Five years of Homes for Cathy: reflecting on our commitments to end homelessness

Vicki McDonald, 30 August 2023

It’s now five years since we launched the Homes for Cathy commitments. The commitments are a simple framework that housing associations, both large and small, can use to ask themselves the vital question: ‘Could we be doing more to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness?’. 

The commitments were developed in collaboration with Crisis, an organisation that sees first-hand how the social housing sector’s systems and policies can lock out the very people it was designed to help.

Since 2018, our members have successfully used the commitments to question and challenge these systems and policies, both in their own organisations and in their dealings with local authority partners. We have seen many fantastic examples of members embracing the commitments in housing operations to scrutinise and transform practice and provision. We’ve seen transformations in areas such as allocations, lettings to homeless households, evictions and tenancy support. All these actions ensure people going through homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless, are not at a disadvantage. 

Adoption of the commitments has also influenced care and supported housing provision, encouraging member organisations to consider local need in the design of homelessness schemes. For example, services such as Housing First and Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme (RSAP) funded accommodation have made a big impact.

With over 100 housing associations adopting the commitments, we’ve had the opportunity to ‘road test’ how they are operating in practice. Earlier this year, we held a strategy day to ask members if they are still workable and relevant. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’, but that a refresh would help reflect current best practice, thinking and research.

So, five years on from the commitments’ inception, we’re looking to make some tweaks.

The first change we’re considering relates to lettings practice. If housing associations are improving on Homes for Cathy’s Commitment 2 around flexible allocations, they should no longer need to implement Commitment 3’s solutions for people who are not eligible for an offer of a home.

Members felt Commitment 3 may also duplicate the responsibilities of local authorities. Instead, we want to place the onus on housing associations to proactively work with their local authority partners to remove any barriers to accessing housing association properties.

Moreover, we’d like to see housing associations gauge their performance on flexible lettings by monitoring refusals. We also want to stress the value of tenancy support in preventing existing tenants from becoming homeless.

Previously, Commitment 5 referred to meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups, but we know that the term ‘vulnerable’ can be stigmatising and that people going through homelessness are better described as being disadvantaged by the system.

We also know that minority ethnic groups are over-represented in homelessness statistics and that positive action is needed to address the inequality and discrimination they face.

Feedback from members indicated that Commitment 7 ‘to ensure properties offered to homeless people should be ready to move into’ could be too open to interpretation. We want to make it clear that associations should ensure people moving out of a homeless situation have the essentials they need to make their property a home, including flooring, furniture and household goods.

Lastly, we want to acknowledge the case for co-production and encourage the sector to hear the voices of lived experience when designing policy and provision.

Our next steps

We’re now putting the revised commitments out to consultation with a view to relaunching them in the autumn and we encourage any organisation that is keen to put homelessness on their agenda to provide feedback.

The fact that some housing associations perform better than others in meeting the needs of people going through homelessness shows there is still room for the sector to do more. With almost 100,000 households in temporary accommodation, there is no doubt that as a sector we need to keep up the momentum. Our revised commitments will provide a valuable barometer of where we should be heading in the future.