This afternoon the All Party Group on Homelessness met at the Northern Ireland Assembly. The group heard two presentations. The first presentation was on the introduction of the ‘Complex Lives’ Project in Belfast and the development of Housing First. The second presentation focused on the Fundamental Review of Allocations Implementation Project being taken forward by the Housing Executive.
Kelly Gilliland from Belfast City Council and Brian O’Kane from the Housing Executive presented on the introduction of the ‘Complex Lives’ Project in Belfast and the development of Housing First.
The Complex Lives model is a whole-system approach focused on people experiencing chronic homelessness. The core of Complex Lives is seeking to improve collaborative working between statutory bodies and voluntary sector organisations, so as to provide the right support to people who need it at the right time and in the right place.
Some key takeaways from the session included the following:
- Effective collaboration between the voluntary sector, statutory agencies and Executive Departments can bring about meaningful and positive change in responding to homelessness. ‘Complex Lives,’ which continues to develop, has already had a positive impact and has the potential to make a real difference in how Belfast seeks to support people experiencing chronic homelessness.
- The fact that statutory bodies and Government Departments here are operating on annual funding cycles and there is no sign on the horizon of any kind of multi-year funding is negatively impacting on the implementation of the ‘Complex Lives’ project. For Complex Lives to work, resources need to be committed in the medium term.
- The Housing Executive is committed to ‘Housing First’ and wants to see it scaled up across Northern Ireland. If implemented effectively, it can bring a wide array of positive benefits both to the households supported by it and to wider society. However, it is not a panacea to solve all problems related to homelessness. It is an intervention focused on supporting those who are experiencing chronic homelessness. Other models will be needed to ensure the needs of everyone experiencing homelessness are catered for.
Fundamental Review of Allocations Implementation Project
Caroline Connor and Fiona Neilan of the Housing Executive gave a presentation on the implementation of the Fundamental Review of Allocations Implementation Project.
In 2017, Department for Communities consulted on twenty proposed changes to the Social Housing Selection Scheme. This scheme governs how permanent social housing is allocated in NI.
The report on that consultation was published in 2020, with agreement to proceed with 18 of the proposals put forward with further consideration to be given to two of the proposals (those related to intimidation points and interim accommodation points.) The Housing Executive has now reached the implementation stage. It plans to implement the proposed changes in four groups, with the first group of changes having been made in December-January 2022/3. The final group is due to be completed by April 2025.
Some of the key takeaways from this session included:
- The twenty proposals being brought forward to reform the Social Housing Selection Scheme will have a significant impact on how social housing is allocated in NI. Four of the proposals have been successfully implemented in the first phase of reform, but the Housing Executive plans to roll out all of the reforms by mid 2025.
- Particular concern was expressed at the meeting by MLAs and some observers about Proposal 4. This proposal sets out that the “Housing Executive can meet its duty to homeless applicants on a tenure-neutral basis, provided that the accommodation meets certain conditions.” The question was asked as to how this would be implemented in practice given the variable quality of housing available in the private rented sector in NI. The Housing Executive indicated that no final decisions have been taken on this proposal and they will be looking to hear further views as the implementation project goes forward.
- MLAs noted the importance of ensuring that households who will be impacted understand the changes which are being made. The Housing Executive has sought to use a wide range of channels to convey the impact of the changes in the first phase of reform and has ensured that frontline staff are aware of the impact this first group of changes will have.
The next meeting of the APG is due to take place in April.