The Homelessness Reduction Act has seemingly made housing advice seem all the rage since its inception last year. But when we are talking about housing advice, what are we actually talking about?

Housing advice is about helping people, to either find a home or keep and improve their current home.

Housing advice can be quite diverse…

  • providing the address of a local day centre
  • explaining tenancy law
  • negotiating with a landlord
  • referral to a budgeting advice service

…are just a few examples of what constitutes housing advice.

Local authorities are under pressure to deliver advice over a multitude of channels:

  • face to face
  • on the phone
  • online
  • in a Personal Housing Plan
  • in a letter
  • in an advice sheet

Increasingly partner agencies are playing an important role in providing advice. Whilst this increases reach, there is a challenge to ensure the offer is consistent. Technology provides an opportunity to increase the breadth and impact.

Making the case for advice

The government has provided extra funding to local authorities to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act. This has led some to question the benefits of investment in advice services versus building more social housing. It is also said that addressing issues such as the Local Housing Allowance and Universal Credit should be prioritised. I agree that all these issues contribute to the rise in homelessness, but we ignore the benefits of giving advice at our peril.

The provision of housing advice has been praised since the 1960s. Inclusion in the 1985 and 1996 Housing Acts concreted the approach. The Homelessness Reduction Act has put a strong emphasis on local authorities to widen and improve the advice they give.

Why? Because prevention is immeasurably less costly than picking up the pieces after the event. The impact of homelessness on a person’s physical, emotion and mental wellbeing is highly detrimental. The tax-payer also pays a high price, be it on temporary accommodation, A&E admissions or police intervention.

Getting it right

With increasing demand on housing teams, there is pressure to provide the right advice at the right time. Services have to match the breadth and depth of demand driven by customers.

We have been thinking about housing advice in these four categories:

  • Information: on services and where to go for help
  • Advice: on the problem and possible solutions
  • Assistance: practical aid, e.g. providing a rent deposit
  • Advocacy: on behalf of people in negotiation with others, e.g. landlords

This categorisation provides a helpful starting place to design really effective advice services. And good advice leads to less homelessness.

We will be picking up some of these themes in future blogs. Please ensure you follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or signup to our email newsletter to be notified of future articles.  Meanwhile, discover how AdviceAid could provide a platform for quality, tailored advice and enable consistency across your advice channels. Click here to find out more.

Peter McGuire is Co-Founder and CEO of AdviceAid. He has worked in housing services for over 15 years in the private, voluntary and public sectors. He is an incessant problem-solver and has been at the forefront of leading a number of innovative local authority programmes to improve the quality of advice services. Peter usefully has a degree in computer science.

Connect with Peter on LinkedIn and Twitter