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Learning from the Welsh Way

Joy Williams and Jennie Bibbings reflect on how the rest of the UK is learning from the Welsh approach to homelessness and what Wales can learn from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Since the introduction of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 there has been much interest from across the rest of the UK in what is happening in Wales and the initial positive performance indicators.

Following the successful development and delivery of the joint training programme by Shelter Cymru, the Welsh Local Government Association and Welsh Government we have had numerous invitations from across the borders to speak and share about our initial experiences of the changes in legislation and the new duties to help all those who present as homeless or threatened with homelessness. This has provided us with a great opportunity to discuss the process of developing co-operation and joint working between partners that we believe has been the key to the successful, smooth implementation of the Act. We’ve also been able to share how partnership working has helped to deal with any issues that may have been identified in order to provide those accessing the service with the best outcomes.

The chance to visit other areas of the UK has also provided a unique opportunity in which to develop our knowledge and understanding regarding what is happening in other parts of the country. This article highlights some of that learning and suggests ways in which we can continue to develop our practice in the light of what is happening elsewhere.


There is much interest in England in what is going on in Wales and there is a strong will to introduce similar legislation to ours with a prevention duty and less emphasis on priority need etc. Following an independent review of the current homelessness legislation in England commissioned by Crisis[1], the Homelessness Reduction (Private Members) Bill was tabled by Conservative MP Bob Blackman. Since the introduction of this Bill much discussion has taken place regarding what any new duties might mean for England, in particular the resource implications, especially for London boroughs and those in the South East where private rents are very high and available social housing is scarce.

The first draft of this Bill included a temporary duty to accommodate anyone who was homeless, similar to the ‘safe place to stay’ duty in early versions of the Welsh Housing Bill. There was also an expectation that people accessing help would co-operate with the process or be deemed intentionally homeless.

Both of these points created lively discussion between partners in England and we were able to contribute to the debate from a Welsh perspective based on our initial experiences. From our experience in Wales we suggested that any new duties need to be backed up by appropriate resources and financial impacts need to be fully assessed before decisions are made. It is important that partners work together to facilitate these new duties. We have benefited greatly from the transitional funding provided by Welsh Government in order to deliver the new legislation and initial work by Shelter Cymru backs up the need for this funding too continue.

There has been much praise from England and elsewhere for the obvious way in which we co-operate and work in partnership with one another in Wales to deliver services for those who need them. This is not only cost effective and makes the best use of resources but it also limits challenge and achieves the best outcomes for people. This is something we should be proud of and strive to maintain and develop.


In Scotland, demand for housing is high and some cities have serious issues with numbers of rough sleepers. Colleagues in Scotland are particularly interested in the potential of the Welsh model to help overcome tensions between the statutory framework and the Housing Options approach.

Gatekeeping is considered a major issue in Scotland because there is no legal basis for prevention work, while people’s rights to housing are strong. The Scottish Government has invested considerable resources in developing Housing Options, including five regional ‘hubs’ of good practice. A Housing Options Toolkit is currently in development – which may be of use to us in Wales as we look to further develop guidance and training for our Housing Solutions teams.

Northern Ireland

Colleagues in Northern Ireland have also shown much interest in the ‘Welsh Way’. Housing and homelessness duties in Northern Ireland are delivered by the Housing Executive, a single, national body serving the whole of the country. The Housing Executive is developing a more prevention-led approach with a view to developing a service similar to the enhanced housing options services working in England and Wales. The move towards a prevention duty is very attractive to them. There is a strong culture of partnership working in Northern Ireland and this may be due to the fact that the Supporting People budget is still ring-fenced. The Supporting People spend here is comparable per head to that in Wales.

Much work needs to be done however on improving the suitability of accommodation. There is currently no suitability standard in Northern Ireland but work has been carried out using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) that has highlighted a wide range of hazards and quality issues particularly in the private rented sector[2]. Many of the homes in Northern Ireland would not be suitable for the discharge of a homelessness duty in Wales. Much work needs to be done to bring these homes up to standard and the cost benefits of this work were clear to see.

It has been heartening to learn that although we may feel we have a long way to go in Wales with regards to helping those who may be homeless we have much to be proud of. Our new legislation is the envy of those who are working to replicate it and we have much good practice which we can share with others. The latest research from Shelter Cymru indicates that people are still experiencing considerable variations in the quality of service, and the priority now is to focus on embedding a consistent and positive standard of implementation of the legislation. We now have the opportunity to consolidate this good work. The availability of suitable resources and funding will be crucial in maintaining and developing this sector-leading legislation.

Joy Williams is senior project officer for the WLGA Homelessness and Supporting People Networks and Jennie Bibbings is campaigns manager at Shelter Cymru

[1] The homelessness legislation: an independent review of the duties owed to homeless people, Crisis www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/The homelessness legislation, an independent review of the legal duties owed to homeless people.pdf

[2] The Cost of Poor Housing in Northern Ireland, Maggie Davidson, Simon Nicol, Mike Roys, Helen Garrett, Adele Beaumont and Charlotte Turner. BRE www.nihe.gov.uk/cost_of_poor_housing_in_ni.pdf

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