Developing standards in emergency and temporary accommodation

Collaborating across the voluntary sector, private sector and the local authority to improve accommodation offers for people needing emergency accommodation


During the COVID-19 pandemic the already high demand for emergency accommodation has risen acutely, and the ‘Everyone In’ initiative brought to the public’s attention the large numbers of people needing safe accommodation spaces. However, emergency accommodation, and often temporary accommodation, options are largely unsupported and largely unregulated spaces and throughout Fulfilling Lives’ work across Brighton and & Hove and East Sussex, we have seen and listened to stories that demonstrate how people experiencing the vulnerability and disruption of homelessness are frequently left unsupported and living in substandard conditions.

Recent figures published in a research briefing by the House of Commons Library show that by the end of March 2021, there were 95,450 households in temporary accommodation, almost the highest number in two decades. Case studies published in Fulfilling Lives’ Manifesto for Change highlight how people experiencing multiple and complex needs in temporary accommodation will often have a lack of information about their rights and responsibilities as residents and be placed in properties managed by staff who are not trained to accommodate/work with people with complex needs. The TA provider is also often unaware of the needs and risks of clients due to restricted information sharing between providers and local authorities and for some TA providers, an absence of joint working with existing support services. Issues around safety have frequently been reported in Fulfilling Lives casework, in particular the prevalence of gender-based violence in temporary and emergency accommodation, where our female clients have reported experiences of sexual abuse and exploitation from male residents.

“I can never sleep. I wedge a chair in front of my door to stop anyone from getting in but I sit waiting for the door to be kicked in.”

Fulfilling Lives client

Setting out standards

As part of Fulfilling Lives work on improving support for people with multiple and complex needs who are experiencing homelessness, a Charter setting out a reasonable standard of emergency accommodation has been developed in collaboration with Justlife and the Brighton & Hove Temporary Accommodation Action Group (‘TAAG’).

The Charter recognises that a significant amount of people placed in emergency accommodation will have multiple and complex needs and as a result will require additional support. To meet these needs and to ensure that the standards of accommodation provided are acceptable, the Charter calls for;

– Clear information regarding the emergency accommodation placement to be given to residents.

– Collaborative working between the local authority, providers, support services and residents so that they have the best possible access to support.

– For accommodation staff to be trained with a focus on safeguarding, Multiple and Complex Needs awareness and trauma informed care (TIC) and Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) approaches.

– For providers to maintain an approach, behaviour and commitment to ensure the conditions of their properties are at a reasonable standard consistently and that residents have the best possible chance of moving on from homelessness.

The origins of the Charter

The document builds on the Charter developed by the Eastbourne Citizens Advice and the East Sussex Temporary Accommodation Action Group (‘TAAG’). The Eastbourne Citizens Advice team conducted research into local emergency and temporary accommodation, interviewing residents and recording their experiences of living in these forms of accommodation. The feedback shone a light on some worrying practices, building issues, and environments that the team felt could be interpreted into the Charter of standards. This was supported by members of the East Sussex TAAG and verbally supported by the local authorities.

The Charter for Brighton & Hove has been tailored from the East Sussex version to speak to the local needs. It has been developed from Fulfilling Lives, Justlife and other TAAG members’ work with hundreds of people placed in emergency accommodation over the past 7 years.

Adopting the Charter for Brighton & Hove

After working closely with local Temporary Accommodation Action Groups and discussion about the adoption of the Charter with local authority housing departments, we were pleased the most recent Brighton and Hove Housing Committee heard that –

“The next emergency accommodation contract will both include higher standards aligned to the emergency accommodation charter and will for the first time be awarded 50% on quality and 50% on cost. To allow this to happen, the 2021/21 budget includes £0.230m extra investment to enhance the level of service in the re-procurement of emergency accommodation. We hope this will lead to improvement in both conditions and practice.”

The adoption of the Charter offers a contractual framework to set out clearly to providers the standards the city requires for emergency accommodation and also holds providers to account, providing a basis for sustainable accountability to these standards of accommodation. This is a significant step towards improving the physical and emotional wellbeing of those placed in emergency accommodation and is an example of systems change work in practice.

‘Justlife welcomes the adoption of many aspects of the charter within the new emergency accommodation contract. We hope that the new contract will improve the experience for clients in EA, drive up standards and provide more choice in the city.’

Martin Coll, Justlife

However, there is still more to be done. With Eastbourne due to release its new Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for Temporary Accommodation providers, we hope to see the embedding of the Charter standards within these contracts too.

Reflections

The Charter is a document that captures and addresses the recurring issues we see in temporary accommodation. Health and Safety Regulations and HMO licences fall short of recognising the vulnerability and additional support required by those experiencing multiple disadvantage, therefore we feel it is vital that all elements of the Charter are included within council contracts with providers, and would like to highlight the following recommendations –

– TA providers to be required to work in collaboration with support agencies that may be involved with clients and to attend relevant action groups.

– A commitment from the local authority to gather feedback from residents about their accommodation.

– Inspections from the local authority of properties must take place regularly.

– A person with lived experience of emergency accommodation and a representative with learned experience from a voluntary sector group on behalf on the Temporary Accommodation Action Group (TAAG) should take part in inspections, contract meetings and gathering feedback from residents. This should all be reported back to the TAAG.

The feedback of experts by experience is essential in building services that truly work for the people who use them and formally embed accountability for providers. Involvement with wider services and in conversations around temporary accommodation ensure that support for people living in TA is consistent and is proactive in helping people move onto long term accommodation.

Fulfilling Lives welcomes the changes made by Brighton and Hove City Council and look forward to further changes across the sector and region that reflect the higher standards of temporary and emergency accommodation as captured in the Charter.


Authors: Eve McCallam

Resources: The Brighton & Hove Charter

For more information please email:

Eve McCallam, Systems Change Officer: charlotte.cooke@sefulfillinglives.org.uk

Or Charlotte Cooke, Research Officer: charlotte.cooke@bht.org.uk

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