28 January 2015

Key charity praises city’s homelessness service

Homelessness charity Crisis has given homelessness services in Brighton & Hove a glowing report following a mystery shopper exercise of 16 local authorities.

The visits to Brighton & Hove stood out for mystery shoppers because both the staff at reception and the housing advisors that assessed them were consistently ‘professional’, ‘understanding’ and ‘sympathetic’.

At the same time the shoppers felt the ‘fresh’ and ‘modern’ atmosphere and layout of the housing offices gave them a positive impression about how they would be treated.

“Out of all the local authorities people seemed the most relaxed in the waiting area,” said one mystery shopper in the Brighton office.

Eight mystery shoppers presented as single homeless in a range of typical scenarios including with learning difficulties, domestic violence and young person.

Describing one experience, a mystery shopper said: “She was human, empathetic, and more sympathetic than anyone else I've talked to so far and it was like talking to an actual human being not a council robot with no emotion.”

This was particularly the case for the mystery shopper playing the female domestic violence character who was immediately comforted by the member of customer services staff she spoke to. The housing advisor who carried out the Domestic Abuse Stalking Harassment assessment clearly explained why it was taking place and acknowledged how difficult some of the questions might be to answer which helped the mystery shopper feel more comfortable. This character was told she would be found a place at a refuge.

Brighton was one of the few local authorities where customer services staff immediately made referrals at reception and gave clear instructions about where the mystery shopper needed to go.

At the end of their visits, two out of the eight mystery shoppers were given action plans which summarised what they needed to do next. In the report Crisis said that these were ‘extremely valuable’  to the mystery shoppers as they acted as a reminder of the advice they had been given to follow next, and what Brighton & Hove City Council was also going to do on their behalf. It was something that could be shared with other organisations the individual was working with.

Following the visits, Crisis made key recommendations to further improve the service which the council is already acting on.  These include ensuring that all applicants, regardless of priority status, are told what their options are, keep written information up to date and that staff spend enough time talking through complex issues such as claiming benefits.

Councillor Bill Randall, chair of the council's housing committee, said:

“Homelessness is a massive problem in Brighton and Hove because of a desperate lack of affordable housing, the city being such an attractive place to live and of course also accepting of alternative lifestyles.

“Not only do we carry out excellent outreach to rough sleepers and provide help where possible, but our single homelessness service has now received this national acclaim from leading homelessness charity Crisis.

“Our frontline staff are working with some of the most vulnerable people in society with often complex needs and this mystery shopper exercise shows that they are delivering an excellent service.”

'Turned Away', Crisis’ report about all 16 local authorities, is available here: Turned Away