Transforming Responses to Homelessness

Impact: Societal, Health

Description of impact

The Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) has been pivotal in the two largest revolutions in UK homelessness policy/law in the past 40 years: The Homeless Reduction Act 2017 explicitly implemented the recommendations of an I-SPHERE-led review, building on earlier I-SPHERE-informed redesigns of homelessness legislation in Scotland and Wales; and a paradigm shift to 'Housing First', was propelled by I-SPHERE research. The 2017 Act radically expanded single homeless people’s entitlements in England, backed by GBP72,200,000 of government funding. Government support was also given to the ‘Housing First’ approach, injecting GBP28,000,000 into tackling rough sleeping. In 2019, Heriot-Watt University was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of I-SPHERE’s work on addressing homelessness and extreme disadvantage. 

Who is affected

UK and local governments.


Transforming homelessness legislation, policy and statistical reporting in England
Until 2017, England’s homelessness legislation had remained fundamentally unchanged for 40 years, offering only very limited protection to homeless households without children. In summer 2015, Fitzpatrick, who had previously played a pivotal role in modernising the homelessness legislation in both Scotland and Wales, chaired an independent review panel, convened by the charity Crisis, which recommended a radical expansion in single homeless people’s legal entitlements in England. In shaping the Panel’s recommendations, Fitzpatrick brought to bear the substantial body of research on “rights-based” approaches to addressing homelessness she has developed with Watts, and international collaborator Professor Bo Bengtsson (Uppsala University, Sweden), as well as the extensive programme of quantitative work on mapping the scale and profile undertaken with Bramley and Johnsen.

The Panel’s report formed the basis of a Private Members Bill, introduced to Parliament on 29th June 2016 by Bob Blackman MP. Lord Richard Best OBE, charged with piloting the Bill through the House of Lords, opened the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords thus:

“The Bill… is indeed ground-breaking because of the fundamental change it brings to the way that homelessness is tackled in this country… The story began two years ago with a report from an inquiry… chaired by the leading academic in this field, Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick. This report showed that very many of those becoming homeless were not receiving the help they needed and that some people were being treated very badly… I suspect that no Private Member’s Bill has ever had quite so much…cross-party support…”

Having received pre-legislative scrutiny from the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, and the support of Government, The Homeless Reduction Act 2017 (HRA) received Royal Assent on 27th April 2017, and came into force on 1st April 2018, accompanied by GBP72,200,000 of ‘new burdens’ funding. Official statistics indicate that English local authorities successfully prevented homelessness for 58,290 households during 2018/19 alone.

I-SPHERE research was also instrumental in forcing the Government to overhaul official homelessness statistics in England following a highly critical UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) report, published in December 2015, which drew extensively on what the UKSA described as I-SPHERE’s "influential” Homelessness Monitor series (a series that was shortlisted for ‘research project of the year’ by three national newspapers in 2017). This UKSA Inquiry was itself prompted by the then Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Ian Duncan Smith, referring the Homelessness Monitor England 2015 to the UKSA because he disputed the challenge it laid down to the official statistics. Having found in favour of the I-SPHERE-led research team, the UKSA then launched an inquiry into the Government’s own statistics and, as a direct result, an individual case record-based national monitoring system on homelessness applications and outcomes (H-CLIC) has replaced the very basic, ‘headcount’ data supplied under the previous ‘P1E’ system.

I-SPHERE research has also significantly aided public scrutiny in this field via its profound influence on a high-profile National Audit Office (NAO) report on the Government’s record on homelessness, which forced DWP and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to work more closely together on understanding and addressing its underlying causes. Matthew Wilkins, manager, MHCLG Value for Money team, NAO comments:

"I-SPHERE research provided a crucial analytical framework for our report which achieved significant press coverage and culminated in a hearing of the Committee of Public Accounts, which made recommendations that the Government has responded to. It is therefore fair to say that the assistance of I-SPHERE researchers contributed to delivering specific public policy change in homelessness.”

Revolutionising rough sleepers’ support across the UK
Rough sleeping in England has doubled since 2010, but traditional ‘housing readiness’-focused, highly conditional interventions remained dominant in the UK, even as the success of the US-inspired Housing First approach became increasingly apparent across many other European countries. Johnsen, drawing on a wealth of philosophically-informed I-SPHERE research on enforcement, social control and interventionism in homelessness, was an early advocate of Housing First in the UK, which sees permanent housing offered as a first, rather than last, response for homeless people with complex support needs. Our research has now seen this evidence-based model adopted by both leading charities and governments across the country. Specifically, Fitzpatrick, drawing on the work of Bramley, Johnsen and Watts, was instrumental in shaping the content and recommendations of a Centre for Social Justice report [5.6] that persuaded the then Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to back Housing First, securing its inclusion in the May 2017 Conservative Manifesto and subsequently GBP28,000,000 of funding in the November 2017 Budget [5.7].

More broadly, I-SPHERE’s “Hard Edges” research, cited in the 2015 UK Budget [5.8], has fundamentally reframed charity/government understanding of homelessness, rough sleeping and complex support needs. For example, this and other I-SPHERE research was extensively referenced as the underlying evidence base for the national “Rough Sleeping Strategy” for England published in August 2018 [5.9].

Matt Howarth, Scottish Government Homelessness Unit, comments in relation to the parallel “Hard Edges Scotland” report, that ‘it has had a significant impact on Scottish Government thinking and policy making in relation to improving outcomes for those facing severe and multiple disadvantage. On publication, Scottish Ministers asked officials to consider its implications for developing better joined up policy and practice, and it is has influenced key strategic documents and current collaborative working.” The rapid, cross-sectoral momentum generated by this research directly informed the Scottish Government’s commitment in the 2019 Programme for Government to develop a “national vision for severe, multiple disadvantage’ and to establish an “Inclusive Scotland Fund” of GBP10,000,000 to contribute towards the delivery of this vision.

I-SPHERE research has also been core to the fundamental shift towards Housing First in Scotland. Josh Littlejohn MBE, co-founder of Social Bite, a leading Scottish homelessness charity comments, "I-SPHERE research has revolutionised the approach taken to homelessness policy in Scotland. Their work was crucial in our decision to commit GBP3,000,000 of publicly donated funds from our Sleepout to the Housing First model."

In June 2018, Kevin Stewart, Housing Minister, announced new investment of GBP21,000,000 in ‘rapid rehousing’ for homeless people, including GBP4,000,000 for Housing First services in five Scottish cities. This investment was based on the recommendations of the First Minister-appointed Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG), of which Fitzpatrick was a member and Watts an expert advisor [5.10]. Arising directly from the HARSAG work, Fitzpatrick is now chairing a Prevention Review Group, at the invitation of the Scottish Government, to bring forward legislative proposals to extend more robust homelessness prevention duties to a range of public bodies.
Impact statusAchieved
Impact date1 Jan 201431 Dec 2020
Category of impactSocietal, Health


  • 2021