Prevention in Action – Invest early in housing advice according to our latest SROI on Legal Aid – Clare Hammond looks at the latest findings

Prevention is heralded as the long-term solution for tackling poverty and disadvantage.

Since featuring as one of the four pillars of public sector reform set out by the Christie Commission in 2011, prevention has been a firm fixture on the Scottish Government’s agenda. However, for many policy makers and service providers, it is a much spoken about ideal that still feels out of reach.

When it is done effectively prevention work can slash the costs of later support provision and reduce the demand for a wide range of pressurised services. Most importantly however, it can lessen the impacts of poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and their communities.

As we have previously discussed, making a decisive shift towards prevention is not without its challenges. These challenges cut across sectors and tend to centre around two areas:

  • Where funding is directed from: insufficient budget flexibility; the potential mismatch between who funds interventions and who gains from the benefits; opportunity costs associated with re-prioritising resources
  •  Evidencing return on investment: risk and uncertainty about future impacts of upfront investment; the timescales for a return on this investment

As a company, we have sought to help our clients, and others, to understand practical and realistic ways to implement prevention in an imperfect world where funding is restricted, and support provision is fragmented across different organisations and policy areas.

Don’t get us wrong, we are working with organisations across the UK to improve the coordinated efforts across policy and budget silos. However, we think that there are also a number of easy wins to implement preventative approaches that aren’t reliant on a fundamental shift in service delivery models.

The Law Society of Scotland have recently published the findings of a study they commissioned our team at Rocket Science to undertake. This study sought to identify and quantify the preventative benefits of legal aid in Scotland, focusing on housing, criminal and family law cases. We used a Social Return on Investment model for this research which measures the social, economic and financial impacts of an activity on all the relevant parties including service users, service providers and other stakeholders.

The analysis of housing cases revealed a particularly interesting finding. Many cases involved providing housing advice, often to those facing eviction as a result of debt or rent arrears. We estimated that for every £1 spent on early provision of legal advice on housing cases, there was a return of £11. This included savings to homelessness services and reductions in temporary accommodation costs, as a result of avoiding eviction and addressing growing housing arrears. It also considered the benefit to individual tenants such as improved mental and physical health and confidence in their ability to maintain their accommodation in the future.

This research provides a clear steer for local authorities, housing associations and the NHS to invest further upstream, ensuring that legal advice around housing debt is available at the earliest opportunity to avoid the higher and longer lasting costs of eviction.

Recognising the benefit of investing upstream to prevent homelessness, the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is piloting a new project focused on early interventions. This project supports its service users with a wider range of issues, such as mental health, which are found to be trigger future housing problems. We are currently working with Kingston and two of their surrounding boroughs to evaluate the effectiveness of this pilot. This work will include a cost benefit analysis of their impact.

We will continue to evidence the value of investing in preventative approaches and research the most effective ways to implement new approaches. We hope that this encourages investment, so that prevention begins to feel less like a long-term ideal and more of a current opportunity.

 

Clare Hammond is an Associate Director at Rocket Science specialising in cost benefit analysis and social return on investment across a range of sectors including employability, health and social care, housing and poverty reduction. You can check out her profile here.