Housing services ‘go for gold’

Press Release: 29/08/2014

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The Gold Standard scheme for local authority housing teams is successfully helping to improve front-line housing services for customers nationally.

The scheme, which started in 2013, is administered by the National Practitioner Support Service, a team who are funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government and hosted by Winchester City Council but whose practitioners are seconded from councils’ front-line housing services around the country.

The service offers local authorities free comprehensive advice and support on how to provide the best housing service they can. The programme itself follows a 10-step process which includes free training tools and has a clear emphasis on peer support and encourages councils to support each other and share good practice. As part of the programme, councils undertake peer reviews of each others housing services against a national framework.

More than 97% of all local authorities have now signed up to the programme and over 180 councils are involved in undertaking peer reviews. Of these, over 20 have already experienced the benefits of completing a peer review.

Phil Turner, Head of Housing Services at Hart District Council, said

As the first authority to undergo the peer review process, I would whole-heartedly recommend it to every local authority in England. By acting on the excellent recommendations arising from the diagnostic peer review, we anticipate the Council will save money, delivering an increasingly effective and efficient customer-focused housing service. The process isn't rocket science: the commitment to delivering the review was minimal and the results are disproportionately valuable in the context of the time invested.

Tracy Hendren, the Service Manager responsible for the programme, said

I am proud of the success of the programme so far; the process gets local authorities thinking about the services they provide and how to ensure they are making the best use of resources whilst keeping the customer journey at the heart of the process. The opportunity for managers and staff to learn good practice and understand key challenges whilst enhancing their skills and knowledge-base means that local authorities are really keen to be involved in the review process.

Janet Golding Housing Policy Manager at Stockport Council recently took part in the peer review process and said

Involvement in the Gold Standard Peer Review Process provides a rare opportunity to step back from the day-to-day operation of a homelessness service and reflect positively both in terms of where services sit and where any innovative practice can be built on and shared more widely. Whether it’s from the perspective of review or reviewer the process certainly offers a positive learning experience that can only result in improving the services on offer.

In order to support the growing number of councils getting involved, the National Practitioner Support Service has taken on a number of ‘Local Area Practitioners’ whose role is to support and help the councils organise and undertake their peer reviews of each others services. As councils are already taking advantage of this additional support a further practitioner is due to join the team in September to ensure that as much support as possible is available to front-line housing services.

Although local authorities can choose which aspects of the programme they want to engage with, the overall response has been overwhelming; for example, 4062 front-line staff have attended the specialist legal training that was provided as part of the scheme. A further round of bespoke training has just been launched and already the take of this has been over-subscribed.

The final part of the programme, becoming a gold standard local authority, is now within the reach of the first 20 local authorities who have successfully completed a peer review. Given that this is an entirely voluntary process, the team is proud that councils are placing such value on the programme and really seeing the benefits it brings to their front-line services.

The support within the sector for the scheme is widespread with partners from DCLG, Homeless Link, Crisis, CAB, Shelter, Women’s Aid, St Basil’s and Public Health England all supporting the programme by attending a series of successful Sounding Board events to provide a national update to local authorities across the country.

The Gold Standard scheme doesn’t stop there; new funding from the Department of Communities will see it continue and expand to support local authorities with high levels of bed and breakfast placements. Initial findings from this work show that councils taking part in the pilot have been able to reduce the need for such placements; work with the National Practitioner Support Service will soon be turning into a best practice toolkit.

The National Practitioner Support Service has practitioners working across England and will also be running workshops at the Chartered Institute of Housing Homelessness and Allocations Conference in November; for further information visit www.practitionersupport.org or email general.enquiries@practitionersupport.org