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Homes for Cathy unites housing sector for homelessness conference

Around 100 housing professionals came together to discuss and debate housing associations’ role in ending homelessness at the annual Homes for Cathy conference, held on 17 October in London. 

This year’s conference was opened by Mike Amesbury, the new Shadow Minister for Building Safety and Homelessness, who set the scene with a keynote speech on Labour’s priorities for tackling the homelessness crisis. Mr Amesbury spoke of the three ‘pillars’ needed to end rough sleeping and homelessness: cross-departmental political leadership, increasing the supply of social homes and a ‘helping hand’ to provide support where it is needed, including a welfare system that has ‘dignity and compassion’. 

Throughout the day, leaders from 26 Homes for Cathy member and affiliate organisations – including NHF, CIH, Crisis and Shelter – spoke on a wide range of homelessness-related topics encompassing: 

  • Housing associations’ role in ending homelessness – and the risk that an increased focus on tenant satisfaction could exclude the very people housing associations were set up to help. 
  • The impact of race on experiences of homelessness and how funding focused on rough sleeping neglects other forms of homelessness prevalent among racialised minorities, which in turn reinforces structuralised racism. 
  • The unique set of challenges faced by young people who are experiencing homelessness and how a combination of lower benefit levels and strict affordability assessments by providers can lock them out of the stable housing they need to pursue education and training. 
  • The ‘river of co-production’ and the mutual benefits for service providers and service users of equal and reciprocal partnerships.
  • The intrinsic link between domestic abuse and homelessness and how housing is the primary barrier for women attempting to leave abusive situations. 
  • The complexities of migrant homelessness and the importance of fostering links between mainstream housing and the refugee/migrant sectors to deliver tailored housing and support solutions.  
  • The need to make a property a ‘home’ for people moving away from homelessness, the value of that in terms of tenancy sustainment and the strategies housing providers can take to ensure tenants have the essentials they need. 
  • The importance of flexible, person-centred approaches to keep customers in their tenancies – and avoid contributing to a repeat cycle of homelessness, particularly as increasing numbers of tenants face financial pressures amid the cost-of-living crisis. 
  • How the development of more social homes is key to addressing the housing and homelessness crisis – and the policy changes that could unlock supply. 

The conference’s closing plenary was delivered by Liz Laurence, Head of Programme for the Royal Foundation’s Homewards initiative, which is convening stakeholders from both the private and public sectors to find innovative local solutions to end homelessness. 

Homes for Cathy chair David Bogle, chief executive of Hightown Housing Association, commented:

“Despite living in the world’s sixth biggest economy, people are still living with no place to call their home in this country.  Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg – statutory data shows 83,240 households were facing homelessness between January to March 2023, up 5.7% from January to March 2022, while the number of households living in temporary accommodation has also continued to climb steeply with 104,510 people sleeping in temporary accommodation on 31st March 2023, an increase of 10 per cent since last year. 

“It’s clear that the housing sector can and should do more to alleviate this escalating crisis, whether that’s building more homes, developing supported housing solutions that meet local need or working to ensure tenants sustain successful tenancies and avoid repeat homelessness.   

“As housing associations continue to juggle the competing demands of a challenging operating environment, the Homes for Cathy conference provides an ideal opportunity for our members and their partners to think outside the box, learn from each other, innovate and ultimately keep a focus on their social purpose of ending homelessness.” 

Homes for Cathy seeks member feedback on the consultation for Consumer Standards and Code of Practice 

The landmark Social Housing Act has received Royal Assent to become law, transforming the role of the Regulator of Social Housing in regulating consumer standards.   

It is anticipated that many of the reforms introduced by the Act will take effect on 1 April 2024, when the new consumer standards are set in motion.  In the interim, the Regulator has published a consultation on the draft Consumer Standards and Code of Practice, seeking input from the sector.  Homes for Cathy has prepared a draft response to the consultation in collaboration with Crisis and is encouraging members to endorse the group’s proposals in their own submissions to the Regulator. 

Definition of consumers to include prospective tenants

Importantly, Homes for Cathy’s proposed amendments to the Standards and Code expand the definition of ‘consumers’ to expressly include prospective tenants who may be in statutory or non-statutory temporary accommodation or rough sleeping, not only in the scope of the Allocations and Letting section but also in the Transparency Influence and Accountability Standard sections. 

The proposed amendments also explicitly state the actions registered providers should take to implement the homelessness related provisions and require them to benchmark themselves on progress.   

David Bogle, chair of Homes for Cathy, said: 

“We welcome the provisions in the draft Standards and Code, including the retention of provisions in the Tenancy Standard which require housing associations to assist local authorities in their homelessness duties and to try to prevent evictions through tenancy sustainment support.   

“However, our proposals take this a step further, citing how this can be achieved and indicating how RPs’ progress should be benchmarked.  We hope that requiring providers to adopt the practices of the best will help to create a more level playing field for housing associations in tackling homelessness.   

“We also want to ensure that people experiencing homelessness – in other words prospective tenants – are recognised as consumers.  Ultimately, if we cannot provide effective services to the people that are most in housing need, what is our purpose?” 

To read Homes for Cathy’s draft consultation response, click here.  Homes for Cathy members are invited to contact Vicki McDonald at with any comments by Monday 18 September.  The Homes for Cathy Board will review any feedback and consider revisions to the draft before finalising a response. The final version will be shared with members by 12 October

Refreshing the Homes for Cathy Commitments 

Earlier this year we held a members’ meeting and strategy day at which we asked the question ‘Are the Homes for Cathy commitments still workable and relevant?’. The answer to the question was a resounding ‘yes’, with both our members and stakeholders concluding that the commitments remain as applicable now as when they were introduced in consultation with Crisis in 2018. However, feedback from attendees was that the wording of some of the commitments could be improved and additional objectives included to reflect best practice.  In response, we have refreshed the commitments to incorporate the following recommendations: 

  • If housing associations are improving on Commitment 2 around flexible allocations, Commitment 3 around solutions for people who are not eligible for an offer of a home is not needed. Commitment 3 may also duplicate the responsibilities of local authorities. Instead, the onus should be on housing associations working with their local authority partners to remove barriers to accessing housing associations properties that disadvantage some applicants. 
  • Moreover, by monitoring refusals, housing associations can gauge their performance on Commitment 2. 
  • The pledge under Commitment 4 to not make homeless any tenant who wants to prevent their homelessness should go hand in hand with tenancy support. 
  • The phrase ‘vulnerable tenant groups’ in Commitment 5 is stigmatising – rather than being vulnerable, some people experiencing homelessness are disadvantaged and underserved by existing policy and practice. 
  • Positive action is needed to address inequality, discrimination and the over-representation of minority ethnic groups in the homeless population, including migrants. 
  • People moving from homelessness need to be able to make their property a ‘home’, rather than ‘ready to move into’ – the latter phrase is too open to interpretation. 
  • Services and policies need to be designed in co-production with those with lived experience. 

The new Homes for Cathy commitments we are proposing are: 

  1. To contribute to the development and execution of the homelessness strategies of local and combined authorities.    
  1. To work in partnership to provide a range of affordable housing options which meet the needs of all homeless people in their local communities.  
  1. To work with local authorities and others to understand and remove the barriers that disadvantage some applicants with a background of homelessness from accessing Housing Association properties.  
  1. To operate flexible allocations and eligibility policies which allow individual applicants’ unique set of circumstances and housing history to be considered and monitor refusals to benchmark performance.  
  1. To understand the inequalities that result in the over-representation of ethnic minorities among people affected by homelessness and commit to meeting the needs of ethnic minority groups, including migrants.    
  1. To not make any tenant who is engaging with their landlord homeless, by offering support to maintain at risk tenancies.  
  1. To design policies and service provision in co-production with people who have lived experience of homelessness and other stakeholders.  
  1. To ensure that new tenants moving out of homelessness have the essential furniture, flooring and other household items they need to make their property a home.  
  1. To lobby, challenge and inspire others to work to end homelessness. 

We are asking our members and stakeholders to complete this survey to gather feedback on the changes to the commitments.  Please complete the survey by Friday 28 July 2023

The feedback will help us to ensure that the commitments remain a workable framework for our member housing associations to challenge themselves to do more to end homelessness and by which their Boards can hold them to account.  

Complete survey

Homes for Cathy part of ground-breaking commission seeking to end rough sleeping

The Homes for Cathy group is one of over 100 housing, health, government and charity organisations and individuals with lived experience who submitted evidence for a ground-breaking new report calling for the Government to continue the principles and funding of the ‘Everyone In’ emergency response to rough sleeping.

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, chaired by the former head of the civil service Lord Bob Kerslake, has concluded the Government needs to maintain the additional funding that it made available during the pandemic – equating to £82m a year on top of its previous spending commitment – if it is to have any chance of achieving its pre-election promise to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament.

The Commission was convened in March 2021 to examine the lessons from the public health emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, and to understand how the significant progress made can be embedded in the longer term.  It analysed the cross sector response to Covid-19, and the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative, launched in March 2020, which saw local authorities directed to move people who were sleeping rough into emergency accommodation to protect them from the virus.

As a result, according to Government estimates, at least 37,000 people were provided with a Covid-secure place to stay, along with access to health and other support services. The policy has been credited as having saved hundreds of lives. The Kerslake Commission received more than 100 evidence submissions from local authorities, from people with lived experience of homelessness and of sleeping rough, as well as from and health, housing and homelessness organisations. It also commissioned two literature reviews into the emergency response.  The interim report, entitled ‘When We Work Together – Learning the Lessons’ provides a comprehensive overview of this evidence and makes recommendations for the priorities and approaches needed to end rough sleeping which are targeted at the 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review.

Homes for Cathy chair David Bogle, who sits on the Commission’s Advisory Board, comments:

“I was honoured to be asked to be part of the Commission on behalf of Homes for Cathy.  We know that within the Homes for Cathy group there is a real appetite to play a part in ending rough sleeping, with many of our member organisations pulling out all the stops to support the Everyone In initiative.  It’s vital that the Government makes long-term investments now so that we don’t lose that momentum and can build on the success achieved.”

David Bogle, chair of Homes for Cathy

The Kerslake Commission interim report makes 22 recommendations. The key points of these are:

  • The Government must capture and capitalise on the gains that were made as a result of its ‘Everyone In’ policy and the partnership working which flowed from it as a matter of urgency, and maintain the necessary funding
  • The cross-sector, cross-departmental, momentum initiated by central Government at the start of the pandemic, married with the additional support and resourcing provided since, has clearly demonstrated that street homelessness can be ended
  • Future funding streams made available to local authorities must be more flexible and have longevity if the prevention and long term support measures needed to end rough sleeping are to be effectively and appropriately implemented as determined by local need in a ‘spend to save’ approach
  • That street homelessness is treated as a public health and housing priority which requires a cross-Governmental approach with co-ordination on both strategy and delivery, at all levels
  • To prevent more homelessness and rough sleeping in the future we need to maintain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and the change to local housing allowance, and
  • Investing in better and more permanent solutions such as the Housing First initiative alongside the additional spend in temporary accommodation, with wrap around support is vital.

The final report will follow in September and will include policy and practice recommendations.