Intention to action: how to end intentional homelessness

In the last ten years more than 5,200 households in Wales have been deemed to have intentionally caused their own homelessness.

These decisions can have a devastating effect on people and particularly children.

The Welsh Government, recognising this, has set a target for Welsh councils to end intentionality decisions for all households with children by 2019.

It can be hard to imagine what ‘intentional’ homelessness actually looks like in practice. How and why would someone make themselves homeless on purpose?

The original point of the law was to ensure that people didn’t recklessly give up their homes in the hope of being allocated a better one.

In practice, what we’ve seen over the years is a steady stream of people with serious unmet support needs being found intentionally homeless when in fact they were only doing what they felt they needed to in order to survive: abandoning accommodation where the disrepair was threatening their children’s health; fleeing due to threats of violence; or moving out of unaffordable accommodation too early, in an attempt to avoid racking up arrears debt.

Far from being cold and calculating, decisions are often made in desperation. And the consequences are that vulnerable households – many of which include children – are left with almost no hope of ending up in a good home.

People who work in Welsh local authorities know all this already. In recent years they’ve made huge strides in reducing intentionality: in 2016/17 only 126 households were found intentionally homeless, compared with 895 a decade previously.

Partly this is due to the new and improved Welsh homelessness legislation, and partly it’s due to councils getting better at understanding the psychology of homelessness and working with people in a compassionate way.

That said, amid rising demand on services, intentionality numbers have lately plateaued. And with 2019 coming ever closer, there’s a fairly urgent need to take action to ensure Wales meets the target.

Today we’re publishing a good practice guide for local authorities to bring together examples of good practice in avoiding intentionality decisions from across Wales and the UK.

We were pleased to find that local authorities have worked incredibly hard to reduce intentionality. In some cases, even where intentionality decisions have been made local authorities are still working with the household to help them find a home.

Our good practice guide focusses on a wide range of different types of support and provides some insight into working with people who have had adverse childhood experiences and experienced other forms of trauma. We discuss how this may influence the way in which people engage with services and what professionals can do to ensure that vulnerable clients don’t slip through the net.

The guide includes suggestions for work that can take place at assessment stage right through until after the household has been accommodated. There are case studies and examples of specific projects that should inspire and spark some ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Welsh local authorities have achieved so much in recent years that a total end to intentional homelessness is not impossible to envisage, with numbers as low as they are now. Providing homes to an additional 126 households is not out of the question. This would relieve pressure on other services as well as avoid needless human misery.

The 2019 target is an important opportunity to remind ourselves what can be achieved in homelessness. We hope that this guide helps councils to make the change, and in the long term end intentionality not just for households with children but for everyone.