A different way of working?: Temporary Accommodation Boards in London

The sheer scale and challenge of temporary accommodation in London is enough to make anyone throw up their hands in frustration and run as far from it as possible. The ‘perfect storm’ of rising homelessness and welfare reforms (such as the benefit cap and local housing allowance) coupled with limited move-on accommodation due to a lack of social housing as well as truly ‘affordable’ housing, makes finding immediate solutions incredibly difficult.

Many re-housing services, both statutory and non-statutory, are left with limited housing options for some of the most vulnerable in our society. These ‘limited housing options’ are often poorly maintained private accommodation where homeless households face difficult social and physical conditions that contribute to deteriorating mental and physical health. The challenges posed by this landscape appear to leave little space for immediate solutions. I’ve also seen that this creates a culture of distrust between sectors as everyone looks for who should take responsibility—landlords, local authorities, national government—in order to change this increasingly untenable situation. However, we believe collaboration in the form of Temporary Accommodation Boards could provide a vehicle which could begin to change this.

In January, Justlife began a short study, funded by Trust for London, to test whether a different way of working could bring about unique solutions for those stuck living in unsupported temporary accommodation. Temporary Accommodation Boards (TABs) were first recommended as part of research conducted by Justlife and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North into how living in unsupported temporary accommodation affected the health and wellbeing of its residents. TABs were a solution developed after residents participating in the research told us that we often have solutions within our various sectors and systems – but that we rarely seem to communicate and work together. The key, however, is that all relevant stakeholders, including both residents and landlords, are equal collaborators in the work of a TAB.

The report released today is the culmination of our feasibility study of TABs in the London Borough of Hackney. During the study, we spoke with 25 different stakeholders and held a TAB workshop to determine whether or not this different method of collaborative working could provide a vehicle for change for those living in unsupported temporary accommodation in Hackney. Key to this type of collaboration is establishing a culture that does not look for who is to blame – but a culture built on strong cross-sector relationships, arriving at a common understanding of the problem, and then collectively developing and implementing solutions. 

The conclusion of our study was that TABs are feasible and the majority of stakeholders involved were interested in pursuing the idea further. However, we also learned a lot through the process, which resulted in three ‘soft’ recommendations published in our report:

1. Temporary Accommodation Action Groups NOT Temporary Accommodation Boards:

These collaborations are built around working together now to improve issues that are possible by all the stakeholders involved – hence it is action-focused, rather than governance-focused.

2. Clarity around the ‘problem’

Unsupported Temporary Accommodation—private, short-stay accommodation in which individuals have no permanent residency status and limited access to local authority support to secure settled accommodation—is understood differently and may represent different issues depending on where in England you are. The group needs to clearly define for themselves what exactly is the scope of the problem they are working collectively towards solving.

3. Improved communication to manage expectations:

The limited nature of options available to homeless households is not what people expect when seeking help to alleviate their homelessness. Temporary Accommodation Action Groups can help clarify the complexity of the system and support the effective communication of what exactly to expect when going through the system – as difficult as it may be.

Setting up these groups is a journey and the difference between success and failure is the willingness to work together in a different way that truly is about trust and care for those who are in need. It is harder to work in this way, but we believe it pays off and really does have the potential to improve the lives of those in unsupported temporary accommodation. 

Read the full report here