of the homelessness strategy. Agencies should explore different ways in which people using their services can be involved in the design, delivery and management of these services. Agencies should also seek feedback from users of their services as part of their monitoring and evaluation processes, and be prepared to describe changes which have come about as a result of client feedback.
3.16 Care should be taken to ensure that homeless people are not prevented from moving on from homelessness due to their involvement in developing homelessness policy or services, nor that participating gives, or is perceived to give, any unfair advantage to a participating homeless household.
Providing an individual response
3.17 All services should ensure that they are promoting and practising values which deliver responsive and personalised services. Staff should ensure that accommodation and services are offered on the basis of a thorough assessment of the applicant's needs and that these needs are addressed in a holistic fashion. The emphasis should be on finding sustainable solutions - not on a rigid application of the legislation which does not take into account the individual circumstances of the household (although an individual's entitlements should never be undermined).
3.18 Action should be taken promptly to prevent homelessness occurring where this is a risk. Agencies must work together to find creative and lasting solutions, rather than allow organisational barriers to get in the way of helping the applicant. The needs of all members of the household should be taken into account - where necessary intensive interpersonal support should be available to parents and children, both on an individual basis and as a family, for example.
3.19 Service providers should maintain the highest standards at all times. In particular they should ensure that they are complying with the Performance Standards set by Communities Scotland (discussed in paragraph 1.11 in chapter 1). A range of information on the Standards, self assessment, good practice examples and other reference materials is available online 23 The Scottish Housing Best Value Network 24 is also a useful resource for local authorities wishing to benchmark and improve their performance. The network incorporates a homelessness sub-group. The National Care Standards will also be relevant to some services - further information can be found on the Care Commission's website. 25
3.20 Members of staff should make serious efforts to ensure that clients feel valued and respected - and this ethos should be encouraged as part of staff training. Homelessness applicants should be at the centre of service provision and staff should ensure that the applicant is kept well informed as to local policies and procedures and that the process of making a decision on their application is clearly explained in terms that they can easily understand. Care should be taken to ensure that materials and communications are appropriate for, and accessible to, a diverse range of clients. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the different experiences of homelessness and service requirements of people of differing age, family background, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation and belief are recognised.