Client confidentiality hinders efforts to house the homeless, says Shelter

Concerns among social workers over client confidentiality are
hampering housing departments’ attempts to find accommodation for
homeless people.

More than three-quarters of housing departments told a survey by
homelessness charity Shelter that improvements were needed in joint
working with social services to meet the requirements of the
Homelessness Act 2002.

The act, which came into effect last July, states that the “social
services authorityÉshall give such assistance in connection
with [the homelessness review and strategy] as the [housing]
authority may reasonably require”.

But housing departments reported that, although front-line social
care staff wanted to help, many refused to do so because of worries
about breaching client confidentiality or sharing information that
might harm the client’s chances of being housed or receiving

Conversely, housing departments say this is slowing the application
process and, in some cases, resulting in people being placed in
inappropriate accommodation or not being helped at all.

A Shelter spokesperson said joint, inter-departmental
confidentiality agreements, agreed at senior level and understood
by front-line staff, could help to overcome the problems.

She added: “Having clear authorisation forms which are signed in
advance, when the client is available and able to give their
consent to information sharing when it is in their best interests,
can make a huge difference in a crisis.”

Meanwhile, the Audit Commission has said that many local
authorities should do more to deliver a good service for homeless
people and increase the emphasis on prevention.

Inspection reports reveal that only one in five councils have a
“good” housing needs service, but generally authorities meet their
legal duties in deciding who is eligible for help and more than
three-quarters are well placed to improve.

Herefordshire Council has the only “excellent” homelessness and
housing advice service, according to inspectors.

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