Sheffield failure proves Housing First can’t work anywhere in the UK

A Housing First service in Sheffield has failed spectacularly as it could not find 10 suitable and affordable properties from either private landlords or social landlords.

A miserable TEN properties could not be found for rough sleepers from private landlords or social landlords in a city of over half a million people and 240,000 households and properties.

The Housing First model can’t even find housing in a low rent cost housing area such as Sheffield and can’t find 0.004% of the properties in Sheffield for rough sleepers or 99.996% are not suitable and/or refused to rough sleepers.  If a miserly 10 suitable properties cannot be found in Sheffield then what chance do the larger scale Housing First models to be operated in Liverpool and Manchester have and both of those cities have fewer housing properties than Sheffield?

The government is planning all its hopes of eradicating rough sleeping upon the Housing First model finding suitable properties yet as this case proves the reality is that the more Housing First services we have the greater the numbers of rough sleepers we will have as we look at the illustrative Sheffield Housing First failure

One last point before I discuss the facts about the Sheffield Housing First failure note the picture below is taken from a scurrilous Sheffield Star newspaper report on this Housing First failure that has been fuelled by the outrageous comments of Sheffield City Council as to why a service they designed and commissioned failed which they claimed was begging!  I put that into context below and focus on the real reasons why this service failed which is the ignorance of basic housing facts and realities by the Housing First cult disciples who promote this (in UK conditions) superficial as it gets model. Housing First can’t work in the UK in practice and this Sheffield failure illustrates precisely why the Housing First model cannot work in any UK town or city.

sheffield pic

The Sheffield Housing First Failure

Sheffield City Council tendered for a 3 year service for 10 rough sleepers using the Housing First model and subsequently awarded a contract on 16 March 2017 which says at 2:-

“To award a contract to Cathedral Archer Project for the provision of a housing related support service for single homeless people with multiple and complex needs (Housing First) from 1 June 2017 to the 31st May 2020, at a cost of £574,288 in total over 3 years, with the option to extend on a plus 2 year basis.”

The rent and housing benefit cost is additional to this and not a cost to the council so its contract sum of £574,288 is for the Housing First support provision only and it equates to £368 per week of support funding per rough sleeper. Added to this cost is the 1 bed local housing allowance in Sheffield is £95 per week (£94.80) making the total cost per rough sleeper £463 per week if aged over 34 and the £64 LHA SAR rate from those 34 and under gives a total rent and support cost of £433 per week.

The average English hostel cost per week which includes rent and support cost is £180 according to Homeless Link who compile these figures under government contract thus the Housing First overall cost on the original commissioned service was more than double the resettlement model cost it seeks to replace.

The council minutes on closing down this service (which I attach at the end and note well the provider approached the council to end it as it wasn’t working) state a different actual cost had been paid which equates to a support only Housing First cost of £237 per rough sleeper per week having been paid based on 10 rough sleepers.  This becomes a total support and rent cost of £332 per week and £301 per week for the under 35 year old rough sleeper. Yet this still means the Sheffield Housing First service was 67% more costly for the under 35 year old rough sleeper and 84% more costly for the 35 and over rough sleeper than the English average hostel it seeks to replace!

Staying with the exorbitant increased cost of Housing First over the resettlement model let’s look at context.

  • Support funding in both models is a local authority cost and one that is a discretionary option for local councils to fund.  The Housing First actual cost of £237 per week for support and £95 for rent and making the £332 overall cost requires much greater scrutiny than being 89% more expensive than a comparable single homeless hostel cost in overall terms.
  • The £237 Housing First support cost is 71% of the overall cost and that 71% is a wholly discretionary cost that is paid from ever reducing local council budgets with only the 29% rent costs of housing benefit being paid by central government.  The hostel / resettlement alternative of £180 per week can see all £180 per week come from central government budgets through housing benefit and at no cost to local council budgets

Is it any wonder why the current government is lauding Housing First as the solution to solving rough sleeping and single homelessness when the cost of Housing First sees central government pay out so much less for them to fund!!

The hyperbolic advocates of the Housing First model don’t tell you that Housing First is a massive cost transfer from central government budgets to local government budgets which is what this model is.

Availability and inclination of landlords to house?

The specification commissioned by the council was for 1 bed self-contained properties as the minutes show.  Let’s look at that in more detail by landlord sector.

(a) Private Rented Sector

Right across the country the lower end of PRS 1 bed properties that are the only ones whose rent levels come anywhere near the maximum housing benefit (LHA) rates are not self-contained properties but rooms in shared housing and HMOs.  The self-contained one bed properties owned by private landlords attract a much higher rent level because they are self-contained and not shared.  In other words the self-contained 1 bed properties in the PRS already attract a higher rent.

Yet the commissioners of a Housing First service expect such housing to be available at the LHA rate when it never is – a chronic ignorance by the council commissioners and a chronic ignorance and assumption by all devotees of the HF model.

Housing First as its name suggests first puts the housing in place and the housing needed is not available anywhere in the country and which reveals this model is as superficial as it gets in the UK.

In terms of inclination of landlords to accommodate ALL landlords private and social correctly recognise that rough sleepers taken directly off the streets are a much higher risk option than usual tenants and ALL landlords will rightly demand higher rewards (greater rents) for housing higher risk tenants.  Yet because Housing First is not and cannot be specified accommodation in the private sector then housing benefit cannot pay the higher rates of housing benefit for the necessary higher rents.

Once again we see chronic ignorance, chronic failure and chronic assumption of the city council commissioners concerning very basic housing and housing benefit matters.

(b) Social Rented Sector

SRS landlords, council and housing associations, have a very small percentage of their housing stock as the 1 bed self-contained property as the figure prove.  In July 2017 in response to a report commissioned by Crisis which said that Liverpool was ideal for Housing First and which is the basis for the wide scale Housing First service about to start I wrote:

We know that 1 bed properties are in short supply as the bedroom tax and the inability to downsize has proved.  More significantly we have actual data and fact in the English Housing Survey which reveals that 28.2% of all social housing has 1 bedroom.  Yet we also have fact that the Liverpool City Region areas have a pitifully low proportion of 1 bed properties at 16.83% in Wirral, 16.72% in Liverpool, 15.03% in Knowsley, 14.96% in Sefton and just 12.41% in St Helens and that data is in the Statistical Data Return provided to the social housing regulator.

The 28.2% English national average is for 1 bed properties of all types and a high percentage of these are used exclusively for sheltered housing and thus not available for the rough sleeper or anyone under the age of 55 typically.  (And especially since the average age a rough sleeper dies at is said to be 43!!) Liverpool and the wider Liverpool City Region have far less than this as the numbers show.

Further my quote from July 2017 above gives another reason in social housing that of competing demand as we have the bedroom tax factor to consider.  So we see SRS 1 bed self-contained properties being prioritised for older persons and bedroom tax downsizers as logical reasons why social landlords will not provide Housing First properties.  Just another pertinent fact that escapes the HF hyperbolists (or if that is not a word then try Coueists and disciples of Emile Coue which these deluded proponents are!)

The most glaringly obvious reason with social landlords is that their properties are wholly unfurnished!  Giving a rough sleeper a property – the bricks and mortar – without any carpets, white goods, furniture and not even a bed is why social housing is largely unsuitable in its basic accommodations for somebody direct from the streets.  There becomes a significant added cost to the rough sleeper to furnish SRS properties which has escaped the minds of the Housing First hyperbolic devotees.

Under the current resettlement model (hostels and move-on) a self-contained 1 bed property that is given to a former hostel dweller can be considered to be specified accommodation that can be furnished and paid for through housing benefit and also means central government budgets pay.  Yet because Housing First is a model that seeks to make the first property the lifetime or permanent property of the rough sleeper then housing benefit could not pay for the cost of furnishings as they would become the property of that rough sleeper and HB regulations specifically forbid this!  So the furnishing of a Housing First property moves away from central government coffers!

This is just another of the basic facts about housing and housing benefit that the deluded  hyperbolic devotees of the Housing First model just don’t get – and precisely why Housing First cannot work in practice in the UK!

I have stated here in very large detail precisely why you cannot simply drop-in the Finnish model of Housing First – that does work – into the UK.  There are so many critical differences and much more holistic wider ranging sureties for rough sleepers in the Finnish welfare system that are also needed in the UK for it to work yet will never happen:-

The advocates of Housing First point to the Finnish model as its undoubted success there yet they never tell you WHY it has been so successful:

  • HF rents are heavily subsidized and set at one third of market rent
  • HF rent is fully covered by the Finnish version of housing benefit
  • The Finnish version of housing benefit can pay for gas, electricity, water rates and even internet connections
  • The Finnish version of dole is £204 per week and 3 times the UK rate (and 4 times the rate of the UK person under 25)
  • The Finnish model also includes day centres with (a) free breakfast, (b) lunch and dinner at £1 each, (c) free sauna and (d) a wraparound holistic service that includes a walk-in appointment with a social worker, drug worker or mental health worker 24 hours a day.

All of the above additional services show that the Finnish model of welfare is very different to the UK model.  If the UK adopted a model of all housing costs are met including utility bills and had subsidized food and guaranteed access to a professional health worker then Housing First could well work in the UK but the chance of that working is also never a hell’s chance too.

Yet once again we see Crisis and all of the other deluded proponents of the Housing First model blithely ignore the obvious differences above and which are needed in Finland to make the lauded Finnish Housing First model work and are needed as policy in the UK to make Housing First work but are not extant in the UK and never will be.

In summary on the Sheffield case firstly, it is no surprise to see the Sheffield Housing First service has failed.  It was always inevitable through the detailed realities that are the basic facts of housing allocation, housing benefit and the wider housing model in the UK.  These exact same practical realities will see the wide scale Housing First services about to begin in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham inevitably fail too – and anywhere else in the UK this Coueist Housing First model is tried.

Secondly, one reason Sheffield City Council’s Strategic Commissioning Manager gave for the failure of the service she had commissioned is truly offensive and outrageous in saying it failed because rough sleepers preferred to beg.  The level of incompetence in the commissioning model and its huge assumptions in the first place is matched by the commissioner who for some reason believes a roof over your head prevents begging!  There is absolutely no link or correlation between begging and having a roof over your head and there is nothing in any tenancy agreement or (legally drafted) support agreement that says if you beg you will lose your house and/or support.

Perhaps a better way of explaining is IF rough sleepers make £300 per day begging then this £2,100 per week and £100,000 plus yearly income would not see a housing need for them in the first place!  They would all be living in very nice housing in gated communities!  Looked at correctly, the outrageous claim from the council and its commissioner of begging as reason why the Housing First service failed is THE most offensive excuse for their chronic ignorance and chronic assumption of basic housing and housing benefit facts in the first place for commissioning.

This non mea culpa position of the council is also there in the third bullet point when it says a reason for the Housing First service failure was provider lack of motivation!  The provider came to the council to report the major and inevitable difficulties of securing accommodation and to say this isn’t working and is not going to work because of the lack of availability of just ten properties that were suitable, affordable and landlords were willing to make available.  For the council to seek to lay the blame at the door of the provider is truly offensive especially when in coming to the council the provider has acted honestly and professionally and the antithesis of the council commissioner actions in this matter

Two major points to conclude:

  1. The same practical realities I have touched on above over availability and proclivity of landlords to provide accommodation in Sheffield will happen in every town or city across the UK for the practical reasons given.
  2. In terms of cost the Housing First model is excessive and is a massive transfer away from MANDATORY central government budgets in housing benefit to DISCRETIONARY funding by local government / metro mayor budgets.

The real and acute danger for rough sleepers and all single homelessness is when (not if) the uptake of Housing First increases.  It is inevitable that local government budgets that still pay a very small percentage of support costs in the resettlement model (hostels) will be taken away by local government commissioners in order to fund these Housing First services.  That means homeless hostels will close and means we will have more rough sleepers on our streets competing for these Housing First properties that will never materialise – a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The more Housing First services then the more rough sleepers we will have.


The Sheffield City Council minutes can be found here and its 2 pages include the exorbitant cost

The decision to pull the service and the reasons given


PS – It has been difficult to draft the above and which is only a partial detail that I could give why Housing First will inevitably fail anywhere in the UK.  The difficulty is in tone and resisting the natural urge to say I told you so as I have in dozens of posts about Housing First over the years and as twenty years ago I developed and ran a variant of Housing First that was largely successful but in a very different time pre bedroom tax and when many social landlords had plenty of difficult to let 1 bed and 2 bed properties that has now changed.  It was so long ago that we even had council housing!

The basic theory of Housing First in providing a house first is impossible to resist in simple superficial theoretical terms yet its practical operation in today’s and future housing market conditions is not only impossible it is also extremely dangerous as it will lead to more rough sleepers and more single person homelessness in the UK.

I fervently wish the reality would and could be the superficial theory that the HF advocates equally fervently promote that as the above small discussion and detail proves cannot work, yet the theory cannot work in practice in the UK and of that there is no doubt whatsoever.

This article is not a polemic. It is not an overly negative view. It is the reality however regrettable and unsavory it reads.  The blind belief in the HF model is greater than the belief that leaving the EU will provide £350 million more each week to our NHS and ten times the delusion of that.  All of the facts about housing supply and housing benefit regulations and housing practice above are precisely that – facts – and facts which prove that the Housing First model has more delusion and propaganda than Goebbels could ever have inculcated people with.

The housing and rehousing of all of the UK’s single homeless cohort which extends to rough sleepers, hostel dwellers and even to around 30% of women who are single and living in refuges needs a drastic and urgent rethink.  The facts show there are at least 110,000 single hostel dwellers each year who need a 1 bed property which means at least 110,000 1 bed properties are needed just for this area of single homelessness and yet the Sheffield case failed to find just 10 for the much riskier client group called rough sleepers in the Housing First model.

Finally and without any equivocation – IF I have caused a suffering of the sensibilities of the frankly idiots who are promoting the Housing First model as the best thing since sliced bread, then tough! The realities of the horrors that rough sleepers face and the wider single homelessness realities will always take a thousand time higher priority than the sensibilities of the deluded and so-called ‘experts’ in homelessness and housing and governments.

The huge danger and very real danger is when Housing First services increase in number which they undoubtedly will due to the hyperbole this model surrounds itself with it WILL see far more people sleeping rough and far more single homelessness and a much greater crisis than we have today.  Yet by that time those closed-minded buffoons who cite scaremongering and other such terms at my detailed and rational points above will be long gone and have moved onto another seemingly good cause that will probably fail because of yet more assumptions and ignorance of the basic facts of the problem they are seeking to feel all warm and fuzzy about …


3 thoughts on “Sheffield failure proves Housing First can’t work anywhere in the UK

  1. If HF can’t work in the UK, the benefit levels aren’t suddenly going to be massively increased, and there isn’t going to be a massive program of council house building for social renting, then in your opinion what model of housing provision is likely to be most effective in dealing with homelessness, particularly entrenched rough sleeping (but also sofa-surfing)?
    While more homeless hostels (supported accommodation) may help some, this cannot be a long-term solution as there needs to be a way for hostel residents to “move on” to self-contained accommodation, and the current system does not encourage private landlords to take on that role.


  2. A great many things would need to change just to give it a chance. The bullet points on Finland’s variables eg rents at one-third of GMR and availability of health and social care workers on demand would all help. However, the direction of travel of rents and HB regulations effectively prohibit HF as a model from working at all. There is some hope IF many more variables were in play that are way too complex and nuanced to list here but mostly a huge need to face reality rather than rely on what is superficial hope and hyperbole over HF. Homeless accommodation and support is complex enough and often very dependent on local housing availability as no model contains capital funding for new build options (that in any case are seen as way too risky in financial terms)


  3. So as we cannot change the general welfare benefit levels to match those in Finland, but there could be other things that could be changed, e.g. if social housing was made available, or if more intensive personal/housing support was given, etc, is there ANY way that you can envisage that the Housing First model could work here in the UK? What would need to change?


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