Evaluation of housing rights courses for trusted intermediaries

Over the past few years, Law for Life has developed public legal education courses for trusted intermediaries (who are usually frontline workers or trusted local community members) who help people in precarious housing situations. These courses address issues faced by people who are renting from private landlords and who may be vulnerable to eviction or poor housing conditions. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, these courses have been delivered online. Funding from the Ministry of Justice has supported a pilot of regional courses.
“It was just great. I didn't actually realise either how much I had learnt until I was able to assist one of my clients with advising about poor housing conditions. It really gave me confidence so thank you.” Course participant

Interactive online modules on the housing rights of women supported 44 front line organisations in the South West and the North West of England. Both regions are characterised by a severe shortage of social housing and a lack of access to free advice on housing and homelessness law. Participants included NHS Social Prescribers, NHS link workers, women’s shelter staff, food bank volunteers and drug and alcohol support workers.

The courses aimed to increase awareness and knowledge of trusted intermediaries around key aspects of housing and homelessness law. They also sought to increase their skills and confidence to be able to support women in precarious/vulnerable housing situations, including those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

The courses incorporated online webinars and videos that volunteers watched in advance were made available on YouTube for participants to refer back to. Interactive workshops addressed common problems, tactics, skills elements and shared solutions.  The courses were augmented with specific resources on the Advicenow website and received copies of Advicenow Guides where appropriate.

The programmes attracted a high proportion of social prescribers who are often a key point of contact for people with a health issue who are also at risk of experiencing housing problems. The link between poor housing and homelessness and ill health (both physical and mental) has been identified in the research literature for some time but the shift towards increasing Social Prescriber involvement in helping to resolve such issues is a comparatively recent, but growing, trend. Social prescribers tend to work within teams or as part of a wider network of specialist support services, e.g., Citizens Advice, local charities or community organisations. Their capacity to share their knowledge and good practice with colleagues and other practitioners is often greater than those based within smaller organisations.

“What we have learnt from the course will be invaluable in my role as a social prescriber. Since then, I have supported three homeless people and three people wishing to move due to different circumstances.” Course participant

Social prescribers on the whole reached significantly more clients than other participants. The Social Prescribers also helped more women with housing issues in particular. This suggests they have the potential to offer significant reach in communities. Evaluation findings provide crucial insight into the ways in which trusted intermediaries work with clients, and the difficulties encountered. Specifically, this research describes extensive problems caused by digital exclusion, with many people relying on telephone contact to work with clients. Beyond digital access, common issues described by participants were social isolation and loneliness and mental  health.

The courses provided an opportunity to measure participants’ changes in legal capability, both in terms of knowledge about housing and homelessness law and in their confidence to help people with housing issues. Changes in legal capability were measured through a combination in pre and post course assessments of legal capability through online surveys. Overall, the courses achieved substantial changes in the knowledge and confidence of participants to assist people with housing issues.

Read the full evaluation.

“I can advise clients and be confident to lay out next steps for them and help them with these steps if needs be. I feel good that I know where to go for further information as well should I not know the answer.” Course participant